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"Red sauce" Italian

ttoommyy Nov 20, 2011 08:38 AM

Why all the hate on CH for the Italian-American cuisine? I know it is not the food they eat in Italy, but as a grandson of grandparents who came to Hoboken, NJ, at the turn of the century, the Italian-American cuisine has been a part of my family's (and America's) diet for quite some time. When cooked properly by those who know what they are doing, the food can be truly excellent. After all, many of the dishes in the Italian-American cuisine can be traced back to some dish in Italy and they are a tribute to what our grandparents ate in "the old country."

I'm not saying there is no love on CH for this food, but many, many people turn their noses up at the thought or suggestion of it. I know what regional Italian food is, having been to Italy many times and I absolutely adore it. But, I love my Italian-American gravy, macaroni, meatballs, brasciole, baked ziti, etc., too.

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    escondido123 Nov 20, 2011 10:04 AM

    I read it more that CHs have a problem with it being called "Italian" or "authentic Italian." I think most folks here appreciate a well made red gravy, I know I certainly do though I balk at large amounts of tomato paste.

    1. viperlush Nov 20, 2011 10:29 AM

      I like to eat Italian American food, and tend to cook it pretty frequently. But, I would be disappointed if I went to an "authentic Italian" restaurant and the menu was filled with Italian American food. If I want Italian American I will go to a pizzeria.

      50 Replies
      1. re: viperlush
        ttoommyy Nov 20, 2011 10:47 AM

        But a pizzeria is not the only place to get good Italian-American food. There are many excellent full service restaurants serving this cuisine.

        1. re: ttoommyy
          viperlush Nov 20, 2011 10:58 AM

          Yes there are. But it's not the type of cuisine that I want to spend much on and it's something that I've always associated with cooking at home.

          1. re: viperlush
            ttoommyy Nov 20, 2011 11:45 AM

            "But it's not the type of cuisine that I want to spend much on..."

            That's just the type of attitude I am talking about. Why not spend good money on it if it's done right? Yes, many of us who grew up with it can make it at home, but sometimes it's nice to go out and be served at a nice restaurant. Italian-American food should not be excluded from this experience.

            1. re: ttoommyy
              viperlush Nov 20, 2011 12:31 PM

              Well for me it's because I don't get to eat out often, and when I do it's not expensive meals. So if I'm going to a $15+ entree restaurant I want it to be something I don't cook or I can't get easily get for less elsewhere. I'm sure that it's a regional thing. But I wouldn't discourage someone from going to a "red sauce Italian" restaurant, especially if they are coming from a region that doesn't do it well. But at this time it's not a cuisine that I feel the need to spend good money on.

              1. re: ttoommyy
                escondido123 Nov 20, 2011 12:35 PM

                I lived in Rhode Island for many, many years and there are dozens of places to go for red sauce Italian-American food--which I frequently make at home without tomato paste. However, there are very, very few that are expensive, and those tend to be the "Old World" style with traditional decor and service that I don't enjoy. I'm glad to see there is a new wave of trattorias around the country that blend Italian-American dishes with modern service/decor.

                1. re: escondido123
                  JuniorBalloon Nov 21, 2011 03:21 PM

                  Why is there no love for tomato paste? It is one of the main ingredients in an Italian bologenses sauce.


                  1. re: JuniorBalloon
                    ttoommyy Nov 21, 2011 03:29 PM

                    I don't get the hate for tomato paste either. I used some in a fresh fennel, onion and sausage sauce I just made.

                    1. re: JuniorBalloon
                      The Professor Nov 21, 2011 03:39 PM

                      Amen. Nothing at all wrong with tomato paste when it is used properly. I always look for ones that have no other ingredients added (so many of them have added salt or citric acid...nothing against those things, but if i want them in there I want to add it myself).

                      1. re: JuniorBalloon
                        escondido123 Nov 21, 2011 05:35 PM

                        In the context of this discussion in particular, I have eaten too many red gravies that were based on tomato paste which I consider a nice addition, in small quantities, to a variety of dishes. I buy a new tube of tomato paste about every six months, so that tells you how much of it I use. We do have pasta in a tomato sauce at least once a week, where I use good canned tomatoes or fresh when they are really in season. (I just looked at the 3 Italian cookbooks I had at hand, and Bugalli, Hazan and Batali all make their tomato sauces without tomato paste so I feel I'm in good company.)

                        1. re: escondido123
                          EWSflash Nov 30, 2011 05:12 PM

                          I developed my own recipe for red sauce (I just can't bring myself to call it gravy for many reasons, one being that my red sauce has no meat in it unless I add meatballs or sausage to it near the end) over the years, it has next to no fat aside from a small amount of olive oil or sauteed mushrooms if I use them, and what's in the anchovies when I grind them in. It's got fennel, oregano, garlic,basil, some onion, tomatoes that are usually canned but I recently made some with good fresh tomatoes that was pretty good, I don't care if it's authentic or not, it's really damn good and doesn't taste of meat that's been boiled for hours and hours- nor is my sauce cooked for a long time. I add a little bit of tomato paste if it's looking thin. I just had no idea that what I developed isn't even remotely Italian, according to this thread. I make no apologies for my nonauthentic sauce and wish I could find a local restaurant that reliably makes a really good "midwestern-style Italian-American" red sauce. Jeez.

                          But I guess it helps explain why my sister came back from a trip to Italy saying "italian food in Italy is really bad!" It was all I could do not to blow my mouth full of iced tea out of my nose when she said that.

                          1. re: EWSflash
                            escondido123 Nov 30, 2011 06:01 PM

                            When I was a kid my mother made your standard Italian-American spaghetti sauce she learned from an Italian-American with ground beef, chopped onion, can of tomatoes crushed by hand, a can of tomato paste, Italian seasonings and dried garlic from the jar and a half a can of whatever red wine was open. It would then cook for hours. I loved it growing up but as I've made hundreds of tomato sauces, I make them quicker and simpler, often just olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary and a can of good tomatoes. It take less than half an hour and my spaghetti spends the last two minutes being tossed in the sauce, where it thickens and all the strands get coated. Wish I was having it tonight.

                            1. re: EWSflash
                              emglow101 Nov 30, 2011 09:03 PM

                              I guess your sister ate where my sister and her husband ate. Same thing they told me. Well the concierge at the hotel said go here its great or the taxi driver, sounds like she was in a tourist trap. Italy is built on tourism.They cater to tourists selling their food to to make money. Just got back from Italy with Sis and Hus.. Proved them wrong. You have to get off the beaten path where the locals eat to get some great food. It is completly different than where we live.

                          2. re: JuniorBalloon
                            escondido123 Nov 21, 2011 05:37 PM

                            Never use a drop of it in my Bolognese, recipe from Bugialli on Pasta.

                            1. re: escondido123
                              freia Nov 21, 2011 05:45 PM

                              I'm an import Passata girl myself. Don't like tinned tomatoes, I'd rather just reduce the passata down to an appropriate thickness. Takes time but is well worth it.

                              1. re: freia
                                escondido123 Nov 21, 2011 08:34 PM

                                I like having the ability to modify the tomatoes based upon the dish I am making. Sometimes I like the tomatoes chunky so I crush them by hand, sometimes I want a smooth sauce so I mill them--and if I'm not sure I can chop it up with the immersion blender. But I have no interest in keeping on the shelf tomatoes that have already broken down through another process--then I have no opportunity to vary the sauce based upon the dish I want to create..

                              2. re: escondido123
                                ttoommyy Nov 22, 2011 05:55 AM

                                "Never use a drop of it in my Bolognese, recipe from Bugialli on Pasta."

                                escondido123: do you use any tomato product in your Bolognese? Some recipes don't call for tomato at all, while others do. Remember, there are enough Bolognese recipes and variations just in Bologna alone to fill an encyclopedia-sized cookbook. There is not one definitive recipe.

                                1. re: ttoommyy
                                  escondido123 Nov 22, 2011 08:19 AM

                                  The recipe uses canned whole tomatoes. I would say that the use of milk/cream is one of the ingredients that defines it as Bolognese.

                              3. re: JuniorBalloon
                                BeerWeezil Nov 22, 2011 06:16 AM

                                Not the original version it's not.

                                1. re: BeerWeezil
                                  ttoommyy Nov 22, 2011 06:18 AM

                                  "Not the original version it's not."

                                  Sorry, what is this in reference to? Thanks.

                                  1. re: BeerWeezil
                                    JuniorBalloon Nov 22, 2011 03:52 PM

                                    There are many "Original" versions. Here is a link to the one that is registered with the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in Bologna -


                                    After doing some research a few years back it became apparent that as ttoomy has said there isn't really an authentic bolognese, but there are many sauces that use similar ingredients and techniques that date back hundreds of years.


                                    1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                      ttoommyy Nov 23, 2011 08:09 AM

                                      Thanks for the link. Saying there is one definitive recipe for a Bolognese sauce is like saying there is one definitive recipe for chicken soup.

                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                        iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 01:47 PM

                                        thanks for that recipe link.
                                        it looks like a complete hit out of the park.
                                        love the inclusion of 1 chx liver.
                                        I know that small amount can add so much undertone to a dish.
                                        I'll be trying this one for sure.

                                        1. re: iL Divo
                                          JuniorBalloon Nov 28, 2011 03:44 PM

                                          One of the things I love about their instruction is it's very clear and specific. I remember reading in Marcella Hazen's book that you should add the onions first, but she didn't make it clear why. I have never used chicken livers, but do a similar step with anchovies and tomato paste (a couple of filets and one tblsp). Clear everything to the side and cook the anchovies and paste before mixing it with the other ingredients. It lets the paste carmelize, bringing out some extra sweetness and if you don't cook the anchovies a bit they can end up tasting fishy.

                                          I will also be trying this recipe.


                                          1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                            iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 05:23 PM

                                            I own a couple small cans of tomato paste.

                                            when I have to open to use, I portion off in tiny seal a meal bags of 1 or 2 TB and mark the seal a meal then freeze. I know which size I'm seizing from the freezer by marking. With anchovies I buy the oval cans of them, not used them out of a jar cause don't know how they last in that oil and in frig but do same thing with anchovies and seal a meal packets. I always know I have some of each on hand, and when using last one, I buy more.

                                            Love your idea about using them both in that sauce and the moving to the side, makes total sense, thanks JB

                                        2. re: JuniorBalloon
                                          EWSflash Nov 30, 2011 05:13 PM


                                      2. re: JuniorBalloon
                                        River19 Nov 22, 2011 06:22 AM

                                        Paste has its place, I use it, my grandmother used it as well. It just depends on what you’re making.

                                        My family and friends tend to enjoy a thicker, chunkier sauce(we have onions, garlic and sausage chunks in our sauce most times), and the paste works in that application. Sure we could possibly get there some other way without paste, but it isn’t like the Italian-American Authenticity Police have come knockin’ on anyone’s door yet….

                                        If it tastes good, eat it.

                                        1. re: River19
                                          iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 02:07 PM

                                          agree with how you put that River.

                                          as a young young girl who often times made dinner for the family, I always included some tomato paste because as a young girl, I didn't know how to thicken the sauce and otherwise, it's very watery. as many times as I've made it, a red sauce, I've often used tomato paste, going so far as to say many times I didn't make the red sauce because I had no tomato paste. now I know to reduce slowly and it eventually thickens but then, too young to know the ins and outs of cooking.

                                          like you say River, if it tastes good, eat it and enjoy.

                                          1. re: iL Divo
                                            River19 Nov 29, 2011 06:42 AM

                                            Thanks, I make my decisions on what I cook with and eat based on whether it tastes good, frankly I can’t think of a reason to do it another way. Just because highly educated food-centric people may wax poetic about a certain dish doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy it. That is what makes food wonderful, the variety. Despite what people may claim, there very rarely is a “right” way to make something. Most anything has multiple approaches and recipes, each of them are just as “authentic” as the other.

                                            The other thing people are missing about paste is perspective. If you have to make of say 10-12gallons of sauce and have maybe 4 hours or so and based on the financial aspect you are limited to reasonable quality canned tomatoes only along with your meat, garlic and herbs…………….what’s the most obvious way to thicken that sauce without damaging the flavor or adding an outside flavor to it? In a perfect world you could cook that sauce for longer than the 4 hours you have for prep and cook time……….but what happens when you don’t?

                                            It isn’t like everyone cooks under ideal conditions and constraints all the time. Especially people of my grandparents era (born early 1900s). Tomato paste and other “new world” ingredients and approaches were a part of their cooking for a reason. Doesn’t make it wrong or bad or inauthentic in many people’s opinions.

                                            1. re: River19
                                              JuniorBalloon Nov 29, 2011 07:40 AM

                                              Just a note. Tomato paste isn't new. It comes from southern Italy and Sicily where it used to be made by spreading tomato sauce on wooden boards and dried in the sun. While it can be used to thicken a sauce that's not it's only use and not the way it has traditionally been used in Italian cooking.

                                              That said I completely agree that you cook to your taste. I'm sure that's why there are 387 "authentic" bolognese recipes.


                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                linguafood Nov 29, 2011 08:28 AM

                                                I'm not getting all the hate for tomato paste. I find it adds a bit of depth in tomato flavor, especially the double concentrated stuff.

                                                Tho I don't use it for thickening. That doesn't make much sense to me.

                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                  monavano Nov 29, 2011 08:39 AM

                                                  Why don't you give it a try then? You just might change your mind about how wonderful and amazing paste is as a thickener!
                                                  I buy it by the case at Costco, so I'm a big user.

                                                  1. re: monavano
                                                    linguafood Nov 29, 2011 08:49 AM

                                                    But.... but I don't *want* to use it as thickener. I just like it as an addition to flavor.

                                                    If I really want to thicken it, I can use a bit of chilled butter or some cornstarch. But generally, I'm happy with the natural consistency/texture of my tomato sauce.

                                                    1. re: linguafood
                                                      monavano Nov 29, 2011 08:54 AM

                                                      You *have* to realize that it *IS* a *thickener* so by default, that's what you *are* doing. OK, I'm taking *my* marbles and leaving now. *ha*

                                                      1. re: monavano
                                                        linguafood Nov 29, 2011 09:06 AM


                                                  2. re: linguafood
                                                    EWSflash Nov 30, 2011 05:17 PM

                                                    I wish there was 'like' button on CH. I love the taste of good tomato paste

                                                  3. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                    River19 Nov 29, 2011 10:49 AM

                                                    I agree with the thought that paste, while acting as a thickener in many cases, also adds additional depth of flavor to whatever it is included in. I don’t think paste was originally intended to be a thickener, I think it found itself worked into that role throughout the past 60 years or so when people’s lives and approaches to cooking changed.

                                                    Again, if it tastes good, eat it.

                                                    1. re: River19
                                                      rockandroller1 Nov 29, 2011 11:14 AM

                                                      i don't believe it's intended as a thickener. That may be how it's commonly used, but I don't believe that's what it was made for. And that's not how I use it.

                                                      1. re: River19
                                                        ttoommyy Nov 29, 2011 12:07 PM

                                                        Like Razzles that were first a candy and then a gum, tomato paste is a flavor enhancer that is also a thickener. :)

                                                    2. re: River19
                                                      iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 05:32 PM

                                                      perfectly said River and you too JunBal

                                              2. re: escondido123
                                                Bob W Nov 22, 2011 08:01 AM

                                                Did you make it to Mike's Kitchen at the VFW in Cranston? No one who eats there could ever sneer at "red-sauce" Italo-American (as they say in RI) food again.

                                                1. re: Bob W
                                                  River19 Nov 22, 2011 08:19 AM

                                                  My wife and her mother made a run and they enjoyed it quite a bit. Felt is was very similar to the way we like to make our food as well as her husband with the conch salad etc.

                                                  I still haven't been myself.......I'll get there.

                                                  1. re: Bob W
                                                    escondido123 Nov 22, 2011 08:22 AM

                                                    Yes I've been there and I have the cookbook Cucina Simpatica that includes his polenta recipe. My memory of there is vague--maybe 20 years old--but I remember it being good but heavy.

                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 02:13 PM

                                                      your post reminds me to try Michael Chirarello's recipe for his famed polenta.
                                                      I understand it's unforgetable.

                                                      1. re: iL Divo
                                                        escondido123 Nov 28, 2011 03:38 PM

                                                        The last time I made polenta--I like mine soft--I happened to have 2 ears of fresh corn. I cuts off the kernels and food processed them, keeping only the cream that resulted when I sieved. Added that to the polenta at the end for an amazing sweet corn taste.

                                                        1. re: escondido123
                                                          iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 05:34 PM

                                                          now that escondido, sounds remarkable...

                                                          1. re: iL Divo
                                                            EWSflash Nov 30, 2011 07:42 PM


                                            2. re: ttoommyy
                                              fourunder Nov 23, 2011 10:15 AM

                                              The best Veal Parmigiano I ever had was at Il Mulino in NYC.....

                                              A pounded Veal Rib Chop coated with Grated Cheese Panko breadcrumbs....pan fried and topped with a combination of Asiago, Fontina, Provolone and Mozzarella cheeses placed atop a simple marinara sauce.....

                                              you can't get that in a pizzeria.

                                              1. re: fourunder
                                                iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 01:49 PM

                                                wondering if that's the place Emeril went to that was from "the best thing I ever ate".
                                                he simply melted over it being presented to him. you described what it looked like on tv.

                                                1. re: iL Divo
                                                  fourunder Nov 29, 2011 08:38 AM

                                                  After reading your post, curiosity got the best of me, so I Googled the show......Emeril's version was at Il Vagabondo. You can see the video segment on their website below.


                                                  1. re: fourunder
                                                    iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 05:35 PM

                                                    you're a great search engine fourunder, good job.
                                                    either way, I'll bet they're both truly delicious.

                                          2. emglow101 Nov 20, 2011 10:44 AM

                                            Saveur magazine, December 2011( newest issue) has a great article and recipies on Italian America.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: emglow101
                                              roxlet Nov 20, 2011 07:44 PM

                                              You beat me to it! It's a wonderful issue and has a couple of nice essays in support of Italian-American cuisine. I have never earthen spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, but made right -by me! - it' a great dish.

                                              1. re: roxlet
                                                emglow101 Nov 20, 2011 09:39 PM

                                                I'm still reading this issue. It's a good one. I could go on and on of the memories. My best freinds across the street. Nonna,Gee Gee, Patten, all of em. I still try to reflect my cooking on the memories of this family. Maybe it's Italian American, but the biggest that people forget is that you all sat down TOGETHER for dinner EVERY night.

                                                1. re: emglow101
                                                  iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 02:14 PM

                                                  ok I'll be buying one, y'all convinced me

                                            2. f
                                              fara Nov 20, 2011 10:45 AM

                                              I think some of it also comes from Italian-Americans whose parents/grandparents are from regions of Italy that are not tomato-sauced based. Also it depends on how Americanized the family is - serving meatballs on the same plate as pasta, spaghetti for that matter with a meat sauce,the heavy predominance of Polly-O to the point where all you taste is bland cheese,and the lack of vegetables in most "Italian-American"menus are considered by many Italian-Americans to be really un-Italian. It's really a spectrum because of the successive waves of Italian immigrants, so there's lots of room for judgment :)

                                              1. ipsedixit Nov 20, 2011 01:09 PM

                                                Depending on my mood, I sort of like Buca Di Beppo.

                                                Does that count?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                                  laliz Nov 21, 2011 08:57 AM

                                                  I love Buca de Beppo

                                                  1. re: laliz
                                                    monavano Nov 21, 2011 09:13 AM

                                                    I like Maggiano's. Shh, don't tell anyone ;0

                                                    1. re: monavano
                                                      Heatherb Nov 21, 2011 10:56 AM

                                                      Me too - it's my go-to if I want Italian food in a place where I don't know any of the other restaurants.

                                                2. t
                                                  thimes Nov 20, 2011 06:02 PM

                                                  I find immigrant populations to be a very interesting study in "authentic" food. You'll find a lot of people calling "not authentic" when it comes to any food outside of the originating country (Italian, Polish, Chinese, etc).

                                                  What is most interesting is that when you actually look at a historical perspective of immigrant population's food, often what is considered "X-American" is actually a snap-shot in time of the food that was typical at the time of emigration (with some ingredient changes due to availability in the new location). In the meantime, the home country's cuisine continued to evolve and change and so what a "modern", say Italian, would recognize as "Italian-Italian" is now evolved past what the transplanted population is still holding nostalgic.

                                                  Granted some traditions do change with immigrant populations do to the influence and mixing with other cultures but in many immigrant communities this mixing is far less that many people expect.

                                                  This is not an attempt to equate say "Olive Garden - Italian-American" food with true Italian food but something to think about.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: thimes
                                                    escondido123 Nov 20, 2011 09:01 PM

                                                    I think it is that "ingredient changes due to availability" that makes such a big difference in the final products. My New England mother learned how to make lasagna from Mrs. Pompelio our landlady in Chicago. Instead of ricotta it was cottage cheese and the mozzarella was mediocre at best. We then moved to So Cal where my mother changed the mozzarella to Jack cheese. It was not until I was an adult and cooked from Bugialli's Foods of Italy that I had a chance to try what I believe is close to the heart of lasagna--with ricotta, Parmigiano, butter, fresh mozzarella and fresh egg noodles, tomato sauce and basil but no meat.

                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      Roland Parker Nov 23, 2011 09:10 PM

                                                      Ah, but ricotta or mozzarella isn't necessarily used for lasagna. My Italian friends (in Italy) use a bechamel sauce and parmesean as the only cheese. Marcella Hazan doesn't include ricotta or mozzarella in her lasagna.

                                                      What I'm merely saying is that there's lots and lots of ways to cook "authentic" Italian food and within Italy there's an enormous variation of what goes in the lasagna depending on what part of the country you're in. Your description of the lasagna with ricotta and mozzarella would be strange to many Italians who would view the two cheeses as unncessary additions but not necessarily so to other Italians.

                                                      All this talk about tomato paste further up in this thread is also amusing when you consider the availability of tomato paste in Italy (in very large quantities). I never worry about "authenticity." If it tastes good, it's good, so who cares how the dish may have been prepared elsewhere or by so-and-so's grandmama?

                                                      1. re: Roland Parker
                                                        escondido123 Nov 24, 2011 08:42 AM

                                                        The lasagna recipe came from Bugialli's Foods of Italy so I have no doubt it is "one" authentic lasagna. My comment on tomato paste is because I don't think it tastes good, it is too cloying and overwhelms the other flavors IMHO.

                                                        1. re: Roland Parker
                                                          escondido123 Nov 24, 2011 01:06 PM

                                                          My comment about getting to the "heart" was the fact that I was making the dish using ingredients that Italians in Italy would actually use--whether in that combination in that dish was really not my point. I basically found it humorous how the recipe changed between Italy and Mrs. Pompelio and then Chicago and California, again based on availability and cost. I know the ingredients I've used are ones used in Italy--and no not every where and not every person--but ones that I've had in dishes in Italy.

                                                    2. MGZ Nov 21, 2011 05:39 AM

                                                      I think that the ubiquity of places serving mediocre Italian-American food for such a long time has made the cuisine an easy target. In effect, denigrating "red sauce Italian" food has become a shorthand way of putting down low quality restaurant food that is somehow popular. Done well the stuff can be great; however, it's all too often not done well.

                                                      In my little NJ town, for example, there are two full service places serving a standard Italian American menu.* One has been a family favorite for my entire life. The other, which prepares a base sauce that seems sweet, almost sugary, is a source of jokes. Yet all summer long, both places seem to thrive. To me, the patrons of the latter appear taste-challenged - examples of the dining ignorant.

                                                      *There are at least four counter-service pizzarias serving most of the typical dishes.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: MGZ
                                                        LeoLioness Nov 21, 2011 06:42 AM

                                                        Agreed. Boston's North End is home to dozens and dozens of Italian American red sauce places and the majority of them range from okay to terrible. Yet people will wait in line to dine in one. The mind boggles.

                                                      2. f
                                                        freia Nov 21, 2011 07:20 AM

                                                        "Authentic", "historical", "regional", "Italian American", seriously...who cares? The overriding thing HAS to be "does it taste good!". Great cuisine comes from all histories, all walks of life, in every neighborhood, in every kitchen you could imagine. Who cares if its a "red sauce" kitchen, if you love that red sauce! Its sad when pre-judging a cuisine means that you miss out on a great experience. I'm an equal opportunity eater. Bring on the home Italian American cooking! :)

                                                        1. h
                                                          Heatherb Nov 21, 2011 07:28 AM

                                                          I dunno, I grew up just outside of Trenton, and while I'm not Italian-American, I have relatives who are and grew up in a community that was heavily Italian-American. I grew up eating at "red sauce joints."

                                                          I think a lot of the hatred comes from the fact that Italian restaurants (at least on the East Coast) are kind of ubiquitous, and it's easy to bump along serving barely adequate food if you have a high-traffic location. Also, I think a lot of places serve sub-par Italian food along with their cheesesteaks and pizza slices (this especially happens at places that have a pizza shop half and a formal seated dining area, I've found). It's WORK to find a good Italian restaurant sometimes. And when you do, the vagaries of the marketplace can cause it to disappear in a flash. There was a great place in my area, but the guy was from another part of the country, so he had no local ties, AND his location was kind of hidden away (nothing has ever lasted in that spot). Despite some truly excellent food, the restaurant closed.

                                                          In places where Italian food is less ubiquitous, you often just find yourself up against some really awful limited choices - for example, for some reason, I've had some truly terrible experiences in Maryland.

                                                          When I go home to the Trenton area, my best friend and I take a tour of my favorite red-sauce places and my favorite pizza places. I've found a little restaurant in Denver (where I live now) that is quite good for the usual dishes and at least one reasonably good pizza place, but ... the idea of sorting through all the other possbilities is pretty daunting. I know I'm going to have some terrible experiences before I add more to my list.

                                                          1. t
                                                            treb Nov 21, 2011 08:29 AM

                                                            I don't feel Americanized Italian food is dissed on CH. However, I do think there is a lot of discussion about the 'authentic' issue. As I see it, there are many regional variances based on ingredients that are readily available etc. As with most ethnic cooking claiming something to be authentic can be very interesting unless you factor the region.

                                                            1. monavano Nov 21, 2011 08:42 AM

                                                              I never knew I was eating "unauthentic" Italian growing up. Red sauce, red checked tablecloth was all I knew.
                                                              I don't give a rip that in Italy, the meatballs are not served over spaghetti. I wouldn't have it any other way!

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: monavano
                                                                Heatherb Nov 21, 2011 08:47 AM


                                                                1. re: monavano
                                                                  huiray Nov 24, 2011 11:22 AM

                                                                  "I wouldn't have it any other way!"
                                                                  So I guess that means when you are in Italy you make a big scene in a restaurant or get very upset when you can't get meatballs in red sauce over spaghetti. ;-)

                                                                  1. re: huiray
                                                                    monavano Nov 27, 2011 06:34 AM

                                                                    Yes, as I bitch, moan and complain loudly wearing my velour track suit and fanny pack ;-)

                                                                    1. re: monavano
                                                                      freia Nov 27, 2011 06:54 AM

                                                                      LOLOLOL OMG too funny! You've gotta be wearing a fishing hat as a sun hat, and have several maps layed out on the table. And the kids are moaning for ketchup and french fries, I'll bet...

                                                                      1. re: freia
                                                                        monavano Nov 27, 2011 12:11 PM

                                                                        Last year, DH and I went to see Lidia B. speak at the Smithsonian as part of her new cookbook tour.
                                                                        Neat lady, warm speaker... I digress. Lidia took questions from the audience and one guy asked what food faux pas Americans make in Italy. Lidia's answer surprised me a bit, and it was that American's expected a dish of evoo with their bread service, and they could at times be quite, uh, rude about it.
                                                                        I blame Macaroni Grill.

                                                                2. r
                                                                  River19 Nov 21, 2011 09:18 AM

                                                                  I grew up in CT with a Grandmother who was 100% Italian like many, and she was outstanding with the red sauce aspect of cooking. Her sister was even better from what I was told. I learned a lot watching her and eating her food growing up and I used to love eating lunch over there when I was “stuck” with them for vacations etc. while my parents worked.

                                                                  Who knows if her methods and recipes would pass the CH test for Authentic (whatever that means).

                                                                  All I know is I cook based off those recipes and have never had any complaints.

                                                                  My MIL’s husband (long story) is also 100% Italian but more from the seafood, garlic and olive oil school of cooking. I have learned a heck of a lot from him about cooking a proper linguini with clam sauce etc. including banging out the full Christmas Eve seafood spectacle with him each year…….

                                                                  To many on CH, all of this above would be dismissed as “Red Sauce” Italian etc. and probably would seek out the next Babbo etc. Which is too bad as they could be missing out on something truly made with love and truly delicious.

                                                                  It’s all about perspective. As many have mentioned, if it tastes good, eat it. Screw the labels.

                                                                  1. j
                                                                    Jerseygirl111 Nov 21, 2011 09:52 AM

                                                                    It's funny. I just borrowed "It's All American Food" by David Rosengarten from the library. In it, he adddresses the issue of food "snobbery." He wonders why we are embarassed by our use of certain "Made in America" food products, such as Helmann's Mayo and Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, or even humble items like garlic powder and margarine, when many chefs around the world think they are wonderful easy to use ingredients. He goes on to speak about American food, Rueben sandwich, chicken wings, soft shell crab sandwiches, apple pie, cheeseburgers, lobster rolls, etc. If the simple foods from around the world are held in high regard, why can we not do the same for our American food? There is no way you can serve authentic foreign food in another country. Any diaspora will produce hybrids. But why should it be considered less than? The denigration of adapted ethnic food has implications. The denigration spells the foods demise. Great versions of Italian American cuisine were found across the country, now an "Italian" chef looking for praise and prestige wouldn't be caught dead in the same place as a meatball. There are still plenty of places serving spaghetti and meatballs, but because no one gives this cuisine the respect it deserves, the places don't attract top talent, so you are left with mediocre versions and people come away withthe notion Italian American cuisine is an inferior thing. This translates to all American food. There are so many bad versions of it because we treat it as a lesser thing, a guilty pleasure, merely an everyday convenience, a gastronomic trifle. If you don't believe this is great food, you'll never take the time to figure out how to make these things taste delicious.

                                                                    Those above are Rosengartens words, some verbatim.

                                                                    Familiarity breeds contempt. Just because we eat a turkey sandwich every day for lunch, does that make it crap? Why? A turkey sandwich is a GLORIOUS thing, as is a Thanksgiving meal. Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, delicious! Bring it on! Cheeseburgers, hot dog and sauerkraut, peanut butter and jelly! Manna from heaven! The point is we shouldn't denigrate any of our American food, we should appreciate it and celebrate it.

                                                                    19 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111
                                                                      monavano Nov 21, 2011 10:10 AM

                                                                      It's as if "Americanizing" Italian food somehow sullies it. The thing is, it's the Italian themselves who adapted their homeland food once here. So, when you think about it, it kind of insults them.
                                                                      Chinese-American is a whole 'nother thing!

                                                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111
                                                                        JuniorBalloon Nov 21, 2011 03:36 PM

                                                                        In part it comes down to what America has done with many foods that came from some where else. Chefboyardee, Chun King and American cheese are a few examples of the way that Americans tend to go for mass production over quality. Now there's nothing wrong with enjoying any of these, but to not know they are pale imitations is sad.

                                                                        To the OP's point and yours their are really good American versions of many cuisines, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and French to name a few. Too often what the average person is aware of is the mass marketed version hence the association with crap.


                                                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                                          Jerseygirl111 Nov 26, 2011 09:16 PM

                                                                          Yes, there are many pale imitations. Do many people eating Chef Boyardee really think they are eating true Italian or Italian American food? I doubt it. But let's not denigrate a decent Chicken Parm from the corner pizzeria. Just because it is made in America doesn't mean it's crap.

                                                                          1. re: Jerseygirl111
                                                                            escondido123 Nov 26, 2011 09:24 PM

                                                                            If it wasn't for the fact that most ""Chicken Parm from the corner pizzeria" is a piece of breaded then fried piece of who-knows-what chicken that is then finished in a deep fryer, covered in a canned red sauce, covered on top with a layer of god-only-knows-what-kind-of cheese and then tossed under the salamander I would agree that "made in America doesn't mean it's crap."

                                                                            1. re: escondido123
                                                                              freia Nov 27, 2011 06:56 AM

                                                                              Wow, just...wow....you don't know what exactly is being made at a corner local pizzeria, so that's quite the assumption. I say this looking up at you as you peer down your nose at those of us who stoop to eating locally. Just...wow....food snobbery in its best expression, I think?

                                                                              1. re: escondido123
                                                                                The Professor Nov 27, 2011 08:52 AM

                                                                                escondido...I'm not sure where you live, but the corner pizzeria I worked at we made EVERYTHING from scratch. There was no 'who knows what' at our place, and not at most of the many other corner pizzerias in our area either. More than a few of the pizzerias actually served better food than some of the Italian restaurants in the area.

                                                                                I could understand wondering about the 'who knows what' one gets at the current crop of chain restaurants, but most of the corner places I've experienced took a fair amount of care in what they prepared and served.

                                                                                1. re: The Professor
                                                                                  escondido123 Nov 27, 2011 11:02 AM

                                                                                  I said "most" not all and I will stick by that. If you're lucky enough to have a local "pizzeria" that makes other dishes from scratch, that's great. But most of the "pizzerias" I've been to--both coasts included--may make great pizza, but the rest is frozen food reconstituted. Obviously, we have had different experiences.

                                                                                  1. re: escondido123
                                                                                    ttoommyy Nov 28, 2011 09:40 AM

                                                                                    "But most of the "pizzerias" I've been to--both coasts included--may make great pizza, but the rest is frozen food reconstituted."

                                                                                    I would fight you to the death about this statement with regards to most local pizzerias here in the northern NJ/NYC area.

                                                                                    1. re: ttoommyy
                                                                                      linguafood Nov 28, 2011 09:46 AM

                                                                                      Can we watch? Cuz this debate certainly ain't going anywhere.

                                                                                      How about some red sauce-wrestling?

                                                                                  2. re: The Professor
                                                                                    escondido123 Nov 27, 2011 11:06 AM

                                                                                    I am not a food snob. I'm happy to have a slice at the local place, or a carnitas taco from the corner shop. You will note that I said "most" and I'll stick by that. It is great when there's a local spot that makes their own Parm of any variety, but the vast majority in my experience on both coasts, is just what I described-frozen, deep fried, covered in sauce and cheese and broiled.

                                                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                                                      The Professor Nov 27, 2011 12:54 PM

                                                                                      I have no problem with your post _or_ your opinion...especially if you feel strongly enough about it to post it twice. :-)

                                                                                      I was just passing along my own experiences. I'm sorry that your own experiences with pizza joint food have not been good. I guess that despite the jokes about NJ, living here in the central part of the state has had at least some things going for it.
                                                                                      Bon Apettit!

                                                                                      1. re: escondido123
                                                                                        freia Nov 27, 2011 12:59 PM

                                                                                        Actually, you really did come across as a food snob in your post. Now no matter what you SAY, or backpedalling you want to do we'll always be able to refer to your first post, where it is pretty clear what your opinion of local Italian fare is.
                                                                                        I'm sure you haven't really tried a whole lot of corner shops -- you've probably tried a few in a couple of different cities, turned your nose up at them, and written off the entire genre as being beneath you with respect to ingredients and prep.
                                                                                        At least, that's how you came across in your post.
                                                                                        Honestly...still, just....wow...,

                                                                                        1. re: freia
                                                                                          escondido123 Nov 27, 2011 01:30 PM

                                                                                          I loved all sorts of fast foods when I lived in RI--steak and cheese grinders with mayo and hot weiners were two of my favorites. I also appreciate places that go to the trouble tot make something from scratch. But if you think hating food that comes from a mass production place like Sysco makes me a snob, then I wear that title happily.

                                                                                          1. re: escondido123
                                                                                            freia Nov 27, 2011 02:17 PM

                                                                                            Another assumption -- are you suggesting that corner Italian restaurants serve nothing but Sysco? You're not helping your case any...
                                                                                            Still shaking my head...

                                                                                            1. re: freia
                                                                                              JuniorBalloon Nov 27, 2011 02:41 PM

                                                                                              It's not what escondido is suggesting, but you seem to have some experience with these places. What percentage do you think serve canned food as opposed to fresh?


                                                                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                                                                                escondido123 Nov 27, 2011 08:33 PM

                                                                                                I wondered if I had a biased view so I asked my husband, with no explanation, what he would expect if he order a Chicken Parm from the corner pizzerria. "Well, it would be a frozen piece of chicken, thrown into the deep fryer and broiled with some processed cheese." "But what about the tomato sauce?" I asked. "Oh probably something out of a jar or can." So I stand by my experience which has also been my husband's in general, for more than 30 years.

                                                                                              2. re: freia
                                                                                                LeoLioness Nov 27, 2011 04:03 PM

                                                                                                I'd argue that the majority of corner sub/pizza shops do, at least where I live (Boston). I'm not referring to a sit-down restaurant, just your average sub shop.

                                                                                                Then again, most corner sub/pizza shops in Boston are not owned by/run by Italians even though they serve the ubiquitous chicken parm, eggplant parm, meatballs etc.

                                                                                                1. re: LeoLioness
                                                                                                  Heatherb Nov 30, 2011 04:45 PM

                                                                                                  I think it depends on your area. I don't think it would fly in the Trenton area, where I grew up. But I had my favorite places that I stuck to so maybe it's more common than I thought

                                                                                    2. re: Jerseygirl111
                                                                                      JuniorBalloon Nov 27, 2011 02:11 PM

                                                                                      I would say that kids growing up think it's Italian, but I'd hope as they grow up they figure out it's not, though that wasn't my point; that anyone would actually think any of those were true to their culinary roots. Only as examples of foods that had been neutered by mass production. My point was that peoples experience with these foods and other bad imitiations contribute to why "red-sauce" restuarants have a bad rep. That doesn't mean there aren't great versions of all these foods being made in America. There are, but our convenience culture that is too often focused on profits over quality means there is a lot of crap out there.


                                                                                2. l
                                                                                  Lizard Nov 22, 2011 01:32 AM

                                                                                  Coming out of self-imposed exile to share the following article with you:

                                                                                  Donna R. Gabaccia (U Minn), 'Pizza, pasta and red sauce: Italian or American?' HISTORY IN FOCUS, Issue 11: Migration (2006)

                                                                                  Should possibly offer insight into how one even thinks about food and authenticity given the flows of people, capital, and knowledge over the past few centuries.

                                                                                  Shame the subthread on snobbery was removed. I understand the reasoning, but there is definitely a class issue operating (one that may even be related to North/South issues).

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Lizard
                                                                                    thimes Nov 22, 2011 06:28 AM

                                                                                    Interesting article. I love food-culture history, I could read it all day I think.

                                                                                    I thought the removal of the subthread was a shame too, it is such a part of our nature to claim that what "we" do is better-more authentic - more genuine that what "you" do. I find it fascinating how much that creeps into the kitchen as well.

                                                                                    1. re: thimes
                                                                                      huiray Nov 24, 2011 11:37 AM

                                                                                      Is it possible to briefly recount this subthread in some way so as not to provoke another visit by the Volunteers? (I never saw it)

                                                                                  2. b
                                                                                    BeerWeezil Nov 22, 2011 06:19 AM

                                                                                    We loathe it because it's done so poorly EVERYWHERE (well, except for Carbone and Torrisi's PARM). Personally, I'd much rather just stay home and make these kinds of things myself instead of suffering through the horrible slop that passes for Italian-American.

                                                                                    Just because you're putting a domestic spin on traditional dishes doesn't mean you neglect the basic rules of cooking good food.

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: BeerWeezil
                                                                                      bropaul Nov 23, 2011 10:41 AM

                                                                                      I have to agree with BeerWeezil. I am from Northern NJ and grew up eating and loving this food. I have nothing against good italian-American cooking, but it's so often so poorly done with inferior ingredients. I was at a very well-established red-sauce place recently and I was appalled by some (not all) of the cooking, pasta in particular. Over-cooked and over-sauced in an over-seasoned tomato sauce. Is it really that much harder to do it right?

                                                                                      1. re: bropaul
                                                                                        ttoommyy Nov 23, 2011 12:07 PM

                                                                                        "I have nothing against good italian-American cooking, but it's so often so poorly done with inferior ingredients."

                                                                                        How does this differ from every other cuisine? Mexican, Chinese, Spanish, etc.? Why single out Italian-American? I just don't get it.

                                                                                        1. re: ttoommyy
                                                                                          bropaul Nov 24, 2011 06:09 AM

                                                                                          Because that's what we happen to be talking about.

                                                                                        2. re: bropaul
                                                                                          huiray Nov 24, 2011 11:49 AM

                                                                                          I wonder how much of that is associated with what the general clientele - drawn from the general population - wants or expects?

                                                                                      2. iL Divo Nov 22, 2011 06:28 AM

                                                                                        you'll get no argument from me here.

                                                                                        I agree with you.

                                                                                        LOVE Italian food.

                                                                                        DS#2 and I made Lu Malnati's copy cat version [from Cooks Illustratred] of their signature pizza last night for dinner. So good.... the sauce took hours to simmer but was delicious and the house smelled heavenly all day too of course.

                                                                                        I've made LB's and MH's bolognese, one calls for tomato paste, the other doesn't, both are wonderful.
                                                                                        I have no hate for tomato paste.

                                                                                        1. h
                                                                                          hyperbowler Nov 23, 2011 10:57 AM

                                                                                          I never registered the term "red sauce Italian" until I start reading Chowhound. I would guess the term dates back further, but the earliest printed use I've found was in a 1977 Washington Post article by Phyllis Richman. Ruth Reichl in the LA Times quotes someone saying it in 1987. The term seemed to pick up speed in the mid 90s, and has lots of NY Times references in the past five years. It showed up on Chowhound in 2004.

                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: hyperbowler
                                                                                            Heatherb Nov 23, 2011 01:51 PM

                                                                                            I guess to differentiate as people woke up to the fact that Italian food isn't all spaghetti and meatballs?

                                                                                            1. re: Heatherb
                                                                                              iL Divo Nov 28, 2011 03:37 PM

                                                                                              ''the fact that Italian food isn't all spaghetti and meatballs''

                                                                                              it isnt? oh crud, it's my favorite food on earth.......... *)

                                                                                              never in my life did I ever think about [or want to go to] Italy. it had no clutch on me but family went and loved it. guys I work with made me promise to go and take my husband on an 'under the tuscan sun' dare. one positive thing about Italy I'd always heard was how phenominal the food was.

                                                                                              best thing about Italy? the food...................and absolutely everything else

                                                                                              1. re: iL Divo
                                                                                                Heatherb Nov 30, 2011 04:46 PM

                                                                                                Yeah, I was there as a teenager, but I really want to go back to do a kind food tour:)

                                                                                                1. re: Heatherb
                                                                                                  iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 05:39 PM

                                                                                                  honestly Heatherb the very thought of going back every single year for the rest of my life still wouldn't be enough for my food fixes. never ever anywhere have I had food that good and consistently good also. one, only one, blah pizza margarita for 27 days straight. pasta bolognese every single day, not a bad one in the bunch, how do they do that? :)

                                                                                                  1. re: iL Divo
                                                                                                    freia Nov 30, 2011 05:49 PM

                                                                                                    Its all about the wine LOL...seriously, its about the fresh ingredients, simple recipes, and lack of pretention. They just cook it and eat it. It is what it is and that's what makes it so 'easy' if that makes sense. Not alot of discussing the relative merits of a vs b, or arguing about how a local grocer operates, or if soaking x for 20 minutes vs 30 is the authentic way to do it. They just, well, DO, and do like they've always done. Hence the great food!

                                                                                                    1. re: freia
                                                                                                      iL Divo Nov 30, 2011 09:53 PM

                                                                                                      you're right Fre

                                                                                                      and you are also right about the wine. OML
                                                                                                      my husband doesn't drink or like wine...BUT THERE, he drank wine every single day as did I. amazing how much of a difference it makes to omit additives to wine.
                                                                                                      no swollen tongue, no dizzy head no fuzzy feelings.
                                                                                                      although I drink no longer, the memory of living at a giant vineyard and helping in the fields during harvest season, fondly remembered.

                                                                                                      you're correct about nonpretentious cooking, very straight forward.

                                                                                          2. a
                                                                                            AdamD Nov 24, 2011 06:03 AM

                                                                                            Its funny, I never go out for Italian food, aside from the occasional pizza delivery.
                                                                                            Its so much easier to make it at home, and it almost always tastes better than what I get at most restaurants-no matter how you want to classify the cuisine.

                                                                                            As far as tomato paste goes, a small amount, lightly caramelized, adds depth to a sauce IMHO. I like the stuff that comes in a tube so I dont waste a whole can when I only want two teaspoons.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: AdamD
                                                                                              treb Nov 24, 2011 08:41 AM

                                                                                              tomato paste freezes well.

                                                                                              1. re: treb
                                                                                                monavano Nov 27, 2011 06:37 AM

                                                                                                +1. The tubes are far more costly per unit price, but they are convenient. I take the leftover paste from a can and put it in plastic wrap and roll it up like a log. It goes in the freezer and is very easy to slice "coins" off the log as needed.

                                                                                              2. re: AdamD
                                                                                                escondido123 Nov 24, 2011 08:44 AM

                                                                                                That's why a tube of it lasts me six months. And most of that is for stews that include a little for just the reason you said.

                                                                                              3. emglow101 Nov 27, 2011 02:47 PM

                                                                                                OMG ! What if the cooks are not Italian. Most are not.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: emglow101
                                                                                                  linguafood Nov 27, 2011 03:31 PM

                                                                                                  It's the end of the world as we know it.

                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood
                                                                                                    The Professor Nov 27, 2011 07:34 PM

                                                                                                    LOL! I love it.
                                                                                                    The pizza joint I worked at 30 years ago (which had some renown in the area for both its pizza and its excellent made-from-scratch entrees) was run by an Irishman and a Hungarian.
                                                                                                    And our clientele was by far largely Italian-American.

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