We’re not here today to define “Italian-American” food with any sort of authority. We know better than to poke that Internet bear. (If there’s any group of people who get pissy when you talk about their food inaccurately more than actual Italians, it’s Italian-Americans.) But you know what kind of food we’re talking about—those good-good red-sauce-smothered, carb-heavy, mozz-and-breadcrumb-laden dishes that make you wanna take a 23andMe test just to see if you can claim any little bit of legitimate Italian heritage. There’s a reason why Olive Garden is the fifteenth highest-grossing restaurant chain in the country, and its not because its menu maintains any actual Italian culinary DNA purity. (Hello, Italians? Have you heard about lasagna dip? Sorry in advance for the aneurysm.) No, no—OG peddles the worst of the best of this unique subcategory of bastardized American cuisines to which we would gladly sacrifice an entire day’s worth of recommended calorie intake in a single dish.
Chain restaurants aside, we truly would mainline red sauce directly into our bloodstream if given the chance. We even love the kitschiness that we feel by calling it simply red sauce, maybe with an accent like a young Robert De Niro in The Godfather. We may even be listening to the original Godfather score as we write this just to set the mood. (That mandoline!) These dishes might bear some resemblance to some vague Italian ancestral dish, but they've been made into a uniquely Americanized version of themselves over the course of several generations, and we love them all the more for it. And yes, we would love some freshly grated parmesan cheese, thank you for asking.
We’ll start off with notable Italian-American actor Dom Deluise’s rolled eggplant in marinara sauce, from his 1988 cookbook, Eat This, It Will Make You Feel Better: Mamma’s Italian Home Cooking.
Moving on to another favorite way to make eating eggplant less of a gray, mushy disaster—smother it in garlic, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and breadcrumbs. (The classic Italian-American hack for pretty much any vegetable.)
When we first watched the chefs from Don Angie make this meatball ragu in their restaurant’s kitchen, they told us they specifically developed their own meatball recipe so as not to offend either of their Italian grandmothers by choosing one family recipe over the other. We can attest they did a damn fine job coming up with one on their own.
True, real Italian-Americans probably have a giant jug of table wine at the ready in their kitchens instead of a fussy mixed cocktail. But maybe you’re part of the youngest generation of Italian-Americans, and a negroni calls to you as much as Carlo Rossi did to your parents. To which we say: cent’anni!
Look, before you all come for our culinary director’s head, just know that this sandwich is EXTREMELY GOOD. Don’t act like you’ve never been tempted to skip the pasta altogether and scoop some meat ragu straight onto your garlic bread.
The best Italian heroes are made with a combination of no less than four types of cured meats, red wine vinegar, and provolone cheese. This is version is no exception.
Let this beast of a slab of breaded and sauced chicken hang out under the broiler for a few minutes so the cheese has the chance to get nice and bubbly and golden brown.
Focaccia is the ultimate Italian bread for just about any occasion—soak up your extra red sauce with it, slice it down the middle for sandwiches, or toast it and grind it up into bread crumbs.
Take out the guts of that Italian hero, and turning it into a pasta salad perfect for a picnic.
We’re pretty sure your average nonna isn’t using cannabis-infused olive oil to make her bruschetta, so you can use the regular stuff if you want to. (But why not get a little buzz on with your appetizer course?)
According to Wikipedia (so really, who knows), the vodka in this dish came to take the place of the traditional Italian grappa (which is basically a vodka made out of grapes) that was used as an emulsifier in Italian cooking. So maybe this wildly-popular Italian-American dish isn’t so far removed from its European ancestor after all.
There is nothing we could say that could sell you on this recipe quite as well as watching Frank Pinello, host of The Pizza Show, make this with his adorable grandmother in her Queens kitchen.
Baked ziti is possibly the dish with the lowest bar for entry into the Italian-American cuisine. It’s pretty impossible to screw this one up!
Cue up The Big Night for watching after you make this epic and dense drum-shaped pasta dish, and rally the crew to eat it with you because this sucker can feed a small army.
This one is akin to lighting a paper bag full of dog shit on fire on Italy’s front porch, and we will not apologize for it!!!!!
This lasagna contains three. fucking. pounds. of mozzarella cheese. If that doesn't get you a little excited, we're sorry for you and your cold, dead heart.
Again, we’re just constantly looking for other ways to consume all of the good stuff we like to put on top of pasta without the pasta. A meatball sub—which has never once in the history of the world been eaten daintily—is one of the best ways to do it.
No mater what you’re making—be it homemade ravioli, lasagna, or fettucini—the most prideful Italian-American grandmothers out there will still tell you that homemade pasta is always better.