Welcome to Italian-American Week, when we’re taking a bit of a break from our usual stories to focus on the important stuff: red sauce, stuffed pasta, porchetta and the chefs and home cooks making it all happen.
Garlic bread, chicken parmigiana, spaghetti with meatballs. These are dishes just about anyone who grew up in America knows well (and, more often than not, loves). These are also dishes that some commonly associate with Italy. But the fact is that these dishes have very little — and in some cases nothing at all — to do with the boot-shaped country or its cuisine. Many of them are rooted in the culinary traditions of Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th cenutry and have since been reformulated time and time again to appeal more to the American palate. Today, there’s even a term devoted to the genre: Italian-American.
So what does one of the world’s best Italian chefs think of this cuisine? Is he even aware of its existence? Heinz Beck is the German-born chef of La Pergola in Rome’s Cavalieri Hotel, the city’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant. We caught up with him during his third-ever trip to New York. Note: All three trips have been for work, and he has yet to dine at an Italian restaurant in the Big Apple. His only encounter with Italian cuisine Stateside? That was in Hawaii. “I was in Maui, and I went to a pizzeria once, and it was quite okay,” he recalls. The thick-accented Italian chef quickly schooled us on some of our beloved Italian-American staples…and on the perils of eating garlic bread.
Ever had chicken parmigiana?
Never in Italy.
But have you heard of it?
No. Alfredo sauce? You like Alfredo sauce? I think it’s easier to get Alfredo sauce outside of Italy than in Italy.
Spaghetti with meatballs?
No, in Italy you do not put meatballs into the spaghetti. But okay, if it tastes nice — why not? It depends how big the meatballs are. Tiny? Why not?
Penne alla vodka?
You know, perhaps you can find penne alla vodka.
What about ziti?
Baked ziti. Similar to lasagna…
Lasagna you get in Italy. It’s fantastic, a nice lasagna.
Garlic bread? Garlic bread? Perhaps you can get it, but it is not so common. I think in America it’s more common than in Italy. You know, garlic is not bad to eat. The problem is the day after. It depends with whom you meet the day after.
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