Italian Recipes

Italian Recipes That Aren’t Actually Italian

Italian Recipes. You’ll be stunned to learn that many of your favorites “Italian” meals aren’t actually Italian!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Totally Italian, right? Obviously. As Italian as it gets. Nope! This dish was invented in America (Italians eat meatballs on their own), but it’s delicious nonetheless.

Marinara Sauce

This tomato sauce is 100 percent Italian, but it’s called sugo di pomodoro in Italy. The adverb marinara (“made in the style of the sailor”) comes from a possibly apocryphal story about how sailors’ wives would start the (quick) sauce when they saw their husbands’ boats coming home.

Garlic Bread

Bread that’s been toasted and then rubbed with oil and seasonings is a real thing in Italy, except it’s done by the slice and called bruschetta. The whole loaf of bread, split and baked with garlic? Not as much. Topped with a ton of mozzarella? Even less so.

Baked Ziti

Baked pasta (pasta al forno) has a long and storied history in Italian cuisine. Baked ziti specifically — with tomato sauce and something ricotta-y — is enshrined more as a staple in Italian-American cuisine. It’s not wrong, necessarily, but it’s also not canon.

Chicken or Veal Parmigiana

Eggplant parmigiana comes from Sicily and has been reproduced more or less faithfully here. Chicken (and veal) Parm were invented by immigrants to the United States and Canada, possibly in response to meat being much more affordable than it’d been in the old country. 

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo is technically Italian — it was invented at a restaurant in Rome — but it’s basically unheard of in Italy. How can you be mad at noodles, cream and cheese, though?

Italian Dressing

This one’s a giant nope. There’s not even an Italian recipe that remotely resembles Italian dressing. Italian salads get oil and vinegar, applied individually at the table. This dressing is from Missouri, and it was named most likely for the oregano and garlic usually found in it.

Penne alla Vodka

This one’s up for discussion; it’s not truly Italian, but there’s a chance it was invented in Italy, either at the behest of vodka importers or by a chef who’d had too much to drink one day. No one really knows, but you definitely won’t find it on a menu in Italy.

Sunday Sauce or Gravy

Braised meat in tomato sauce is pretty Italian, though usually the tomato sauce is tossed with pasta and served as an appetizer, and the meat is served as the second course. The Sunday Sauce phenomenon is more of an American thing, but a serious, entrenched one. 


This stew is 100 percent from San Francisco, where it was invented by Italian-American fishermen.


This sandwich was invented in New Orleans and inspired by the eating habits of Sicilian immigrants. 

Sausage, Peppers and Onions

It’s hard to get a read on this one. While the combo is a common one, it’s not an established tradition the way it is in Italian-American pockets of the United States.

Neapolitan Ice Cream

Layered ice cream? Totally Italian (and often called spumoni). Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry together? That combination was popularized in America and named after the Italian-immigrant-run ice cream shops where you could find it. 

Pepperoni pizza

Pizza in Italy is completely different than it is in the United States. It has a very thin crust and can be topped with a variety of things like thinly sliced potato, anchovies, sausages, prosciutto, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, broccoli rabe and mozzarella, but not pepperoni. Ham is much more common on pizza.

No chicken on pasta

For the love of all that is decent in this world, chicken does not belong on pasta. These are two very separate dishes. Fish on pasta is fine and is served broken up into small pieces rather than served on top in one piece.

When Italian immigrants depart for other lands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they had to adapt to using local ingredients. This changed the way they cooked and created a fusion of native ingredients with traditional Italian recipes, sometimes even creating something entirely new. While both types of cuisine are certainly wonderful, they are not the same. Enjoy your “ Italian Recipes” favorites, but prepare your taste buds for an authentic Italian experience you’ll never forget.