Spaghetti and meatballs the story of a non Italian recipe

Author: Veruska Anconitano, Award-Winning Food Travel Journalist, Sommelier & Outdoor LoverAuthor information
About the author
Veruska Anconitano
Veruska is a a food travel journalist with awards to her credit, such as World Best Food Travel Journalist. She holds a certification as a sommelier and she is also an ardent lover of the outdoors. Aside from this, Veruska is a Multilingual SEO and Localization Consultant and co-owns multiple websites that cater to a global audience.
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How many times, while watching Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, have you had the desire to eat a plate of spaghetti with meatballs? I bet a lot because the moment when the 2 dogs share a plate of spaghetti with meatballs is one of the most famous and luscious. Because of the movie, lots of foreigners think that meatballs spaghetti is typically Italian and, when in Italy or in an Italian restaurant, they really think they can have a proper portion of this pasta dish.

In reality the spaghetti with meatballs are not traditionally Italian but they tell the new generations a story of immigration, integration and multiculturalism which involves Italians and Americans.

Lady and the Tramp

The famous scene from Lady and the Tramp

Meatballs are really popular in Italy as well as in other part of Europe but according to a lot of popular theories they became really famous among the immigrants when they left Italy and went to the US between the end of 1800 and the 1920 (from 1880 to 1921 more than five million Italian’s went to America, mostly from the South).

Most of the immigrants were from the South of Italy where meat and food were really expensive so when they moved to the US they started eat more meat, cheaper than the one they used to eat and cook in Italy. This also resulted in an increase of the portions to a point where, if they were still in Italy, it could have been easily considered excessive; in the US this became the sign of prosperity and abundance, as a result of  a boost in their income.

That’s why the meatballs became so popular: the immigrants transformed the original “polpette”, small Italian meatballs made with meat, cheese and breadcrumbs, into to big balls made with less breadcrumbs and more meat.

And since the tomato sauce was one of the most important Italian ingredient available in the US at that time, they started to cook these giant meatballs in tomato sauce and, finally, to serve them with the spaghetti, another cheap and easy to find Italian ingredient.

They basically wanted to keep the Italian tradition but, given the fact that the meat was easy and cheap to buy, also to improve it and show the world a social redemption that came from being immigrants.

Today only in the South of Italy people still use to prepare their ragù with meatballs and put meatballs into the lasagne or baked pasta; the main difference with the american meatballs is still the size.

polpette romana

Italian polpette

Spaghetti with Meatballs

American Style Meatballs with Spaghetti

Even if they seem to be Italian, spaghetti with meatballs aren’t really but they perfectly represent a mix of American and Italian culture and are the tangible sign of a period that no longer exists.

If you’re in Italy don’t expect to find spaghetti with meatballs and if you’re lucky enough to find this dish it means you’re in a touristic spot… so run away from it!

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