14 “Italian” Recipes That Aren’t Actually Italian

You might be surprised to find out your favorite dishes on Italian restaurant menus aren't as authentically Italian as you thought.

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Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

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©2012, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

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Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Faux Italian Favorites

Italian food occupies a huge place in the American food consciousness, first of all because it’s delicious, and also because enormous waves of Italian immigrants have arrived here in the last 200 years and brought incredible flavors. Some of those dishes might have gotten a little lost in translation over the years, and some may never have existed in Italy at all. Here are our top not-actually-Italian recipes.

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.

Get the Recipe: Real Meatballs and Spaghetti

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.

Get the Recipe: Marinara Sauce

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.

Get the Recipe: Herb Garlic Bread

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.

Get the Recipe: Baked Ziti

Chicken 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. 

Get the Recipe: Chicken Parmigiana

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?

Get the Recipe: Fettuccine Alfredo

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.

Get the Recipe: Top Brass Tossed Salad with Italian Dressing

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.

Get the Recipe: Penne With Vodka Sauce

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. 

Get the Recipe: Sunday Gravy and Macaroni (Spaghetti, really)

Cioppino

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

Get the Recipe: Cioppino

Muffuletta

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

Get the Recipe: Muffuletta

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.

Get the Recipe: Sausage, Peppers and Onions

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. 

Get the Recipe: "Speed Scratch" Neapolitan

Pizza Pockets

These are sort of calzone-esque, and calzones are a real Italian invention from Naples, where they're filled with cheese or meat (but no tomato sauce — the sauce goes on the side for dipping). In this form, though, they’re definitely American.

Get the Recipe: Pizza Pockets

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