Tells the story of Italian food arriving in the United States and how your favorite red sauce recipes evolved into American staples.
In Red Sauce, Ian MacAllen traces the evolution of traditional Italian-American cuisine, often referred to as “red sauce Italian,” from its origins in Italy to its transformation in America into a new, distinct cuisine. It is a fascinating social and culinary history exploring the integration of red sauce food into mainstream America alongside the blending of Italian immigrant otherness into a national American identity. The story follows the small parlor restaurants immigrants launched from their homes to large, popular destinations, and eventually to commodified fast food and casual dining restaurants. Some dishes like fettuccine Alfredo and spaghetti alla Caruso owe their success to celebrities, and Italian-American cuisine generally has benefited from a rich history in popular culture.
Drawing on inspiration from Southern Italian cuisine, early Italian immigrants to America developed new recipes and modified old ones. Ethnic Italians invented dishes like lobster fra Diavolo, spaghetti and meatballs, and veal parmigiana, and popularized foods like pizza and baked lasagna that had once been seen as overly foreign. Eventually, the classic red-checkered-table-cloth Italian restaurant would be replaced by a new idea of what it means for food to be Italian, even as ‘red sauce’ became entrenched in American culture. This book looks at how and why these foods became part of the national American diet, and focuses on the stories, myths, and facts behind classic (and some not so classic) dishes within Italian-American cuisine.
Ian MacAllen is a writer and book critic. He has written reviews and interviews for Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Rumpus, Trampset, Electric Literature, and Fiction Advocate, with other nonfiction in The Billfold, Thought Catalog, and io9. His short fiction has appeared in The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and elsewhere. His maternal grandfather was born in Bagnoli del Trigno in Molise, Italy and his maternal grandmother’s family was from Naples and Sicily. He is descended from a line of Sicilian Strega. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
Chapter 1: Salty Like the Sea
Chapter 2: The Great Arrival
Chapter 3: A Macaroni by Any Other Name
Chapter 4: We Are What We Read
Chapter 5: Red Sauce Fundamentals
Chapter 6: One Fruit to Rule Them All
Chapter 7: The Opening Acts
Chapter 8: Meat and Tomatoes
Chapter 9: Red Sauce Enters a Golden Age
Chapter 10: The Other Red Sauce
Chapter 11: As American As Pizza Pie
Chapter 12: Curds and Way
Chapter 13: One Lasagna, Many Lasagne
Chapter 14: A Taste of Rome
Chapter 15: The Last Red Sauce
Chapter 16: The Fall of Rome
Chapter 17: The Search for Authenticity
Chapter 18: The Red Sauce Renaissance, An Epilogue
Appendix: Historic Recipes
About the Author
MacAllen contends that Italian-American food, once spurned as a garlic-ridden, irredeemably ethnic cuisine, has become so much a part of U.S. palates that it is now, quite simply, American cooking.... Sharing his vast knowledge of history, ingredients, and technique, MacAllen offers an in-depth history of the Italian contribution to America’s culinary landscape.
[A] well-researched look into how the cuisine of Italian immigrants made its way into the American mainstream.
Countless diners grew up eating Italian food, whether at home or at a particular restaurant. But Italian cuisine underwent a transformation in the United States, becoming a distinctive cooking style all its own. Ian MacAllen’s new book Red Sauce offers an in-depth look at how this happened—and it might just inspire a couple of food cravings while you’re reading.
Once in a long while, a book comes along and immediately qualifies as a “must have” in the Italian American home library. In Red Sauce, author Ian MacAllen has created one of those books!
Like a bowl overflowing with pasta on some nonna's table, there's more than enough goodness to go around in Ian MacAllen's loving tribute to the immigrant food that helped change America. You'll read Red Sauce and understand the history of a certain strain of Italian cuisine and how it shaped our palates, but most importantly, you'll be hungry for more.
At a time when the food media seem to have forgotten the appeal and importance of Italian-American food, Ian MacAllen’s Red Sauce is a restorative whose diligent research and engaging writing puts everything in perspective and shows why Italian-American food continues to be a favorite both here and abroad.
Ian MacAllen’s Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American is a delightful read! Clear, entertaining, and insightful. Well researched and includes historical recipes. It is a significant contribution to understanding Italian American foodways. P.S. I love red sauce!
An entertaining and authoritative account of Italian-American cuisine and the restaurants that popularized it. The catalogue and description of sauces is by itself a work of art.
With this entertaining and appetizing cultural history, MacAllen, like a resourceful chef, offers his readers something entirely new: the compelling story of how Italian food entered the American kitchen, and how it evolved from a foreign oddity into a ubiquitous staple.
There's nothing more American than pizza—so much so that Ladies Home Journal once compared it to eating an apple pie. This, of course, might come as news to its Italian creators. In this fascinating work, Ian MacAllen expertly unpacks how America fell in love with Italian food. Filled with humor and fascinating tid-bits, Red Sauce will give you something excellent to talk about over your next plate of spaghetti.
As if Mark Kurlansky’s Salt and Ada Boni’s The Talisman Italian Cookbook had a lovechild, Ian MacAllen’s debut book Red Sauce combines a thoroughly researched history along with succulent recipes, and serves an entertaining and insightful book upon our plates. MacAllen’s sly and engaging volume gives us a sociocultural as well as culinary history of how Italian food became American, and takes us on a mouth-watering journey of transition from the time when “spaghetti confused early adopters,” “pizza was unpronounceable,” and “garlic was feared” all the way to today when America has “pizzas with pineapple to irreverent pasta combinations.” In lesser hands, what might have been a dull, academic or patchy read, becomes compelling and delicious in MacAllen’s brilliant hands. He shares his vast knowledge of a thoroughly researched history, ingredients, and technique, and serves a book that is simultaneously witty and teeming with scholarly facts. “The mass market American winter tomato” might be “bland, tough and flavorless,” but this engaging book is like marinara sauce—sweet and spicy “with a hint of oregano and garlic.” Like a bowl of overfull lasagna on some nonna’s table, his fun and fact-filled history of food is worth savoring.
MacAllen has written a kind of social history of Italians in the United States through the lens of their evolving culinary traditions. He charts the way Italian immigrant communities — made up primarily of people from the more impoverished south of Italy — adapted their simple cucina povera to an American context.
Red Sauce offers a deep dive into both authentic Italian and Italian-American foods, one that has been meticulously researched and footnoted. MacAllen has curated details that are likely to interest food historians, cooks, food lovers, and Italophiles.
12/10/21, The Rumpus: McAllen’s book was featured on this roundup of books to look forward to in 2022 for solace and inspiration.
3/14/22, Whetstone: Ian MacAllen wrote a piece celebrating New York’s San Gennaro festival and immigrant foods.
3/26/22, New York Post: Ian MacAllen and the book were featured in this article.
4/5/22, Inside Hook: MacAllen’s book was featured in a roundup of new books to read in April 2022.
4/4/22, Chicago Review of Books: An excerpt from the book focusing on Chicago-style pizza was posted.
4/25/22, Indiana Pizza Club: Ian MacAllen was featured in this author Q&A.
5/4/22, Southern Review of Books: MacAllen spoke about Italian cuisine, the role of immigration in shaping culture, and more topics from the book in this author interview.
5/6/22, Forum on KQED San Francisco: MacAllen discussed the legacy and culture of Italian American food in the Bay Area.
5/10/22, Jersey City Times: Ian MacAllen and the book were featured in this article.
5/11/22, Italian American Podcast: Ian MacAllen provided his expertise in this two-part exploration of Italian food.
Part 1: https://italianamericanpodcast.com/iap-232-red-sauce-a-two-part-exploration-of-how-italian-food-became-american-with-special-guest-ian-macallen/
Part 2: Pending
7/26/22, We the Italians: The book was featured on this site.
8/3/22, The Rumpus: In a feature on the book, Ian MacAllen is interviewed about his inspiration, research, and the evolution of red sauce cuisine in America.
8/17/22, Provincetown Independent: A feature on the book was posted.
Italian America Magazine, Fall 2022 issue: The book and author were featured in this two-page spread.
11/16/22, America Domani: Ian MacAllen shared an excerpt from the book.
11/29/22, The Chills at Will Podcast: Ian MacAllen talked about themes revolving around his book.
12/7/22, The New School: This book was featured in a roundup of great nonfiction published this year.
12/20/22, Thrillist: Ian MacAllen was interviewed about the American renaissance of the Italian Christmas bread, panettone.
12/29/22, The Italian Radio Hour: Ian MacAllen discussed themes from the book.
3/21/23, Public Reading Club podcast: Ian MacAllen discusses America’s influence on Italian cuisine.
4/2/23, Salon: Ian MacAllen is interviewed about the origins of Italian food.
1/22/24, New Books Network/Pop Culture podcast: Ian MacAllen is interviewed about the book.