The Origin of Spaghetti and Meatballs - Donatella Polizzi

The Origin of Spaghetti and Meatballs - Donatella Polizzi

Is spaghetti and meatballs really Italian? It's delicious no doubt but there's a lot of snobbery around this dish and some quite extreme views on it's origin. I recently discovered the lovely Donatella Polizzi's posts on Italian food and culture on Facebook and she's agreed to share her knowledge here.

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So Donatella tell us why you write about Italian food and culture? 

I have decided to start writing about Italy and all things Italian to share some information based not only on the fact that I have spent most of my life in Italy but also because I have studied and still study various aspects of Italian culture.

I know that of some of the things I write will surprise people but I want my audience to all have fun together and enjoy our Italian heritage, small or large as it may be.

So firstly to discuss the most iconic and quintessential belief on which Italian-American food culture is founded:

Spaghetti and Meatballs

What I am about to write I have learned following my son's studies at the University of Gastronmic Sciences in Pollenz, Italy, and reading his graduation thesis which also regarded the Italian and Italian-American cuisine.

CREDIT: Donatella Polizzi

CREDIT: Donatella Polizzi

When immigrants from mainly Southern Italy, came to the US at the end of the 19th century, they were very poor. However in the US not only did they find a job and start earning money but also they found an abundance of ingredients that in Italy they could experience maybe 2-3 times a year. Namely meat and cheese.

Also the percentage of income spent on food, thanks to the higher earnings and to the availability of products, went from 75% to 25%. The immigrants started eating meat like never before but they were not buying steak or filet mignon, they were buying beef and re-creating the recipes that made them feel at home.

Of course this included polpette/meatballs that originally were very small and made with 50% breadcrumbs soaked in water or, for those who were better off, with milk, and 50% meat. They also wanted more in quantity, so these meatballs became very large and to make them even more luxurious, cheese started to cover them abundantly.

Spaghetti and meatballs symbolized the combination of home and the never before experienced abundance and wealth. They became the symbol of Italian (Or I should say Southern Italian) culture in the US.

Back in Italy, however, this journey was never experienced, so meatballs/polpette, remained much smaller and a dish by themselves, never added to pasta except in some cases where tiny polpette are added to broth.

So are spaghetti and meatballs Italian?

Technically no. They are Italian-American and symbolize the longing for home mixed with the sacrifices that immigrants faced. The long and often one-way trip to the US and their ability to build a new future.

So next time you have spaghetti and meatballs, feel reverence and send your thoughts to our ancestors and feel the history lesson in a dish!

Thank you so much to Donatella for sharing this with us! If you would like to read more from Donatella please visit her Facebook page here!

Surrey Mama