Prosciutto e Melone - A common Italian antipasto

Picture this: You’re in New York city at a famous Italian-American diner. The space is dimly lit with candles and there is a savory aroma in the air. You order a starter salad with breadsticks and a glass of Chianti wine. Your main meal consists of spaghetti and meatballs or a creamy chicken alfredo. You end your meal with another glass of wine as the waiter drops off the bill.

You just enjoyed an authentic Italian meal right? Well, consider another scenario.

 You’re in Florence sitting on the patio of a small restaurant just around the corner from some of the world’s most famous renaissance art. The menu is organized a little different than you would expect, though. You start off with some prosciutto e melone for an antipasto, then notice that only three dishes of twenty contain any red sauce. The pasta plates are small, and each person at the table orders a meat dish to follow the pasta. You top off your meal with an espresso shot as you mingle with your dinner guests.

Both of these experiences are in Italian restaurants, but they are both very different. The cuisine all across Italy is varies greatly from one region to another. The classic marinara sauce that Americans hold so close to their heart and associate with Italian food is not so common in Italy. In fact, the term marinara for red sauce doesn’t really occur in Italy, rather, it’s referred to as  salsa al pomodoro. Marinara is actually a dialectal name referring to a quick sauce that wives of sailors, or marinai, could quickly put together when their husbands unexpectedly returned from sea.

 An additional difference in the cuisines is the focus of meat versus noodles. A true Italian dish places emphasis on the primi piatti. Sauces lightly dress the noodles with few and simple ingredients. Italian-American food is often the opposite, placing large emphasis on the meat and sauce of the dish, while the noodles act as additional filler content. Traditionally, meat was more expensive for Italians, so they saved it for large gatherings and special occasions. When Italian immigrants arrived to the United States and noticed the cheaper meat prices, they upped the meat content of their dishes.

 While Italian and Italian-American cuisine are both outstanding and delicious in their own ways, they are certainly not the same thing. Both have proud heritages and stand behind their own dishes, but they come from the same root.


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