The United States of America, notably known as a melting pot “founded” by immigrants, experienced the Great Arrival of Italian immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Transatlantic ships carried these hopeful Italians across the treacherous, looming ocean until a grande woman who touched the clouds and graced the sky with her torch welcomed them to their new home: “l’America.” Over the years, travel to the United States became more luxurious, thus Italy constructed transatlantic passenger ships in the late 1920s, such as the Navigazonie Generale Italiana (NGI) and the Lloyd Sabaudo, which would later form the Italian Line. These companies provided its passengers with accommodation and lavish meals as seen on the Italian Line Menu from the S.S. Roma in December of 1926; for example, chefs served “Spaghetti al Burro e Parmigiano- Salsa Pomidoro” (Pomodoro) along with a cold buffet, cheese, fruit, and coffee.1
The S.S. Roma, “the largest Atlantic liner ever built in Italy,” originally used to pertain to the Società di Navigazione and launched September 19, 1926 for its first journey from Ansaldo Shipyard in Sestri Ponente, Genoa to New York.2 Prior to the 1920s, most Italian immigrants and travelers originated from southern Italian towns; however, with the development of the Società di Navigazione, which held its port in Genoa, the U.S. would see more Italians as they embarked on passenger ships from northern Italy; therefore changing Italian American cuisine and culture.
Following World War I, shipowners became desperate since the United States had closed its border to new immigrants, which devastated the Italian economy since this provided great profit for the ship liners. Therefore President of Italy, Benito Mussolini, ordered for larger Italian passenger shipping companies such as the Società di Navigazione, Lloyd Sabaudo, and Cosulich STN to fuse into one company known as the Italia di Navigazione S.p.A (Italian Line).3 By forming one company, these liners would have the means to survive the economic crisis occurring. The Italian Line began its operations in 1932, and it would act as one of Italy’s leading companies that linked Europe with the Americas, South Africa, and Australia.4 Unfortunately, when Italy entered World War II, the Italian government neglected to inform the Italian Line of its entrance into the war: consequently, these ships traversed into enemy waters, and they fell victim to violence In 2002, the Italian Line ceased operations once it became privatized and transformed into a new company.5
Although the Italian Line has since ended its travels across the Atlantic ocean, it left an effect on both Italians and Americans as it created a relationship between its people. By the early 1900s, the U.S. had witnessed the mass migration of Italians, and since these immigrants originated from southern Italian towns, their food differed from the cuisine served on the Italian Line. Restaurants such as Ferdinando’s Focacceria, originally known as Paul’s Focacceria, illustrate popular meals found within Sicily, and its location, located near the Brooklyn pier, tells of its appeal to the local Italian community, especially working class Italian men. Paul’s Foccacceria served readily available Sicilian sandwiches to Italian men and women nostalgic of their home, and the restaurant serves as an example of Italian dishes found within the U.S. prior to the influx of Genoese travelers and immigrants.6 Interestingly, since the Italian Line originated from Genoa, the menu did not contain sandwiches, but instead it provided salads, semolina, mashed potatoes, pastas, and a wide variety of meats. For example, the menu for December 1, 1926 detailed Semolini al Burro (semolina cooked in butter), Giambone Crudo (raw ham), Controfiletto Arrosto ( roasted sirloin), Insalata Composta (compote salad), etc.
Dishes as such can be found within seconds online, but historical cookbooks provide authentic recipes, and they allow further analysis of plates served in the decade of its publication. Maria Gentile’s Italian Cookbook provides an in-depth recipe for Salsa di Pomodoro utilized in the early 1900s: she even includes alternatives for the cook if ripe tomatoes cannot be found within their home.7 Antonia Isola’s Simple Italian Cookery details the recipe for Spaghetti al Burro e Parmigiano, but both cookbooks call for maccheroni as opposed to spaghetti which the Italian Line utilized in its menu of December 1, 1926.8 When cooking these plates in the same manner as served aboard the Italian Line, one should note the difference in noodles served. In order to fully appreciate and admire Italian cuisine, I cooked this dish as portrayed in the Italian Cookbook and Simple Italian Cookery.
The Italian Cookbook’s recipe of salsa pomidoro begins by listing the ingredients needed, and an estimated amount of each as well. For example, Isola begins by telling the reader to chop together one quarter of an onion, a clove of garlic, celery, 7-8 tomatoes, a few bay leaves, and “just enough parsley.” She then adds that these ingredients should be seasoned with oil (one can assume olive oil), salt, and pepper, and then to mix all the ingredients together in a pot over the fire. These items should be mixed every few minutes, and one should strain the sauce through a sieve once the juice begins to condense into a custard. She then admits tomato paste can act as an alternative and can be found in any Italian grocery store throughout the U.S. However, she then argues that although one can use tomato paste, it takes away from the authentic Italian flavor and is ”sweet in flavor.” Once the recipe for the sauce has been illustrated, she then tells the reader how to plate the dish; for example, this sauce can be served as dressing on macaroni or pasta al burro e parmigiano. Although the recipe for salsa pomodoro does not require strenuous work, the recipe for pasta al burro e parmigiano exceeds the other recipe in simpleness.9 As stated in Simple Italian Cookery, the cook only needs to boil and drain noodles and then take four tablespoons of butter and three tablespoons of grated parmesan to be mixed with the noodles.10 After observing the two recipes, one can see how at times the measurements can be vague such as how much noodle one should cook or what constitutes “just enough parsley.” The cooks allow the reader to alter the dish in a manner that can accommodate to their home while also maintaining true Italian cooking.
In order to truly take pleasure in reading the Italian Line menu, I prepared spaghetti al burro e parmigiano with salsa di pomodoro in order to grasp the ambiance of Italian cuisine while also enjoying the same dish the passengers on board ate. I saw the true delicacy in Italian cooking and how a simple yet scrumptious meal has changed our society as it can be found in nearly any Italian restaurant today. After cooking the pasta, I realized one could compare spaghetti al burro e parmigiano to modern variations of these recipes, which do not stray from the recipes found in the early 1900s: Italian tradition has allowed for generations of Italians to maintain the authenticity of their cuisine. Concerning the salsa di pomodoro, only one main ingredient has been added to the sauce since the Italian Cookbook published the recipe in 1919: dry basil has replaced the celery utilized in the recipe.1
When cooking the plate, I realized how careful one has to be or else they can spoil the meal. I had not realized the tomatoes should be diced and not just chopped because once I began cooking the chopped tomatoes, it turned into a lumpy sauce. I also failed to recognize that the butter and parmesan should not be mixed with the noodles in a scorching pot. I had to toss my original butter and parmesan sauce because the cheese burned and clustered together. However, I perfected the dish and served a mouthwatering meal to my family. One can easily become amazed once they realize a dish created in their own home originated from another home across the world.
Italian cuisine traveled thousands of miles to the U.S. just as the passengers did aboard the Italian Line. Italians brought with them dishes unique to their regions, which still educate the American public in how plates differ depending on which Italian region they derive from. The Italian Line facilitated the connection between the most important concept of any culture, especially a concept the Italian have deemed to be notable for: food.
- “Italian Line: Menus: Whats on the Menu?” n.d. Accessed October 26, 2020. menus.nypl.org
- “SS. ROMA 1926.” n.d. Accessed November 17, 2020. http://www.relevantsearchscotland.co.uk
- Grace, Michael L. n.d. “History of the Italian Line.” The Past and the Now | News, Travel & Social History (blog). Accessed October 26, 2020. http://www.cruiselinehistory.com
- Grace, “History of the Italian Line,” 1
- “Italia Flotte Riunite.” n.d. italianliners. Accessed October 26, 2020. http://www.italianliners.com
- “Since 1904, Ferdinando’s Focacceria Has Kept Sicilian Cuisine Alive in Brooklyn.” 2019. Edible Brooklyn (blog). October 23, 2019. http://www.ediblebrooklyn.com
- Gentile, Maria. 1919. The Italian Cook Book: The Art of Eating Well : Practical Recipes of the Italian Cuisine. Italian Book Company.
- Isola, Antonia, and Mabel Earl McGinnis. 1912. Simple Italian Cookery. Harper & brothers.
- Gentile, The Italian Cook Book: The Art of Eating Well : Practical Recipes of the Italian Cuisine, 10
- Isola and Mabel, Simple Italian Cookery, 8
- “Salsa Di Pomodoro Recipe – Food.Com.” n.d. Accessed November 24, 2020. http://www.food.com
S.S. Roma Photo Citation
- “Navigazione Generale Italiana.” n.d. italianliners. Accessed December 11, 2020. http://www.italianliners.com
Simple Italian Cookery Photo Citation
- Omnivorebooks. n.d. “(Italian) Isola, Anotonia. Simple Italian Cookery.” Omnivorebooks. Accessed December 11, 2020. http://www.omnivorebooks.com