Red Sauce How Italian Food Became American

The Bad Translation that Gave Us Pumpkin “alla Parmegiana”

By on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021 at 8:55 am | 10 views

The 1912 cookbook Simple Italian Cooking is one of the first English language cookbooks featuring Italian cuisine, and the collection translates many of the recipes of Artusi’s massive collection, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

The recipes match Artusi’s collection well enough one might be forgiven for thinking Isola simply copied Artusi’s book, a common practice at the time.

The collection does offer a glimpse into many of the Italian influences on red sauce cuisine in America. However, one early version of what would go onto become eggplant parmigiana was likely mistranslated.

Early Italian eggplant parmigiana was a sauceless baked eggplant dish, an ancestor of what we think of as eggplant parmigiana today. It is still served, known as a white eggplant parmigiana.

Another dish that was more common in Italy was a zucchini parmigiana. Artusi writes about a zucca alla parmegiana. However, since zucca has been translated to mean both pumpkin and zucchini, the recipe included in Isola’s book is more accurately a zucchini dish title pumpkin alla parmegiana.

Rest assured, it was long before eggplant and then veal and chicken came to be more common.

This recipe is adapted from Simple Italian Cooking, by Antonia Isola, 1912.


Parmesan or Gruyere


Peel pumpkin.
Slice into medallions.
Boil briefly in salted water.
Fry in butter.
Add salt and all-spice.
Add thin-sliced cheese
Brown in oven.
Serve after baking.