Red Sauce How Italian Food Became American

What Is Red Sauce

Red sauce refers to the tomato-based cuisine developed in the United States by Italian immigrants and drawing on cooking traditions of southern Italy.

About the Book

Red Sauce 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 MacAllentraces 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 booklooks 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 expertly unpacks how America fell in love with Italian food."

— Jennifer Wright, author of “Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes That Fought Them”


The Italian American Podcast hosted author Ian MacAllen for a two-episode discussion of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American

Listen to the Episode 1

The Italian American Podcast hosted author Ian MacAllen for a two-episode discussion of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American

Listen to Episode 2

San Francisco's QKED hosted an hour-long special on red sauce featuring author Ian MacAllen, historian Ken Borelli, and restaurateur Gina Correnti. During the show, panelists discuss the history of Italian American food in California, regional differences in cuisine, and Round Table Pizza.

Listen to the episode online.

Read an excerpt over at the Chicago Review of Books.

"Ian MacAllen’s Red Sauce is a restorative whose diligent research and engaging writing puts everything in perspective"

— John Mariani, author, “How Italian Food Conquered the World” and “The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink”

Critical Reviews

"Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American is the fascinating result, a well-researched look into how the cuisine of Italian immigrants made its way into the American mainstream,"
— New York Post

"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."

— Booklist

"About 1/3 of it in the back are all "notes/quotes" ect"

—Cathy Z

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.

— Jason Diamond, author of “The Sprawl" and "Searching for John Hughes”

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.

— Nicholas Mancusi, author of “A Philosophy of Ruin”

"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."

— Paul Freedman, Yale University

" 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."

— Inside Hook

"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!""

— Andrew F. Smith, author of “The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture and Cookery”