Marxist academic Alberto Grandi has dedicated his career to “debunking the myths around Italian food”, says Marianna Giusti in the FT. Supposedly time-honoured classics from carbonara to tiramisu are, he argues, no older than the postwar economic boom. In fact, he says, Italian cuisine is “more American than it is Italian”. The first pizzeria opened not in Naples but in New York, in 1911. Most Italians “hadn’t heard of pizza until the 1950s”. When American GIs were sent to Sicily in 1943, they wrote home in disbelief: “there were no pizzerias”.
Grandi’s revelations have made him deeply unpopular in certain quarters, which is understandable in a country where the food-and-drink sector is obsessed with “tradition and authenticity”. Romans, in particular, have not taken kindly to his insistence that carbonara is really “an American dish born in Italy”. To modern Italians, the recipe has a strict, almost sacred set of ingredients: guanciale (pork jowl), pecorino cheese, eggs, pepper, and definitely no cream. But the first written recipe (from Chicago in 1952) featured bacon, not guanciale, which didn’t come into the equation until the 1990s. And while most experts now agree that carbonara was originally conceived by Italian chef Renato Gualandi, the first time he made it was for American troops, using American ingredients – including, he later recalled, “very good cream”.