Each of the three members of the Holy Trinity have it’s own unique history. Then, I will examine the history and changes the dish has endured once all of its elements were combined.
According to Smithsonian, polpettes in Italy are the ancestors of meatballs. Polpettes are eaten plain, in soups, and can be made with any source of meat, including turkey and fish. Polpettes can be up to the size of golf balls, and are commonly the size of marbles, called poplettines. Due to it’s small size and low protein content, it was considered an appetizer, snack, or second course. However, once these Italian Immigrants found a new home in the United States, they escaped poverty, made more money, and as a result, increased the size and meat content of meatballs. Therefore, polpettes are different from meatballs because they include more bread than meat. Another reason for the evolution of this dish is due to American eating habits and the savvy business techniques of Italian restaurateurs. Americans are notorious for using starch to accompany meat, as exemplified by potatoes. Italian restaurant owners acknowledged this, and married meatballs with spaghetti, now as a main dish, and created a new role for spaghetti.
Secondly, the widespread use of tomato sauce in Italian American dishes at all restaurants including eggplant Parmigiano and baked ziti was certainly not the case in Europe. Life in Italy explained how the origin of the tomato is very much American, and was eaten by the Aztecs as early as 700 AD. In the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors returning from Mesoamerica brought tomato seeds to southern Europe. However, this fruit did not have the best reception in Europe, and was widely feared as the “poison apple” in the 1700s. Once this fear went away, farmers began growing different varieties, leading to the heirloom, roma, and cherry tomatoes. Currently, over one and a half billion tons of tomatoes produced commercially annually.
Third, as explained by PBS, pasta’s affordability, shelf life, and versatility, resulted in its firm roots in Italian culture. Also, since the the warm Mediterranean climate of Italy is a great environment for fresh vegetables, creative dishes using tomato based sauces emerged as a favorite complement to pasta. Tomatoes are still the most popular ingredient in pasta sauce today. Life in Italy states that traditional pasta takes about 50 hours because it was dried at a much lower temperature. By the 14th century, dried pasta was very popular for its nutrition and long shelf life, making it ideal for long ship voyages. Now, there are 300 different shapes and varieties of dried pasta in Italy and dried pasta is mass produced on a global scale.
The combination of the separate histories of the 3 components of spaghetti and meatballs, the immigration of Italians to the United States, commercialization and globalization describe how the histories unite in this dish. As stated in Life in Italy, the first pasta recipe using tomatoes was documented in 1839. Eventually, SF Globe explains that Americans commercialized this product like everything else. Variations include frozen dinners, restaurants, canned preparations like Chef Boyardee in 1928 and Progresso soups. Also, creativity resulted in a multitude of different preperations, including meat sauces, muffin tins, turkey meatballs, vegetarian meatballs, and many more. Tuscan Traveler explores additional evidence of the secure spot that Spaghetti and meatballs has in American culture is exemplified through it’s portrayal in the American founded Disney movie, Lady and the Tramp, as well as the title of a song in the extremely popular American television show, Sesame Street, and in all Italian American restaurants in the United States.