Food & Dining
Open image in lightbox
Mostaccioli from the Croatian American Club. (photo: Sanam Lamborn)

Last September, I wrote about my research into mostaccioli by hypothesizing that it’s a Croatian-American dish. 

Despite the very Italian name, I knew from my upbringing that mostaccioli in Italy is a cacao- and spices-based Christmas sweet from Naples. Along the way, I discovered that some Italian-Americans in San Pedro also claim mostaccioli as their own dish, and a baked version is also made in the Midwest. 

 Internet searches produce an abundance of mostaccioli recipes, often labeled as authentic or classic Italian. An important distinction is understanding the difference between Italian from the mainland and Italian American. These variations reflect how immigrants recreate or adapt dishes from their homeland with ingredients available to them in their adoptive country. In the case of Italian-American dishes, like mostaccioli, some don’t exist in Italy.

I noticed that when the Croatian-American community speaks about mostaccioli, it specifically means the smooth tube-shaped pasta served with a red meat sauce. However, Italian Americans refer to the noodle as mostaccioli and combine it with other sauces besides meat sauce. I have never noticed a pasta box named mostaccioli at our local grocery stores, although they are available for purchase online. 

Mostaccioli meat sauce resembles three famed Italian sauces. Bolognese ragù (from the city of Bologna) is cooked with ground beef or pork along with the holy trinity of Italian cuisine — onion, celery, and carrots — and served over tagliatelle, which are long flat noodles. Neapolitan ragù is made with sausage and chunks of meat that are then shredded; this red meat sauce only uses onions as a base. The final inspiration is pasta alla Genovese, a white ragù made by slow simmering an abundance of thinly cut onions with chunks of meat and small diced carrots and celery. 

Mostaccioli from the Croatian American Club. (photo: Sanam Lamborn)

Despite its name, pasta alla Genovese is native to Naples and was prepared by northern cooks at taverns at the port of Naples for the ship workers from Genova who traveled back and forth between these two major port towns starting in the sixth century.

Unlike the Bolognese, Neapolitan ragù and pasta alla Genovese are served with tube-shaped pasta, the latter with hand-broken tubular smooth ziti. The resemblance to the Croatian-American and Italian-American mostaccioli is strong, keeping in mind that the first only uses onions. Could it be that Croatian and Italian immigrants borrowed this dish from each other? Is mostaccioli a variation of the Neapolitan ragù and pasta alla Genovese? After all, most Italians who immigrated to the United States came from Southern Italy. 

In fact, San Pedro is home to many whose families immigrated from Campania, the region where Naples, the island of Ischia, and the Amalfi Coast are located. Regardless, mostaccioli is authentically a dish that represents flavors of immigrants’ home countries but is adapted and influenced by ingredients available to them in their new home, America.  

A few Italian restaurants in town have mostaccioli on their menu. Big Nick’s Pizza (1110 N. Gaffey St.) offers three pasta choices: regular mostaccioli, Pedro Pirate served with bell peppers and sausage in red sauce, and Deelicious served with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and feta cheese. Buono’s Pizzeria’s (222 W. 6th St.) mostaccioli pasta can be ordered with either meat, marinara, or pesto sauce. Bonello’s New York Pizza’s (806 S. Gaffey St.) version is baked and can be ordered with either meatballs, sausage, or chicken. 

 To try the Croatian-American version of mostaccioli, stop by the Croatian American Club (631 W. 9th St.) on May 26 for their yearly independence celebration event or at San Pedro Café (605 S. Pacific Ave.). spt

Mostaccioli, Pt.1” appeared in the Sept. 2023 issue of San Pedro Today


Sanam Lamborn

Sanam Lamborn created the Eat in San Pedro Facebook group and Instagram account in April 2020 to entice people to patronize San Pedro’s eateries.