Many people mistakenly consider Italian food to be limited to pasta and pizza. In reality, Italian cuisine is one of the most widely varied and richest cuisines from around the globe. It is not easy to find another nation as passionate about food and cooking as the Italians, who find it impossible to separate cooking and the love of food from their everyday social lives. At an early age, kids enjoy sitting on the kitchen table around the mother while she is cooking, and not just the daughters of the family. Even for boys, it is a sign of maturity to succeed in making a dish of lasagna or minestrone soup that is praised by the whole family. In Italy, the preparation of a family meal is a pure ritual and the meal itself is considered sacred.
Italian cuisine is not complicated; they prefer to concentrate on the essentials rather than make matters too intricate. In contrast to the French, in Italian cuisine much less ingredients are used, but the focus is on the high quality and freshness of the food. The classic Italian menu consists of five dishes: the meal begins with ‘antipasti’, and then comes ‘zuppa’, clear broth with various ingredients. Third – inevitably! – comes pasta. For the Italians, pasta is not only a food item but a national art in the making. It is said that Italians have more names for pasta than for men, and they are proud of that. Traditionally, a pasta dish is the first course, and Italians consider that failing to achieve cooking it ‘al dente’ is an insult to this specific art. The second course (called ‘piatto’, which means ‘second’) showcases all what this rich country, with its regional diversity, has to offer in matter of meat, fish, seafood, game or vegetables. To mention only a few of the rich dishes served as piatto: saltimbocca, ossobucco, gamberini, costolette di vitello… To end their meal, some Italians prefer a selection of Italian cheeses, farmer bread and a glass of wine others will not leave the table till the take their dessert, called ‘dolce’.
In Italian cuisine, each region is extremely proud of the variety of its own specific products. Starting from the North, the Trento region’s cuisine was influenced by the old Tyrol Empire, in what is now Germany and Austria. Moving southwards comes Venice, where typically the food has a huge marine influence. Fish and seafood is a part of each day’s menu, and if you pass by Venice without tasting the “fritto misto del mare”, which is a mixture of crab, prawns and roasted sea spiders, you’ve certainly missed out!
Leaving Venice, you head directly up to the famous Lombardi region, which contains a lot of beautiful lakes. Milan is the urban heart of Lombardi, and it offers a traditional and very popular cuisine. Many famous dishes were created there such as ‘la cotoletta Milanese’, and ‘ossobuco vitello tonnato’. Then comes the Piemonte region, where a very famous gourmet product originated from: ‘riso superfino carnaroli’, or Alba white truffles.
It goes without saying that Italy has the best olive oil around the globe; the best of the best comes from the region of Tuscany. People from Tuscany are truly “bon viveur” – their life is just a multitude of gourmet experiences. A country bread, ‘bistecca alla fiorentina’, with a piece of Pecorino cheese and a glass of wine, is for them a normal enjoyment for every day of their lives, but for a tourist is a fine gourmet degustation, and a unique Italian culinary experience!
The Liguria area is another destination where food tends to embrace the French influence, as the two countries meet there. This is where the famous basil pesto comes from.
Emilia-Romagna is a region that is a real paradise of rich ingredients and delicious Italian recipes. Just to mention a few dishes that originated from here: Modena, Bologna, Ravenna, Parma, and Piacenza, with your mind automatically thinking of the best balsamic vinegar, the best ham, the best parmesan cheese….only the best!
We reach the South of Italy now, with towns such as Puglia, Abruzzo, and Calabria: the land of the Italian pizza. Although the majority there prefer to have a pasta with fresh and crunchy vegetables or a delicious lamb ragout, they are very proud to tell you, “We brought pizza to the world!”
Last but not least come the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Sicilia which, due to their specific location and history, have developed an independent cuisine that is both unique and delicious. Sicilians are more into fish and seafood: sardines, swordfish and tuna are much appreciated kinds of fish that are cooked in many different ways, whereas in Sardinia they have an inclination to meat product, especially piglets and wild game.
As one may notice, in the end, the Italian cuisine is a simple yet elegant one, where fresh ingredients – such as tomato, oregano, mushroom, vinegar, cheese, wheat and rice – are king. The simplicity of it can be deceiving, as it is not so simple to master. Yet, once it is mastered, the gastronomic experience of the grand Italian cuisine is unlike any other.