Italian national cuisine is not only one of the most famous in the world, but also one of the most loved. Unfortunately, there is a popular misconception that most Italian meals consist of pizza, pasta, lasagna, and spaghetti, none of which is particularly good for staying in shape. Truth is that food-making on the Boot is largely influenced by healthy Mediterranean cuisine. Its meals often include: olive oil, herb seasoning, fruits, vegetables, and are usually accompanied by a glass of wine. The food variety is probably as rich as the history of the country.
Italy has 20 regions, each of them boasting different dishes. A gastronomic tour of the peninsula is definitely worth it. But if you cannot devote an entire year to your taste buds at least try:
Pizza Margherita with mozzarella di bufala is a classic choice. According to a well-known story, while on a visit to Naples queen Margherita sat at a local restaurant to try the food of the poor. The chef prepared for her a pizza with the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella), and green (fresh basil). Nowadays this Neapolitan specialty is still prepared by the same technology – the dough is always rolled out manually and baked in a purposive brick oven heated up to 500 degrees! Following the traditions pizza is also eaten with hands.
Fried Pumpkin Blossoms
Fiori di zucca is a dish that will definitely grab your attention if you’ve never heard of it. It is made with pumpkin blossoms – breaded or filled with a mixture of ricotta, parmesan, and basil. The blossoms are picked early in the morning and then put in water until it’s time to cook them. This delicious starter is a staple on the Italian table at the beginning of summer.
According to some sources, pasta was first brought to Italy by Marco Polo after his trip to China. But facts actually reveal that lasagna was prepared on the peninsula centuries earlier. It’s more likely that pasta is a heritage from the Arabs. Italians used to dry homemade pasta to preserve it and eat it in the winter or during lean times. Presently pasta is offered in a variety of unconventional combinations. Pasta with strawberries (pasta alle fragole) might sound like a dessert, but it’s actually a main dish.
Risotto is a rice dish typical in the north of Italy. The signature creamy texture of the dish is due to the starch from the rice that is released with continuous stirring. This is why it is traditionally made with short-grain rice such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano, which is higher in starch. There are multiple recipes for every taste such as risotto with garlic and parmesan, mushrooms, asparagus, red bell peppers, or butternut squash.
Pandoro is a savoury cake usually prepared for Christmas or Easter. Its name translates to English as “golden bread” because of the colour it gets from yolks. The shape of the dessert and the traditional sprinkling with powdered sugar reminds of a snowy mountain hill. Pandoro is also frequently topped with mascarpone or melted chocolate and a variety of fruits, raisins, and seeds.
Tiramisu is a beloved Italian dessert whose origins are unclear. The delicious combination of ladyfingers, mascarpone, coffee, marsala wine, and bitter cocoa has charmed many chefs, sophisticated connoisseurs, and ordinary gourmands. The name means “pick me up” is due to the high energy value. Legend has it that during the Renaissance naughty Venetians used to eat tiramisu after dinner to get their wild night guaranteed.
Gelato is definitely not a regular ice-cream from the freezer. The Italian version has a thicker texture, less fat, and is not deeply frozen. Coming across a gelateria offering over 100 flavours is not unusual. Sadly, you might have to limit to 2 or 3 favourite choices.
Cantuccini are delicious biscotti from Tuscany. They are very crunchy thanks to the use of whole almonds and the double baking. Cantuccini are generally served with wine, but they go perfectly with coffee and tea as well. These biscotti are lasting food and that’s why the practical Italian housewives like to bake a lot of them at once. The salty version of cantuccini was an invariable part of the diet of the Roman soldier. It was not before the 16th century in the Medici court that the sweet version got popular.
Macedonia is not an Eastern European country, it’s a fruit salad. What’s common between these two is that the country is home to many nationalities and the dessert is made of various fruits. Traditionally, the seasonal fruits are flavoured with sugar and white wine or lemon juice. The salad is served cold sometimes with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
Italian cuisine is extremely diverse. It cannot be exhausted even with any cookbook. But good dishes were not meant to be discussed as much as they were meant to be enjoyed!
If you are going to a particular region in Italy, look through this guide to know what to eat while you’re there. You might also enjoy reading about the best Italian street food – affordable and delicious.