A useful intro to Italian cuisine and Italian recipes

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Stefano
Italian language tutor, course author. MEng, MBA. Member of the International Association of Hyperpolyglots (HYPIA). After learning 12 languages, I can tell you that we all master languages by listening and mimicking. I couldn’t find an app to recommend to my students, so I made my own one. With my method, you’ll be speaking Italian from Lesson 1.
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Summary

Dive into the heart of Italian cuisine, from its cozy family traditions to its rich history that dates back to ancient Rome. Discover the secrets behind Italy’s most beloved dishes and learn how to bring the authentic taste of Italy right into your home.

  • Embrace Tradition: Italian cooking is all about family heritage. Whip up a pizza Margherita or spaghetti bolognese to feel the warmth of Italian tradition in your kitchen. 🍝
  • Use Fresh Ingredients: Channel the Italian spirit by using fresh, local produce and herbs like basil and thyme. It’s all about simple flavors that sing! 🌿
  • Understand the History: Knowing the roots of Italian cuisine, from ancient Roman staples to Renaissance artistry, can inspire your cooking. It’s a delicious history lesson! 📚
  • Explore Regional Recipes: Italy’s diverse regions offer a treasure trove of dishes. Try making cannoli or pecorino cheese for a taste of authenticity. 🧀
  • Enjoy the Italian Meal Structure: For a true Italian experience, indulge in a multi-course meal from antipasti to dolci, and don’t forget the espresso! ☕
  • Get Creative with Pizza: Pizza isn’t just a meal; it’s a way of life in Italy. Experiment with toppings and enjoy it as street food or a full dinner. 🍕
  • Savor Italian Wines: Pair your dishes with the perfect Italian wine. Whether you’re a novice or a connoisseur, there’s a vino for every palate. 🍷
  • Support Sustainable Practices: Opt for DOP-certified products that promote health, environment, and sustainability. It’s good for you and the planet! 🌍
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Italian cuisine ranks alongside French cuisine in terms of global fame.

Pizza and pasta have become international dishes that are prepared not only in restaurants but also by the majority of home cooks.

Almost everyone is familiar with Italian dishes such as pizza Margherita and spaghetti bolognese, regardless of where they grew up.

Italian cuisine

Italian cuisine

Whereas the French are known for their Michelin-starred delicacies, Italian cuisine is focused on family, tradition, and coziness.

Italian food is enjoyed at the dining table with lots of laughter and guarantees a full belly.

Fresh, local ingredients, simple flavors, and green herbs, such as basil, thyme, and sage, make the dishes extremely lively.

La cucina italiana è delicata ma appagante.

Italian cuisine is subtle yet fulfilling.

Italian cuisine recipes

Italian cuisine history

In Italy, we normally give our family’s cooking tradition a lot of thought and love.

Recipes from grandmothers and mothers are passed down with care and pride, each one a representation of one’s own heritage and roots.

When it comes to the kitchen, though, looking back more than a couple of generations is unusual.

Our understanding of why we cook the way we do and consume the foods we do is mostly reliant on oral sources (our elders) and hence has a limited lifespan.

The history of Italian cuisine, on the other hand, is as long and rich as the country’s, with roots that go back to Rome’s ancestors, its people, and its political, cultural, and social strength.

Italian food has evolved and altered over centuries of battles, cultural mutations, and interactions, mirroring the evolution and changes of Italy itself: it’s a history as rich, colorful, and intriguing as the most wonderful of recipes.

The food of the ancient Romans was not all that unlike what we see on our tables now (though this cannot be stated for all tastes and preparations!).

There were also verdura (vegetables), frutta (fruit), cereali (cereals), legumi (legumes), formaggio (cheese), uova (eggs), carne (meats), and pesce (fish), with olio d’oliva (olive oil) being one of the most essential and utilized ingredients.

Maiale (pork) was smoked and salted for preservation, and excellent prosciutti (hams) were produced, much as they are today.

Cheeses, in particular, were appreciated, and there was a wide variety, just as there is today. Some of the cheeses we now eat, such mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino, date back to the Roman era.

Convents in Italy played an important role in both the cultivation of raw materials and the role of the kitchen during the Dark Ages.

Nuns’ inventiveness gave birth to several traditional desserts at convents, like marzipan and cannoli. Others, like cassata, were made for holy occasions.

The all-important role of the court was established with the Renaissance, and dishes were transformed into works of art created to elevate the landlord’s prestige.

As international trade by sea increased, the usage of spices from faraway regions revived as a popular and profitable commodity.

Pepe (pepper), cannella (cinnamon), chiodi di garofano (cloves), noce moscata (nutmeg) and many others.

Then the American continent was discovered.

Products such as pomodori (tomatoes), fagioli (beans), patate (potatoes), cacao (cocoa), mais (corn), peperoncino (hot pepper), tacchino (turkey), melanzane (eggplants), and more arrived.

During the Risorgimento in the nineteenth century, a borghese or middle-class cuisine arose, which was neither rich nor poor, but rather gourmet.

The art of coffee making, as well as chocolate, ice cream, and sorbets, as well as drinks like lemonade and cedrate, all date from this period. Truffles delicacies too.

Nowadays, thanks to the Slow Food movement and the DOP certifications of products, we are experiencing a moment of more awareness of health, the environment, biodiversity, and sustainability.

Such DOP products have institutional support in Italy and are considered something that can be exported rather than merely as an idea.

Shortly, maybe genuine recipes from the most traditional of regional Italian cuisine might just be possible to try in your home.

Slow Food: Good, Clean and Fair Food for Everyone

The Italian meal

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On weekdays, most Italians have a bowl of gnocchi or a hefty slice of frittata, just like everyone.

Lunch used to be more filling. This tradition can still be seen in modern Italy on Sundays and official holidays, as well as in formal restaurants. The following are the elements of an Italian meal:

  • Antipasti – Snacks served with a glass of alcoholic drink.

What you’re served changes depending on where you are and what season you’re in. Slices of meat, olives, grilled veggies, bruschetta, and/or cheese are all good options. Antipasti are similar to tapas in Spain.

  • Primo piatto – A small portion of pasta like tagliatelle, soup, gnocchi, or risotto is served as the first course.
  • Secondo piatto – A meat or fish dish with bread and a contorni (side dish/vegetable/salad) is served as the second course.
  • Frutta e dolci – Italians tend to end their dinner with a fruit bowl.

For the weekend, they save creamy dolci like tiramisu and panna cotta. What about the famous Italian gelato (ice cream)? This is great for a warm evening stroll.

  • Espresso and digestivo – A final cup of strong coffee and a digestive are served after the meal.

There are over three hundred different digestives to choose from, ranging from sweet grappa or limoncello to bitter amari.

  • Pizza – Italy’s most famous dish is served as street food or as a meal in and of itself rather than as part of a multi-course dinner.

Time to open a wine bottle

Are you only comfortable with the classics of Italian cuisine and want to try something new?

By using the following menu, you can easily expand your knowledge.

Prepara le forchette!

Get the forks ready!

Read also: Italian wine: A beginner’s guide

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FAQs on A useful intro to Italian cuisine and Italian recipes

What is Italian national dish?

Italy does not have an official national dish, but some of the country's most well-known and beloved dishes include pizza, pasta, risotto, lasagna, and various types of regional specialties.

What means antipasti?

Antipasti is an Italian word that refers to a selection of appetizers or small dishes served before the main course of a meal. It usually includes a variety of cured meats, cheeses, olives, and vegetables, and is meant to stimulate the appetite.

What to eat when in Italy?

Italy has a rich and diverse culinary tradition, and there are countless delicious dishes to try. Some must-try dishes include pizza, pasta (such as spaghetti carbonara, cacio e pepe, or lasagne), risotto, gelato, tiramisu, and various types of cured meats and cheeses.

What is the best Italian pizza ?

There is no one definitive "best" Italian pizza as different regions and pizzerias have their own unique styles and toppings. Some popular types of pizza in Italy include Neapolitan pizza, Margherita pizza, Marinara pizza, and Sicilian pizza.

Italian word of the day
lunga
Example
È una giornata lunga.
It’s a long day.
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