Italian Cuisine – Cooking in Italy
Italian cuisine has a huge variety of dishes and drinks: because Italy was not officially unified until 1861, and its cuisines reflect the cultural variety of its regions and its diverse history (with influences from Greek, Roman, Gaelic, Germanic, Goth, Norman, Lombard, Frank, Turkish, Hebrew, Slavic, Arabic and Chinese cuisines). Italian cuisine is savored in every corner of the world.
In a way, there is really no such thing as Italian cuisine in the way that people usually understand national cuisines. Each region has its own specialties. Italian cuisine is not only highly regionalized, it is also very seasonal. The high priority placed on the use of fresh, seasonal produce distinguishes the Italian cuisine from imitations available in most other countries.
Roman cuisine, for instance, uses a lot of pecorino (cheese made from sheep’s milk) and offal, while Tuscan cuisine includes white beans, meat, and bread. Pizza making also varies throughout the country, the pizza crusts in Rome are thin and crispy, while Neapolitan pizza and Sicilian pizza have a thicker crust. The influence of Northern Italian cuisine can be seen in French and German cuisines. Piedmont and Lombardy each grow their own different kinds of rice, which are used to make risotto. The North of Italy is the home of polenta. Emilia-Romagna is known for lasagna and tortellini (stuffed pasta), Naples (Napoli) is the home of pizza, mozzarella cheese and pastries. Calabria’s cuisine uses a lot of hot pepper in its renowned salami (which is common, in several varieties, throughout the country) and uses capsicum. Sicily is the home of ice cream but its cuisine also has many influences from Arab cuisine (lemon, pistachio) and also includes fish (tuna, swordfish). Sardinia is famous for lamb and pecorino.
Northern and Southern Italian cooking
Traditional Italian cuisine varies from region to region and does not follow North-South tendencies. Northern and southern Italian cuisines can be differentiated, primarily, by the north using more butters and creams and the south more tomato and olive oil. Generally, however, there is a strong difference between the regional use of cooking fat and traditional style of pasta. Inland northern and northeastern regions usually prefer more butter, cream, polenta, mascarpone, grana padano, and parmigian cheeses, risotto, lasagna and fresh egg pasta. Coastal northern and central regions are more of a link between north and south and often use tortellini, ravioli and are known for great prosciutto. The southern regions are known for mozzarella, caciocavallo, and pecorino cheeses, olive oil, and dried pasta. Southern Italian cuisine also uses the ubiquitous tomato.
Types of Italian coffee
Italian coffee (caffè), also known as espresso, which is a strong coffee prepared by forcing the hot water through finely ground coffee beans at high pressure. It is usually served in relatively small amount. Caffè macchiato is covered with a bit of steamed milk or whip cream; caffè ristretto is made with less water, and is stronger. Cappuccino is mixed or topped with steamed, mostly foamy, milk. It is generally considered a morning drink. Caffelatte is usually equal parts of espresso and steamed milk, like café au lait, and is typically served in a large cup. Latte macchiato (spotted milk) is a glass of warm milk with a bit of coffee.
We cannot talk about Italian food without talking about Italian wine. Most Italian wines of great names are produced in the three main Italian regions: Piedmont (Barolo), Venetia (Amarone, Pinot Grigio, etc.) and Tuscany (Chianti, Brunello). Other great wine producing regions such as Puglie (Primitivo) and Sicily also produce some noteworthy wines.
A traditional Italian meal:
1. Antipasto – hot or cold appetizers
2. Primo (“first course”), usually consists of a hot dish like pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta or soup. There are usually many vegetarian options.
3. Secondo (“second course”), the main dish, usually fish or meat (pasta is never the main course of a meal). Traditionally veal is the most widely used meat, at least in the North, although beef has become more popular since World War II.
4. Contorno (“side dish”) may consist of a salad or vegetables. A traditional menu features salad after the main course.
5. Dolce (“dessert”)
6. Caffè (“coffee”) (espresso)
7. Digestive which consists of liquors/liqueurs (grappa, amaro, limoncello) sometimes called ammazzacaffè (“Coffee killer”)
Although it is said that today the traditional Italian menu is reserved for special events even as the common menu only includes the first and second course, the side dish (often joined to the second course) and coffee (if not in a hurry). One remarkable aspect of an Italian meal, especially if eaten in an Italian home, is that the primo, or first course, is usually the more substantial dish, containing most of the meal’s carbohydrates, and will consist of risotto or pasta. Modern Italian cuisine also includes single courses (all-at-once courses), providing carbs and proteins altogether (e.g. pasta and vegetables).