Eating in Italy

Fresh ingredients, aperitivos and lengthy dinners are just a few of the signature gems of Italian food and drink culture. Let’s take a closer look at why Italian cuisine is the ultimate expression of simplicity.

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Less is more when it comes to Italian cuisine. Quality, fresh ingredients prepared with great care result in rich flavors and textures. Italy’s warm, savory dishes are considered some of the best in the whole world. 

CHARACTERISTICS

Italian cuisine features a plethora of fresh produce, meat, and cheese. The emphasis is much less on processed foods, as Italians tend to buy their groceries at local food markets. Tradition is also a very important aspect of Italian cuisine. Many family recipes remain unchanged for centuries and each region has their own unique staple dishes. In fact, the idea of a unified Italian cuisine is rejected. Each part of the country prides itself on its special offerings. In Sicily, there is a focus on pasta with sardines. In Unbria, tagliatelle pasta with white truffles is the prized dish. So on and so forth. 

Food is a fundamental part of everyday life in that it revolves around spending long periods of time with loved ones around the table. This is especially true at lunch and dinner time. Compared to people in other European countries, Italians keep their breakfast light. Typical fare might include pastries, yogurt and fruit salad, accompanied with coffee, of course! Italians prefer to save their appetite for lunch and dinner and, given that many of the country’s dishes are quite rich, it’s easy to see why this is standard practice. 

Compared to people in other European countries, Italians keep their breakfast light.

Olive oil, flour, eggs, and beans all feature heavily in Italian cuisine but no other ingredient is as popular as pasta. Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the quintessential combinations in Italy and dates back to the 17th century. To consume pasta without sauce would be like eating a salad without lettuce. The sauce pairing as well as the sauce to pasta ratio are both important components of this classic combo. For example, pappardelle, a wide, flat-shaped noodle is better built for chunky meat sauces, whereas delicate long pastas like angel hair and capellini, are best paired with thin oil or cream-based sauces – think pesto!

Of course, pizza is a universal dish that originated in Naples, Italy. Neapolitan pizza hails from Naples, Italy and is governed by a set of rules regulated by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). The tomatoes used in the sauce must come from one of three regions in Italy: Sarnese-Nocerino, Vesuvio, or Corbara., the cheese made from the milk of a water buffalo, 00-grade wheat flour, and the pizza must be cooked no longer than ninety seconds in an authentic wood-fire oven.

Other Italian dishes worthy of praise are risotto, a creamy rice dish from the north, Osso buco, veal shanks braised with vegetables and white wine and lasagna. Italian dessert is a glorious category all of its own that warrants another article.  

Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the quintessential combinations in Italy and dates back to the 17th century.

THE TWIRL

Serving long noodle pasta is the perfect opportunity to practice your plating skills. Twisting pasta into a nice, round pile instead of throwing it on the plate adds one extra step but will really wow your guests. Using a carving fork, pick up a portion of pasta and anchor it in a soup ladle. After that, simply twirl until the pasta is coiled into a neat little nest in the ladle. Keeping the fork still in the ladle, gently nudge the nest of pasta onto a plate and slowly remove the fork. You may need to practice a few times to nail this technique but it’s worth it. 

THE APERITIVO

An aperitivo is a drink that takes place at the end of the work day (generally around 7pm) as a kind of prelude to dinner. The word comes from the Latin word “aperire” meaning ‘open,' signifying that it is meant to open a meal. Remember, Italians typically don't eat dinner until around 9pm. 

The tradition has been equated with the American happy hour custom but its purpose is more than that. An aperitivo is meant to stimulate your appetite, an idea that goes back to 1786, when distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created one of the first types of vermouth in Italy and marketed the idea that his concoction stimulated the appetite and was more suitable for ladies to drink than wine. Thus, vermouth became one of the first popular aperitivo drinks. 

The aperitivo is the quintessential expression of Italian culture, one that everyone should experience.

It is common for light snacks and finger foods to be served as a free accompaniment to an aperitivo, which is built into the price of cocktails. Traditionally, aperitivo options tend to be light on alcohol and bitter in taste, meaning they pair perfectly with salty snacks like cured meats and cheeses. Popular choices for cocktails include negronis, Campari and soda and various amaros but, of course, guests can enjoy any alcoholic beverage they wish. 

If you visit Italy, going to an aperitivo bar is a great way to experience the culture, people watch and, frankly, hold you over until that late night dinner you’re likely unaccustomed to. Word to the wise, Milan is said to be the best scene for aperitivo bars and plenty of prepared food (almost in the style of a buffet). The further south you go, the less likely it is to find bars set up that way.