Italian cuisine is very familiar to all of us. It is so delicious that it has long since crossed the borders of Italy and reached every continent in the world, just like our hummus. But just as we all know that hummus does not have to be one that is well made with the right ingredients in the right dose in the country of origin, so the story of Italian food is the same – you know most Italian foods well, you must have tried them before, but only once you taste them in their original form will you understand their nature really. A gastronomic trip in Italy will take you all the way to the islands, and just before you go on one of these, you should understand how the local culture in each region of Italy led to the development of its unique delicacies and where you should eat what.
Pizza is probably the food that most characterizes Italy, crossed all borders, reached all continents, and over time became fast food. But Italy’s pizza is far from being fast food – in fact it is a luxury food and its taste is very different from the pizza we know from Pizza Hut for example. You must have heard of the phrase “see Naples and die”, but don’t be satisfied with just seeing Naples – if you haven’t tried the pizza in its city of origin, it’s as if you haven’t been there.
The pizza actually started as a dough with cheese, without the Neapolitan sauce (a special tomato sauce, whose name can be understood to have originated in Naples). The one who is actually responsible for this very critical addition that turned the dough-with-cheese into the beloved pizza we know today, is none other than Queen Margherita of Italy, who came to visit Naples in 1889 and saw all her subjects eating the food she did not know. She asked to taste, and since she is a queen, the subjects could not serve her only dough with cheese, so they added the Neapolitan sauce and some basil, and the rest is history. When you order a “margherita” pizza at a pizzeria, remember that it is named after the queen who feasted her heart on pizza with napolitana sauce.
The Neapolitan pizza has a thick and airy dough, with a relatively small diameter. Although you can find many places in Naples that will offer you pizza with toppings, but if you want to taste the original pizza (which the locals claim is the best) – go for the margherita pizza, just like the Queen’s – dough, Neapolitan sauce, cheese and basil. Sounds simple and boring but the taste is unforgettable.
Although the Neapolitan pizza is the most famous in Italy due to its special taste, the Roman pizza, which is slightly different, is just as good. The Roman pizza is baked from very thin dough and is crunchy and less soft. It is wider in its diameter because the dough is rolled out until it is extremely thin. You will also find the famous Neapolitan sauce and cheese on this pizza, and on them you can have a huge variety of toppings that you probably won’t find at Pizza Hut: olives and tomatoes are the basic toppings in Rome too, but they are joined by toppings like arugula leaves, buffalo cheese, truffle oil, garlic and prosciutto that will make the Your pizza for the delicacy of kings.
Although Italy is the birthplace of pizza, there you can also find fast food buffets that will sell you the simple pizza. At the same time, the system’s recommendation is to invest a few more shekels (if you are already here) and enter a local restaurant that will serve you pizza the way pizza should be, along with a glass of red wine to complete the experience as required.
Another very Italian food in its nature is pasta, which is also already known and sold all over the world, especially spaghetti Bolognese.
Spaghetti Bolognese originated in the city of Bologna in Italy, and was already a well-known dish in Italy in the 15th century. While in the world Spaghetti Bolognese is mainly a tomato sauce with pieces of meat, the Spaghetti Bolognese that you will be served in Bologna is made from a sauce whose main ingredient is the meat, and the tomatoes are just a small addition, in fact at the beginning there were no tomatoes in the sauce at all, but they were added in later years. The main flavor of the sauce is meaty, and the spaghetti itself will actually be tagliatelle – long and thin strips (but rectangular and not linear like spaghetti) of pasta based on eggs.
But Italian pasta is not limited to spaghetti Bolognese. The pasta comes in a variety of shapes and preparation methods and with a variety of different sauces:
In Italy there are two main families of pasta – dry pasta, which originates in southern Italy and is made mainly of semolina, and fresh pasta which originates in central and northern Italy and is made from eggs. There are many forms of pasta in Italy: spaghetti, tagliatelle, ravioli, linguini, fettuccine, tortellini, penne and much more. If you want to try all the types, you’ll probably have to spend a lifetime in Italy, and that’s even before we talked about the sauces.
A very important rule when it comes to pasta in Italy (and pasta in general, it is recommended to try it at home as well) – the pasta will never wait for the sauce, but the sauce will wait for the pasta. First prepare the sauce and only then the pasta itself, which keeps the pasta hot and has a strong flavor when served.
The most favorite Italian pasta dishes and which it is recommended to look for in the menus of the restaurants in Italy:
- Pasta a la Norma – Sicilian pasta, with eggplant, fresh tomatoes, ricotta cheese, garlic, basil and cock oil.
- Bucciatini a l’Amtriciana – pasta from Rome, with tomato sauce, bacon, onion and chili or pepper powder (pasta from Rome are known for their spicy addition).
- Ragu Napolitano – pasta from Naples, with napolitana sauce (which is not a regular tomato sauce, it is actually cooked a whole night before serving!), various pieces of meat such as bacon/prosciutto, red wine, onion, garlic and parsley.
- Pesto a la Genovese – pasta from Genoa, with pesto sauce, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and parmesan cheese. The preferred type of pasta for pesto pasta is gnocchi.
- Ravioli di ricotta e spinaki – pasta from Venice, which is actually pieces of ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach and egg. with a little olive oil as a sauce.
The origin of lasagna is in the province of Emilia Romana (where the largest and best-known city is Bologna), and it is actually also a type of pasta, but served in a slightly different style.
The original lasagna was a “poor” food in the 15th century and did not have tomato sauce (contrary to what many think, tomatoes do not grow naturally in Italy, even though they are so characteristic with Italian foods. The tomatoes came from America, so they began to be added to dishes only after the discovery of America ). First the lasagna was a rectangular and flat pasta with only ragout / bechamel sauce, cheese and meat. Over the years, tomato sauce was added to it, but unlike lasagna in the rest of the world, in Italy very little tomato sauce is placed on it.
Not everything that comes from Italy is dough, and even those who don’t eat gluten can enjoy Italian cuisine, for example the famous risotto that originates in the northern part of Italy – Lombardy and Piedmont. In fact, the amount of rice grown in northern Italy has made Italy the largest rice producer in Europe.
Risotto is rice cooked in a special way with chicken/vegetable stock that filters the rice from its starch and makes its texture creamy, soft and soupy. The risotto, like the pasta, also comes with a variety of toppings, and each city in the region has its own special risotto:
- Risotto a la Milanese – comes from Milan, and is a risotto with saffron.
- Risotto al Nero di Sepia – comes from Venice, and is a risotto with squid and ink (its color is black).
- Rizzy E. Bisi – also comes from Venice, and it’s with panna cotta and peas.
Return to the dough. Italy is also known for its breads, and focaccia is the most famous of them. The origin of the focaccia is in Liguria, and the dough of the focaccia is very similar to the pizza dough from Naples – soft and airy. The focaccia is usually served with olive oil, rosemary, cheese, zucchini and olives, and it is a great addition to any meal, but it can also fill as a whole dish by itself.
It is also worth noting the Tuscan bread, whose taste is different from any other bread because it does not contain salt, and the Sicilian bread called panna cresao, which is more reminiscent of pita.
We’ve moved on to the dessert stage, and there’s nothing like ending a good meal with even better ice cream. The Italian ice cream – gelato – is a great delicacy that comes from Rome, Florence and Milan. Gelato differs from regular ice cream in that it contains much less fat and its texture is thicker. It comes in a variety of flavors and always looks attractive.
It is highly recommended to eat it fresh (it does not last long in storage) and look for the Artesan Gelato – the special gelato boutiques, which specialize in making gelato in the most traditional way with special and interesting flavors.
The tiramisu is a relatively new Italian recipe that was only invented in the 60’s in the province of Veneto. This is an equally fantastic dessert consisting of a layer of sweet mascarpone cheese and a layer of sponge cookies dipped in coffee. Because coffee is also an integral part of Italian culture and is usually drunk at the end of the meal with dessert, tiramisu is the most appropriate dessert to complement the perfect combination of coffee and cake.
Coffee in Italy is an art in itself. Wherever you go in the land of the boot, you will find a wide variety of coffees in which the Italians specialize. The coffee culture is so important in Italy that even in gas stations and roadside inns you can find coffee of a really high standard, much more than what you are used to getting in these places in Israel.
Between espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, mochaccino and many other types, you can find a coffee that will suit you to start the morning, and as a dessert after a hearty meal, or even a coffee inside the dessert such as tiramisu or affogato.
A few more things you should know
There are Italian dishes that have not yet made a name for themselves around the world, but in Italy they are found in abundance and it is definitely recommended to try them as well:
- Arancini – comes from Sicily, and is a fried rice ball filled with ragu sauce, cheese and vegetables/meat.
- Souffle – a type of arancini that comes from Rome, made in a slightly different way and with a different filling.
- Osobocco – comes from Milan or Lombardy (there is still a debate about this…), and is a veal bone that is slowly cooked (3 hours!) on a meat stock with white wine and vegetables.
- Rivolita – comes from Tuscany, and is a thick soup made from the vegetables of the region and bread.
- Fiorentina steak – comes from Tuscany, and is a steak made from a special cow called Chianina that is raised only in Tuscany. It is recommended to eat it in Florence or in the nearby villages, that way you will know that you are getting the real thing.