Food & Cuisine

When we consider Italian cuisine, most of us think of spaghetti or pizza. Yes, these are two main dishes, which came from Italy to our tables all around the world. But there is much more to what you can enjoy in this southern European country. Italian cuisine is tasty, healthy, light and easy to prepare, and is also considered one of the best in the world. Italian cuisine differs considerably between regions. E.g. Sicily has certainly different dishes from those you get in Tuscany. Nevertheless, several ingredients are common in all of Italy. Meals are always prepared from high quality and fresh ingredients.

Oysters
Oysters by Elliot

Italian lunch usually consists of several courses, it is very powerful and Italians spend a lot of time with it. It starts with an appetizer (antipasto), continues with the first course (primo piatto), usually a soup, pasta or risotto, followed by a second course (secondo piatto), which is meat or fish served with vegetable (contorno). Lunch cannot be completed without sweet dessert (dolci), fruit (fruta) and coffee.

The Italian cuisine reflects climatic conditions of the country, it is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as geographic location – the sea that surrounds Italy is a rich source of fish and seafood.

Seafood restaurant in Venice, Veneto, Italy
Seafood restaurant in Venice by Jay Galvin

Fish is fried, grilled or baked, usually with the lemon sauce and with the typical spices. Fish soup is also very popular in Italy. From the seafood you can taste great oysters, crabs, crayfish, lobsters, squid, and cuttlefish. As for meat, most Italians like veal and chicken, which is most commonly prepared by grilling, boiling and stewing.

Among the most popular meat products known worldwide is dry-cured ham, whose most famous version – Prosciutto di Parma – comes from no other than the city of Parma. It has two types – prosciutto crudo (served uncooked) or prosciutto cotto (cooked ham). Another one is soft salami called mortadella which is originally from Bologna.

Prosciutto crudo di Parma, Italy
Prosciutto crudo di Parma by Haydn Blackey

But there are many other products that come from Italy, such as hundreds of kinds of excellent cheese including Parmesan (Parmigiano – Reggiano), Grana Padano, Gorgonzola, mozzarella, ricotta and mascarpone.

Grana Padano cheese
Grana Padano cheese by Annabelle Orozco

Thanks to the warm weather and fertile soil there are lots of tomatoes, peppers, olives, asparagus, aubergines, cucumbers and artichokes growing in Italy. Very popular are also capers.

Typical Italian landscape is characterized by endless orchards mainly citrus – oranges, tangerines, lemons, kumquat, and other. An essential part of the food is spice, such as oregano, basil, garlic, sea salt and savory. And this (spice) is the main reason why Italian food gets its characteristic taste and aroma.

Oregano
Oregano / Photo by Julius

Italian cuisine could not be as good as it is without extra virgin olive oil, made of local Italian olives. Popular cooking ingredient are also flavored vinegars, from which balsamic one is best known.

We cannot forget pesto, which is the world-famous basil sauce for pasta. Canned products such as peeled and dried tomatoes pickled in oil and dried or pickled mushrooms are also often used.

Fresh pesto
Fresh pesto by Phyllis Buchanan

Pasta

Typical Italian dish is Pasta. There are about 400 different shapes of pasta currently in Italy. Pasta can be divided into two main types – fresh and dried. Fresh pasta contains eggs and thus can remain in the refrigerator for a few days only while dry pasta has a long shelf life and are made from durum wheat.

Spaghetti

Spaghetti is about 30 cm long and 2 mm thin tubular pasta, which is most often served with tomato sauce (Spaghetti bolognese) with herbs, minced meat, vegetables and Parmesan.

Spaghetti alla carbonara are the most common ones containing eggs, hard and salty cheese Pecorino Romano, guanciale (cured meat product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) and black pepper.

Spaghetti
Spaghetti / Photo by Julius

Macaroni

Oblong, about 5 cm long hollow pasta made from dough that does not contain eggs.

Macaroni
Macaroni by Toshiyuki IMAI

Penne

Hollow tubular pasta cut at acute angle. It can be smooth or with grooves and is served with sauce, but it is also a popular salad ingredient. The best known ones are Penne all’arrabbiata with sauce, tomatoes, garlic, chilli, olive oil and basil.

Penne Pasta with Kale & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Penne Pasta with Kale & Sun-Dried Tomatoes by Jennifer

Fettucine

A thick flat noodles that are served with beef or chicken ragu (meat sauce). Favorite ones are fettucine Alfredo, served with butter, parmesan and possibly other additives. You can also get large and wide (2-3 cm) fettucine called pappardelle.

Fettucine
Fettucine by Ruth Hartnup

Tagliatelle

They are similar to fettucine but narrower and are served mostly with a variety of meats with bolognese sauce.

Tagliatelle Tartufo
Tagliatelle Tartufo

Lasagne

Wide and flat sheets of pasta, interlaced with cheese, various sauces, ground beef, sausage, spinach, and other. In Southern Italy they are usually interlaced with tomato sauce or meat ragout, while in the north of the country are combined with Béchamel sauce (as the influence of French cuisine).

Lasagne
Lasagne by Lachlan Donald

Gnocchi

In fact Gnocchi are not pasta. They are dense soft dumplings made ​​from wheat flour, potato and bread crumbs served with tomato sauce, pesto, spinach with melted butter or cheese.

Gnocchi
Gnocchi by Andrew Malone

Ravioli

Ravioli are pasta filled with meat, vegetables or ricotta cheese. They can appear in a soup or sauce.

Ravioli
Ravioli by stu_spivack

Tortellini

Pasta in the shape of a ring filled with meat or cheese. Can be included in soups, or served in broth.

Tortellini
Tortellini by Robert Judge

Other Italian dishes

Pizza

The most famous Italian dish known worldwide is nothing else than pizza, its base is made from flour, yeast, salt and olive oil, baked together with any raw material according to the particular flavor – tomatoes, mozzarella, ham, spinach, and other.

Pizza
Pizza / Photo by Julius

Risotto

This classic Italian dish is prepared from rice cooked in broth, and served with a meat or fish and vegetables, a mixture of onion or garlic and butter or olive oil.

White or red wine is often used during the preparation. There are many variations of risotto, one of the most interesting ones is the black risotto (risotto al nero), which is colored with ink from the cuttlefish.

Risotto
Risotto by Paolo Piscolla

Polenta

Cornmeal boiled into a porridge. It is usually served as an accompaniment to meat, the vegetables, but it is also great with gorgonzola cheese and wine.

Polenta (yellow) with Cotechino Modena and lentils
Polenta (yellow) with Cotechino Modena and lentils by J.P.Lon

Minestrone

A thick soup, with all kinds of vegetables, depending on the season. It may include tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, beans and often also pasta or rice. It is usually prepared in vegetarian form, but can also contain meat.

Minestrone
Minestrone by Katrin Morenz

Carpaccio

Appetizer prepared from raw meat (beef, veal, venison) or fish (salmon, tuna) . The meat is cut into thin slices and served drizzled with lemon, olive oil or various cold sauces, parmesan cheese, etc.

Carpaccio
Carpaccio by Larry Hoffman

Acquacotta

Thick and spicy soup originally from Tuscany, which is prepared from vegetables. Includes tomatoes, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cooked eggs.

Acquacotta soup
Acquacotta soup by Giorgio Minguzzi

Saltimbocca

Veal cutlets or fillets with slices of prosciutto and sage, which are marinated in wine, oil or brine.

Saltimbocca alla romana
Saltimbocca alla romana by Katrin Morenz

Cakes and sweets

Italians are famous for producing delicious creamy ice cream, which is a great attraction for tourists. It does not contain any chemicals, it is made from cream or milk, sugar and fresh fruit (or hazelnut puree, cocoa and other natural ingredients). Ice cream is available in different flavors and sizes.

Italian ice cream
Italian ice cream by Yolanda

Tiramisu

This dessert comes from Tuscany, and already in the 19th century it was one of the best Italian deserts. Tiramisu is made of cream cheese mascarpone, egg yolks, sugar, strong espresso, butter and quality cocoa.

Dessert consists of layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee, covered with a mixture of egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone. Sponge cakes are sometimes extra soaked in rum, wine, brandy or spirituous liquors.

Tiramisu
Tiramisu by Alexis Fam

Italian drinks

Coffee is the most popular Italian drink, espresso and other derivative coffee drinks, such as caffè latte, caffè macchiato, caffè mocha, caffè lungo or caffè corretto can be bought almost in every street. Very popular is also cappuccino containing espresso, hot milk and milk foam.

Ristretto
Ristretto by Marcelo César Augusto Romeo

Italians are also passionate winemakers and are among the largest producers of wine in the world. Their wines are of good quality and tasty.

It is produced in a lot of varieties, of which the most popular is Sangiovese, but there are much more world-known wines like Barbera, Chianti, Nebbiolo, Catarratto Bianco siciliano, Nero ďAvola, Montepulciano, Trebbiano Toscano.

Chianti
Chianti by Arnaud 25

Grappa is the most popular alcoholic drink in Italy. It is aromatic brandy made ​​from residue created by the pressing of wine (skins, stems, seeds). This clear drink contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume. When it is older, it has a darker yellow color.

Grappa
Grappa by Ian McKellar

Learn More

For Italians, food is an expression of love and a way of life. This is probably one of the main reasons why they are so careful and diligent while preparing lip-smacking delicacies. Each region of the country has its own range of gastronomic specialties.

For instance, south Italians cook in olive oil and hardly use butter in their dishes. On the other hand, rice and polenta are two of the favorite items of north Italians. A tour to Italy trip is incomplete if you do not try out a traditional five-course Italian meal. A typical Italian meal generally consists of:

1. The antipasto – This comes before the main meal. It usually comprises pasta and/or local cold outs.

2. The Primo or the first course – This generally includes soup, pasta, rice or polenta. People can also have certain other dishes in the first course.

Minestrone
Minestrone by jules

3. The second course – This is the main course of an Italian meal. Generally, small portions of fish, meat or chicken are served during this course.

4. The side dishes (Contorni) – The main course is accompanied by a side dish which could be a vegetable preparation, a salad or a potato dish.

5. Dessert (Dolce) – An Italian meal is never complete without a dessert. The dessert can comprise of fruits, delicious cakes or pastries. Another indispensable part of an Italian meal is a cup of coffee or espresso. Italians usually take wine with their meals.

Tiramisu
Tiramisu by Alexis Fam

While on a tour to Italy, you should make it a point to try out the following:

Pasta

There are different types of pastas available in Italy. They vary on the basis of their ingredients, the way in which they are produced and their precise cuts and shapes. Pastas can be short or long, and plain or stuffed.

Various kinds of sauces are used for the preparation of pasta dishes. The different pastas you can delight your taste buds with are:

  1. Sacchette
  2. Soup pasta
  3. Spaghetti
  4. Fusilli
  5. Tortellini

Spaghetti
Spaghetti by Julius for Travel via Italy (one of my best food related pictures I took so far)

Parmesan cheese

Italy boasts of different kinds of cheese, which are produced in various locations in the nation. The cheese available here is basically of 3 types – hard cheese, semi-hard cheese and soft cheese.

Cheese is an all time favorite of Italians and they use it in almost every type of culinary preparations. If you love cheese, you would surely be bowled over by these Italian varieties. Here are a few cheeses which you should definitely try out:

  1. Mozzarella
  2. Ricotta
  3. Provolone
  4. Pecorino
  5. Asiago

Parmigiano Reggiano - the store room
Parmigiano Reggiano – the store room by Zerohund

Risotto

It is a rich dish, in which rice is cooked in a broth to a creamy form. The broth can be fish-based or meat-based. Butter, cheese and onion are generally used as the chief ingredients of risottos. Some of the popular and mouth-watering Italian risottos are:

  1. Gourmet mushroom risotto
  2. Slow cooker risotto
  3. Butternut squash risotto
  4. Risotto a-la Milanese
  5. Emerald green risotto

Risotto
Risotto by paPisc

Pizza

A visit to Italy without having pizzas can hardly be termed complete. There are basically 2 types of pizza available in the country. One has a thick base, while the other has a thinner crust.

Italians also distinguish pizza into red (having tomato sauce) and white (without tomato sauce but topped with other ingredients) varieties. Pizzas can have different kinds of toppings. Some of the popular Italian pizza types that you will love are:

  1. Pizza marinara
  2. Pizza margherita
  3. Pizza romana
  4. Pizza pugliese
  5. Pizza siciliana

Pizza, Sicily, Italy
Pizza in Sicily, Italy / Photo by Julius

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