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ITALIAN CUISINE

The Italian 'table' has been evolving over many centuries, and has been affected by all of the many cultures and conquerors that have passed by.

The country's climate and terrain also plays a part in shaping the cuisine. Ranging from alpine in the north to hot Mediterranean in the far south, the sort of foods that may (or may not) be grown varies enormously.

The land in some parts of the country is inhospitable to crops. Cucina povera (literally 'poor cuisine') means a simple cuisine which, although using the least expensive ingredients, still remains healthy and tasty.

Some foods are almost universal on Italian menus throughout the country - bread, pig meat in some form or another - often preserved as smallgoods, cheese, wine, and seafood.

The Italian cook also uses a wide variety of vegetables and although olive oil is added copiously, it is thought this (along with moderate intake of red wine) is partly the reason for the apparent good effects of the Mediterranean diet.

The north tends to use rice and polenta for carbohydrate, the south favours pasta. Tomatoes, olives and citrus fruits flourish in the south, grapes grow almost anywhere.

Italians love company and enjoy family life and this means dining as a group whenever possible. Festivals are frequent, as much as anything because they give people a chance to socialise - and eat and drink!

Although wine is often made at home and even sometimes offered to younger members of the family, drunkenness is not encouraged. It is said to display a brutta figura, a bad image.

 

Coffee

Enjoy the best coffee in Rome at Caffe Tazzo d'Oro to one side of the square at the Pantheon. But remember in cafes throughout Italy, to drink your coffee standing up. You will pay two or three times the price if you are seated and served.


coffee

Pizza

Eat pizza the way the Italians do - by the slice, a taglio, or eat it folded like a sandwich. Italian pizzas may have wafer-thin bases and just a smear of topping, making them ideal as an appetiser but perhaps not a full meal.


pizza

White Truffles

White truffles (Tuber magnatum) come from Alba in Piedmont, in the north of the country. They cost twice as much as the black ones (Tuber melanosporum), and are in season September to December.


 

Gelati

Gelati - they're everywhere and must be experienced. Flavours rang from the milky uber-subtle fior di latte to the richest cioccolato (chocolate). Buy them at a gelataria. Sicily has granite(shaved flavoured ice) often served with brioche for breakfast.


gelati

Arancini

Arancini are Sicilian crumbed and fried rice balls, often filled with cheese. Suppli are smaller and you'll see them in Rome.


 

Risotto

Risotto and other rice-based dishes are more likely to be found in the north where rice is grown along the Po river valley. They may be quite liquid - almost like a very thick soup, and you can expect the grains to have a firm centre.


 

Pasta

Pasta is more common in the southern regions. There are hundreds of shapes, each with its own name, and a multitude of sauces, many specific to a region. Always it will be cooked al dente (to the tooth).


 

Chocolate

Chocolate in  Modica, Sicily, is prepared from cocoa beans that have been ground with sugar the Mexican way, without heat. This results in a crunchy chocolate that is very different.


chocolate

Wine

Taste the wines: Reds such as Chianti in Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino (also in Chianti), Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata, sparkling moscato or the red barbera wines in the north. Wines are usually sampled in an enoteca(wine shop) or bar rather than a cellar door.


wine

Horsemeat

Horsemeat - if you've always wanted try this meat, look for cavallo on menus. If you see asino, that will be ass or donkey meat. Or you may buy it fresh at a horsemeat (carne equina) butcher (macelleria). Look for the horse's head on the sign outside.


horse

Snails

(and an extra one!) Snails - yes, Italians eat them too. After rain you may see people searching for them on roadsides.


 

 

 

 

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