Italy’s bold, flavourful cuisine is burp-inducing and as exuberant as its people. Yet, it’s a simple hearty cuisine that relies on fresh seasonal ingredients but is nuanced enough to vary from region to region. Fine cheeses, cured meats, herbs, risottos and pastas are worked into dishes by chefs using traditional recipes handed down over the generations. You can’t try everything in Italy but here’s a peek at what is most palate-pleasing.
In Rome, where everything is larger-than-life, the down-to-earth spaghetti alla carbonara is considered the star. Concocted simply with fresh eggs, pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk) cheese, guanciale (cured pork cheek), black pepper, white wine, and high-quality spaghetti, this dish calls Rome its home.
The Lake Como region’s staple is freshwater fish – the perch. The fillets of perch when paired with a buttery risotto, and cooked with a dash of white wine, results in a dish that strums the taste buds.
The culinary diva in Bologna is lasagne alla Bolognese, comprising alternating layers of pasta sheets, a slow-cooked ragu or a meat-based Bolognese sauce, Bechamel sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Ossobuco alla Milanese is a robust dish consisting of veal shanks simmered in white wine, meat broth and vegetables. It is then seasoned with lemon zest, garlic and parsley and best consumed with a saffron-scented risotto.
Ribollita is a heart-warming vegetable soup thickened with bread rather than meat and is slurped in autumn when farm-fresh vegetables explode with flavour.
The best Margherita pizza, slathered with stringy mozzarella, emerges from the wood-fired ovens of Pizzeria Brandi in Naples where it was first concocted in 1889 for Queen Margherita of Savoy. She loved it and would always order it when she was in Naples. Today, Margherita pizza and its wannabe versions flourish across the globe.
All over Italy
Gelato, the rich creamy ice cream, frozen and airy, goes back to the Renaissance era in Italy but it was not invented by the Italians. They merely raised the process of making it to the level of art. It is whispered that it was invented in Florence by an alchemist! Genuine gelato is made fresh every day and there is even a Gelato Museum near Bologna.
The island of Sicily, which is better known as the birthplace of the Mafia displays distinctive flair when it comes to seafood dishes. Pasta with sardines can set the taste buds a-tingle but equally popular is a Sicilian dessert called cannoli–tubes of deep-fried pastry that ooze with a creamy filling of sweetened fresh ricotta made from sheep’s milk. The pastry is finished with a confetti of crushed nuts. A cannoli goes well with a shot of espresso.
DID YOU KNOW
>According to Rough Guides, 14 billion espressos are consumed in Italy each year.
>In 2007, a dog named Rocco unearthed a truffle in Tuscany that weighed a mean 3.3 pounds. It was subsequently auctioned for US$333,000, setting a world record.
>In Sardinia you may want to try the intriguing casu marzu, recommended as a powerful aphrodisiac. Decline. It’s a cheese filled with live maggots!