Top 10 foods you must try in Italy
The plate in front of me is enticing – it looks straight out of a farm, with fresh red tomatoes, luscious coloured bell peppers, home grown olives and fresh cheese from a dairy. The fresh rocket cheese and garden vegetables makes me dig in instantly into this Caprese salad – well in Italy food is a big deal and it is straight from farm to fork. So on your next trip to Italy, make sure you sink your teeth into these delicacies.
While pizzas have become common place thanks to pizza joints, the real one is a must when you are in Italy. In fact even small bakeries will have huge portions of pizza that entice you from the window display itself. The pizzerias in Italy are a great place to try them especially if you are in Naples. Pizzeria Dal Presidente serves some delectable delights topped with Sicilian treats. Also Pizza Napoletana with a secret dough recipe with only two toppingsis a must try. Pizza al Taglio in Rome that sells rectangular pizas by weight also offers delectable options. Sfincione on Sicily, Pizza al Padellino in Turin and Panzerotto in Bari also have interesting take on arguably one of the most loved dishes in the world. Little wonder then that most Italians say “Pizza is sole nel piatto or sun on the plate!”
If there is one dish that defines good food in Italy it is Lasagne and well made one defines a good dish. It is said that Naples was where this dish originated and the recipe dates back to the 14th century. Layered with pasta sheets, vegetable sauce / meatballs or sausages and varied kinds of cheese, this is a wholesome dish that can elevate your dining experience several notches higher. The dough is made from durum wheat or semolina and only when you bite into the luscious layers of lasagna, bechamel and meat or tomato sauce, you will realise why Italy has come to be recognised as the food capital. This is comfort food at its best and the classic Lasagne alla Bolognese is the most popular. Made with ragù, a meat based Bolognese sauce, Béchamel sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese this is dolce vita on your plate. The other version is the Lasagne Napoletana, that has meatballs, sausage, ricotta and mozzarella cheese and is a staple in the Carnivale in Naples.
Made from boiled cornmeal, Polenta can be served as porridge or as a loaf once it is cooled down. Traditionally the dish is stirred with a large walnut wooden stick till it thickens and has its own firm consistency. Earlier a staple food of the mountain regions of Italy, today it has been reinvented and is available all across the country. If you are in southern Trentino you can sample the potato polenta while in Tossignano, a special polenta is made with a mixture of corn flour half fine-grained and half coarse-grained. ‘Polenta bianca’ made around the areas of Padua, Venice and Trevisois made with a special variety of maize which is white in colour. white variety of maize. In Mantua, the ‘polenta all’erba amara’ is made with corn flour, butter, herbs and grated parmesan. And as the Italian saying goes, “A chi ne’ campi sul lavoro stenta, son manna le cipolle e la polenta” which means, “for those who work hard in the fields, onions and polenta are a godsend.”
Risotto is a dish made with a short grain white rice like Arborio, Vialone Nano, Padano, Roma and Carnaroli. A classic dish in the repertoire of the cuisine of Italy, this dish combines rce, vegetables, meat and cheese to create the creamy texture of the dish. A speciality of course is when it is made with good quality fresh fish. Traditionally of course the secret lies in blending the rice with large amounts of butter to give the dish the right texture. If you are looking for great risotto then there are several restaurants in Rome, Bologna, Parma and Venice, apart from Piemonte, Mantova and Milan. The vegetarian version of Risotto alla zucca is made with pumpkin, nutmeg and grated cheese and the Risi e bisi made with green peas are good options as well.
A pasta dish that originated in Rome, Carbonara is made with bacon, eggs, black pepper and hard cheese and usually made with spaghetti. This is one of the dishes that does not use any cream and this is why the inherent flavours of the dish shine through. Some of the best restaurants in Rome where you can sample this dish are at L’Arcangelo, Marzapane, Pizzeria Emma, Roscioli, Da Danilo, Checco Er Carettiere, Hostaria Romana, Sciapò and Baccano. The Spaghetti Carbonara with black truffle at Rome’s Antico Arco is a delight as well.
A gourmet food, truffles are one of the most sought after and expensive foods on earth and also something that celebrity chefs vouch for strongly. Italian white truffles are well known in Tuscany and the best way is to go on a trail to see if you can find them. Italy has about 25 different truffles with nine of them being edible and having in its own season when it grows. The Tuber magnatum Pico is the most expensive and precious white truffle that grows from the middle of September to end of January. The Tuber melanosporum Vitt or the expensive black truffle grows from the middle of November to the middle of March. And the best way to eat the white truffle is to have it fresh sliced on dishes like risotto, handmade egg pasta, fried egg, fondue, tartare or Caesar’s salad. The Norcia black truffle can be eaten raw ensuring it is ground and not sliced on food or can be eaten cooked.
Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread that is thicker than the pizza dough and is topped with a combination of herbs, olives, chillies, onion, cheese and/or meat. Usually served as antipasti, it also works as a pizza base and as sandwich bread. In fact focaccia is baked in roadside ovens and sold by weight as well as it can be eaten at all times of the day. Usually seasoned with salt, this bread varies across regions. The Recco style Focaccia us a Ligurian specialty and is a delectable version with two thin layers of dough in between a thinner layer of cheese. Bari style Focaccia from Puglia is made with durum wheat flour and garnished with extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomatoes or olives. The Focaccia Messinese option is cooked in metal pans and is served with vegetables, tomato, cheese and anchovies in small rectangular pieces.
The Italian culture of drinking coffee goes back to several centuries and it is made in a moka pot at home and dispensed from espresso coffee makers in cafés. While you may associate espresso coffee with Italy, there is much more. A caffè is a shot of espresso served in a tiny cup and can be had through the day. The caffè corretto is a shot of espresso mixed with a shot of liquor and a dash of Irish cream. The Cappuccino is a milk based coffee and foam with espresso and the Macchiato is like a mix of espresso and cappuccino with a light foam. The Marocchino is a shot of espresso, foam and cacao powder sprinkled on the top and the chocolate coffee flavour is more milky in texture. The Caffè Latte is usually served in a tall glass and has more milk and a little espresso and the Shakerato is a chilled espresso poured over ice and is like a cold coffee. The other variants available include Caffè al Ginseng a tea latte and the Caffè d’Orzo is a barley coffee and naturally caffeine-free and usually has a citrus note.
Italy’s answer to ice cream, gelato is a must have when you are here. With its dense texture and fresh flavours, gelato is a healthy option as it has very less fat. This is where you can sample daily freshly made gelatos that have an artisanal twist to them as well thanks to all natural ingredients being used. And in Italy you can also take a class to learn to make gelato. Just make sure you have 2-4 hours free and you can sign up for a class either at a cooking school or at a gelato shop and come up and close with the art if making the perfect gelato. Caruso in Rome is a great place to eat the gelato and specifially their fruit gelatos are to die for. The Gelateria dei Neri in Florence has unusual options like gorgonzola and rice and Carapina offers seasonal delights made fresh every single day.
Italy’s most popular dessert, Tiramisu means “pick me up” and the exotic combination of layers of espresso coffee, cocoa, mascarpone cheese, wine and ladyfinger biscuits does perfect justice to this meaning! Several cafes serve versions of tiramisu so when you are eating out just check to see if it is ‘fatto in casa’ meaning ‘made in house’ so you know you are getting fresh and authentic tiramisu. Barberini Caffetteria and Pasticeria, Da Enzo, Flavio al Velavevodetto and Pompi are some cafes in Rome that offers some exotic tiramisu. In fact the charm of this dessert lies in its myriad interpretations and the combinations of ingredients make it worth trying it out in different bakeries and cafes.
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