Italian food is famous the world over. From pizza to pasta everyone has their favourite dish and every country has added their own little twist. The pasta so many of us tuck into in the evening for a quick and easy bite and the delights of a pizza shared among friends are well-renowned and widely loved. In short, it is impossible not to enjoy Italian food, laced with garlic and sprinkled with cheese.
However, a true Italian cook will tell you the cuisine served up outside of Italy is becoming unrecognisable. Many dishes across the peninsula are based on a ‘soffrito’ – a sauté of onions, carrots and celery, used as a basis for everything from soups to ragù – but each region has its own specialities and, if you’re lucky enough to take a holiday to the home of the world’s favourite cuisine, you can get back to basics with true Italian cooking. Here’s a quick guide to a few of the hot spots you won’t want to miss.
Northern Italy benefits from a far-reaching and diverse landscape. Its border with Switzerland and France has led to Germanic influences and warming red meat dishes. High up in the mountains, food is rich and creamy and heavier carbohydrates such as pasta are much more common than Polenta – commonly used down on the Northern plains. The pasta in Singapore you love to order on takeaway night has a wonderful twist to it, but it just isn’t the same as you’ll find in the motherland itself: Italy is all about cooking with the best ingredients from the surrounding environment.
Cuisine in Central Italy is a meat lover’s dream. From large steaks to a traditional dish called Olive Ascolane (Olives stuffed with meat and served with a square of fried cream), Central Italy makes the most of every cut of local meat in order to get the most out of the cow. Food in Central Italy will be the most familiar to tourists. Florentine specialities include T-bone steaks and mouthwatering antipasti, such as Bruschetta. Often prepared with fresh vine tomatoes, crusty bread, garlic and olive oil, this last dish is popular in Tuscany, a region whose tomatoes are widely regarded as superior. For those looking for the most recognisable of Italian cuisine, Central Italy is the region to visit.
The further south you head, the dishes become more Meditteranean. Fish features heavily on the coast and heavy, cream-based pastas are swapped for fresh salads and citrussy flavours. In Naples – the home of pizza – you’ll find thin, crispy pizzas with fresh, local ingredients. Simplicity is key in the South, with many pizzas simply topped with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella made in the surrounding region of Campania.
A tour of Italy will take you to a range of environments where you will get to know many local dishes. You’ll find new ways of experimenting with Italian cuisine and you’re likely to learn that true Italian food is cooked with simplicity and love.