When you are traveling to Italy, it’s better to discover local traditions than going to an international restaurant or a fast-food, because the Belpaese is worldwide renowned for its food culture, a product of two arts: the art of cooking and the art of eating. This post is focused on eating and is the result of collaboration with Italcult, a webmagazine devoted to the greatest Italian masterpieces in art, design, tourism, fashion and lifestyle.
My aim is to recap an “ideal menu” that you can order in different cities: each region boasts its fine specialties and is pretty impossible to list all the local dishes, so I selected something you can eat for lunch or dinner, including delights from Northern and Southern Italy.
The first thing to know when you’re in Italy is that food is something to be savoured at a leisurely pace and with gusto, but not greed. Lunches and dinners are traditionally three-course meals, consisted in appetizer or starter (antipasto in Italian), first plate (primo piatto) and second plate (secondo piatto).
Lunch is the main meal of the day and I suggest starting with the antipasto. This dish vary according to regional cuisine: nevertheless, an Italian starter should include cured meats, olives, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and vegetables in oil or vinegar.
If you are in a town close to a lake, you may taste freshwater fish as appetizer.
Italian Pasta, A Delight For The Palate
Pasta is a must-eat in Italy, you can bet on it. Among the hundreds kinds of local pasta, I picked two dishes that represent two different sides of my country.
The Amatriciana is a traditional pasta dish originating from Amatrice town in Lazio, near Rome. Usually the most used pasta is bucatini, while in Amatrice this dish is usually prepared with spaghetti. The Amatriciana sauce is based on guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato. Enjoy this tasty dish in a “trattoria” in Rome or in another town of Central Italy, please remember that the dish in the picture is only half portion!
Liguria is a popular region for its gastronomical tradition and I suggest trying trenette al pesto, a kind of narrow, flat, dried pasta served with pesto alla genovese. Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa and I recommend eating homemade pesto, because the sauce you can find also at Italian supermarkets is very different.
Pesto is made with crushed garlic, basil, European pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk). The name of this sauce derives from the original method of preparation; in fact the ingredients are crushed (pestare in Italian) with marble mortar and wooden pestle.
When you order trenette al pesto, the pasta could include potatoes and green beans.
Meat and vegetables specialties in Italy
Italy is often described as a Paradise for foodies. Here you can find delicacies of any kind, from meat based dishes to vegetables, from desserts to wine and liqueurs.
A very delightful and nourishing dish is parmigiana di melanzane (or melanzane alla parmigiana, it’s the same thing), very common in Southern Italy, both in Campania and Sicily. The parmigiana is made with a shallow or deep-fried sliced aubergine filling, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, and then baked. You can find a lot of variations among regions and is a homemade recipe par excellence.
If you’ve already heard about bistecca alla fiorentina, you probably know that this dish is made with Chianina meat. The Chianina is an exclusive of Tuscany: is one of the oldest cattle breed sin the world and is spread in Valdichiana area; this breed is raised for its top quality meat, so try a tagliata di Chianina in a traditional restaurant in Tuscany, you won’t repent!
Tiramisu, A Popular Italian Dessert
Like other very nice Italian dishes, tiramisu is disputed among many regions: Veneto, Piedmont and Friuli Venezia Giulia, only to mention a few. The most important thing to know is that is made with savoiardi (ladyfingers biscuits) dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, mascarpone cheese and flavored with cocoa.
This is a very sweet way to finish a typical Italian meal; it’s a sort of cake but is slightly different from pastries or other desserts. About tiramisu origins, many people date the original recipe to Sixties, at the restaurant Le Beccherie, in Treviso, Veneto, now close, as stated here: corrieredelveneto.corriere.it.
If you are curious about food recipes, events for foodies, traditional feasts and the best places where to eat like a local in Italy, check Secret Italy, a blog always updated with the tastiest news.