Basics Of Italian Food Culture

Italian Artistic Cappuccino
No one will argue with the fact that food in Italy is out of this world. Well-made, rich in taste and texture and guaranteed to leave you hungry for more, there’s nothing quite like Italian cuisine. There’s a detailed, fascinating tapestry of history, customs and trends for what you’re eating – so with that in mind, let’s explore some of the key aspects..
LIGHT BREAKFASTS
Italians by and large, breakfast in Italy is a refreshingly modest affair in comparison. The typical Italian breakfast runs along the lines of a coffee (such as caffe latte or cappuccino – although the latter is a no no after 10 am), bread rolls, cookies and pastries. Other popular choices include fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli. Breakfast tends to be on the lighter side is because Italians are saving their appetites for the main meal of the day: lunch!

VEGETABLES FOR ALL SEASONS

Talking of fresh vegetables, there is a very definite pattern as to what you can eat throughout the year.

It’s a seasonal thing, with certain vegetables being produced in prolific quantities for a specific spell and then making way for a different selection. So, with Summer coming up, for example, particular favorites include aubergines, beans, beetroot, cucumbers, courgettes, peas, radishes and tomatoes.

When Winter comes again, the colder months bring along the likes of artichokes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, fennel, spinach and turnips.

However, there are still a select few vegetables to be grown throughout all of the year – and these include chicory, lettuce and carrots.

CELEBRATE HOLIDAYS AT THE TABLE

One of the great things about Italian food is its unique feel for the holiday seasons. Christmas and Easter alone bring a selection of specially made foods, both sweet and savory that will tempt the taste-buds.

A number of traditional goodies are laid on at Easter including Minestra di Pasqua. This is a soup that contains ingredients such as beef, pork, kale and herbs, and is a dish that is especially popular in Naples. Agnello – or lamb.

Desserts at Easter include Gubana Easter Bread (which is plated up in northern Friuli) and Ciambelone, which hovers somewhere between bread and cake. Its very distinctive flavour comes from the zest of lemons, and is a delicious dessert to enjoy during this season.

Christmas of course, brings a Santa’s sack full of festive favorites including perennial favorite, Panettone. Shaped like a dome, this sweet bread fruit loaf includes a healthy mix of ingredients such as raisins, candied orange and lemon zest. Another popular fruit cake is Panforte which also features nuts, honey, spices and almonds – not to mention a sneaky topping of icing sugar.

Common savory dishes include mixed meats such as beef, veal and Cotechino sausage (served with ingredients like onions, celery and carrots). Popular festive fish meals include calamari (squid), baccala (salted cod) and swordfish. Pasta dishes are also widely eaten at Christmas including Anolini, a stuffed pasta served in broth, vermicelli with clams or mussels (a speciality in Naples) and of course, all types of lasagne!

 GELATO

Gelato vs Ice Cream: It’s the age-old battle.

Before you know it, Summer will be here, and it’ll be that time of year when you can enjoy the delights of Gelato and Ice Cream. But Gelato (which means “frozen” or to “freeze”) does make for a healthier alternative, containing less sugar. Another difference between Gelato and Ice Cream is that the former involves a slower churning process.

As if that’s not enough with differences, there is also the difference between Gelato and Sorbetto. It’s a north-south divide as Gelato hails from Northern Italy while Sorbetto comes from the South. And of course, one key ingredient substitute difference between the two to add to the mix of fruit and sugar is that of milk for Gelato and water for Sorbetto. But whatever you choose, both make for very tasty Summer treats!

 

SIMPLE SUPPERS

Fine dining. A common trend in today’s culinary world. But while the fancy arrangements, carefully selected ingredients and rather eye-popping prices may be for some tastes, let’s not forget that simple is sometimes the best. It’s like at the end of the month when the money’s run out and you’re looking to create what you can from what’s left in the larder. But many times, this can result in a truly delicious culinary creation: it’s food serendipity at it’s finest.

This has proved to be the case with a good number of dishes that have started out from more humble beginnings. Peasant dishes have stood the test of time and are still popular today. Ribollita is a soup that began with peasant origins – it is a simple but delicious soup that was created by using leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day.

Polenta comes from earlier types of grain-based meals that were popular in the Roman era – while it was common peasant food in Europe, it’s still immensely tasty and continues to be a popular choice at dinner tables today. Meanwhile, the simple pudding of Mantova’s Torta Sbrisobna comprises ingredients such as flour, butter, eggs, almonds and lemon peel to great effect.

MARGHERITA TIME

…Pizza!

Way back in the 18th century, pizza existed in a somewhat more basic form than is known today. Strictly speaking, it was just the base: No topping, just the flat, round base. But it was still a hit with the poorer side of Naples where street vendors would sell these at a very cheap price.

Come 1889, and the Italian queen, Margherita (Margherita of Savoy) had also sampled a pizza the action. While there were raised eyebrows in the Court Circle, Margherita had enjoyed the food enough to request a similar meal from chef Rafaelle Esposito.

However, Rafaelle produced something a little more elaborate for the queen. In addition to the base, there was mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil. All of these ingredients were cleverly created to represent the red, white and green colours of the Italian flag.

Not only did the end result become Queen Margherita’s favourite pizza, it also became one of her favorite foods.  And so began the tradition of hte Margherita pizza !

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