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A guide to Italian food

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Italy and food are two words that were made for each other. Italian food needs no introduction, so we won’t waste your time conjuring up mouth-watering images of freshly baked Neapolitan pizzas, tender steaks and creamy burrata. We don’t recommend reading this guide on an empty stomach...

Pizza

 

Let’s start with an obvious one: let's be honest, we all knew pizza would feature somewhere on this list.

Pizza, as we know it, originated from Naples, and is one of Italy's most popular culinary exports. 

Everyone has their own favourite pizza, but the original pizza ⁠– mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil ⁠– comes from Naples and is is known as the Neapolitan.

Although you can enjoy delicious fresh pizza almost everywhere in Italy, we recommend heading to its birthplace, Naples.

Whilst Rome is often regarded as the heart of Italy, Naples is known as the soul of Italy, thanks in no small part to its enduring link to the humble but mouth-wateringly delicious pizza.


Carbonara

 

Carbonara is another of Italy's most famous dishes. The name refers to the sauce, which is made from egg, hard cheese (usually pecorino or parmesan) and pancetta. Carbonara sauce can be served with pasta or spaghetti.

Although its origins are disputed, many people believe that carbonara was invented during World War Two. The story goes that when the Americans liberated large cities, including Rome, they found many of the residents were starving. The Americans quickly distributed rations of powdered eggs and bacon, and the carbonara was born.

 

Caprese salad

 

Simple but delicious, the Caprese salad consists of sliced mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. The salad is then seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

You'll find a Caprese salad in most menus in Italy – it is best enjoyed with some fresh bread.

The colours in the salad – red, white and green – are the same as the colours of Italy's flag. Each of the individual ingredients has a special place in the culinary heart of Italy, as does the Caprese salad.

 

Fiorentina steak

 

 

 

One for the meat-lovers, the bistecca a la Fiorentina (Fiorentina steak) is a popular regional delicacy from Tuscany. The steak is typically from chianina cattle – an ancient Tuscan breed prized for its tasty meat.

The steak – almost always a porterhouse, on the bone – is prepared in advance using sage, rosemary and olive oil. It is traditionally cooked on charcoal, served rare and shared.

 

Milanese risotto

 

The Italians are famous for their risotto, and one particular variety stands out: risotto a la Milanese (Milanese risotto). The dish is cooked with stock, oil, butter, saffron, wine and cheese.

Easily recognisable thanks to its distinctive yellow colour, Milanese risotto dates back to the 16th century, and the marriage of the daughter of master glass-maker Valerio of Flanders.

Valerio called his future son-in-law ‘Zafferano’ because he liked saffron so much – he'd even suggested colouring the glass of Milan’s Cathedral with it! For the wedding, his friends prepared a dish of rice coloured with saffron.

Although intended as a joke, the dish was very popular with guests. Over time, it became made with risotto rice, and the Milanese risotto was born!

Spaghetti frutti di mare

 

With such a long Mediterranean coastline, it is little surprise that seafood is an integral part of the Italian diet, particularly on the coast.

'Frutti di mare' literally means 'fruits of the sea'. This particular dish can include all different types of seafood, such as mussels, clams, prawns, scallops and squid.

The seafood is cooked slowly in a sauce made of garlic, tomatoes, white wine, lemon and olive oil – and is best enjoyed with a cold glass of white wine!

Burrata

 

This delicious dish is another incredibly simple but mouth-watering tasty example of Italian food, like the Caprese salad.

Burrata is made from mozzarella and cream – I mean, how could it not be delicious? The cream, along with stracciatella (buffalo cheese) is folded into the mozzarella, and then sealed, giving it a rich, creamy centre.

One of the great things about burrata is its versatility: it can be served with a salad, on bread, in stew, for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Gelato

 

After a long, hot day's sightseeing in Italy, there are few finer pleasures in life than sitting down to enjoy a tasty gelato.

If you've never tried a gelato, just imagine normal ice cream, but creamier, silkier and smoother.

In every Italian town square and city street, you'll find a gelaterie. Traditional flavours include coffee, chocolate and pistachio. However, in most gelateries you'll find an extensive range of flavours. Expect to find everything from limoncello to tiramisu, which brings us neatly to our final entry.

 

Tiramisu

 

Last but by absolutely no means least is the rich and indulgent tiramisu. This decadent desert consists of ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with a mixture of whipped eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese, and then dusted with cocoa. Variations of the dish include soaking the ladyfingers in brandy.

The name 'tiramisu' roughly translates to 'pick me up', a reference to two of the main ingredients of the dish, both of which are caffeinated: coffee and cocoa.

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