Most people think of Italian food as just pizzas and pasta. While Indianised versions of
these two stalwarts of fast-food restaurant menus have captured local taste buds, more
authentic Italian dishes are fast gaining in popularity and vying for attention. This book
will introduce you to genuine ‘just-like-an-Italian-Mama-would-make-it’ range of soups,
salads, pastas, pizzas, risottos, and desserts.
Italian cuisine varies from region to region, reflecting the climate, history and geography
of each region. Put simply, the food of northern Italy is made rich and opulent with eggs,
cream, butter and fresh pasta, while that of the south is more simple and rustic, featuring
olive oil, tomatoes and dried pasta. Both spaghetti and pizza originated in the south,
while northern cities like Bologna, also known as the gastronomic capital of Italy, are
home to focaccia, tortellini (stuffed pasta) and mozzarella. Sicily and the southern regions
have marked Arab influences, incorporating lemons and dried fruit into their cuisine;
while the northern regions neighbouring France, demonstrate Gallic influences with the
use of truffles and butter in their cooking. Even the olive oils used in the two regions are
different – northerners favour a pale gold refined oil, while southerners prefer the robust
tastes of the dark green oil from the first pressing of olives. As for the pizzas, they are not the same everywhere: the pizzas in Rome have thin delicate crusts, while those in Naples and Sicily have more rustic, wholesome, thick crusts.
Some cities and regions in Italy are associated with certain foods – Milan is known for its
Risotto and Minestrone alla Milanese, Bologna for sausages and Bolognese sauces, Naples
for Pizza Napolitana, Calabria for hot spicy dishes, Sicily for gelato (ice cream) and Emilia
Romagna for balsamic vinegar. Genoa is famous for pesto, Vienna for its pastries and
Venice for seafood.
While a typical everyday Italian meal would comprise a pasta or a risotto and a salad, a
formal Italian meal consists of the following courses: Antipasti (hot or cold appetisers or
starters), including marinated vegetables like aubergines (brinjals) which are very popular
in Italy and usually served at room temperature; Primo Piatto or First Course – which could
be either a soup, a risotto, a pasta or gnocchi (dumplings) with an accompanying sauce.
The Second Course or Secondo Piatto would be a fish, poultry or meat dish. Salads or
Insalata are usually served after the main course to “clean the palate”, followed by Frutta
and Formaggio (fresh fruit and cheese) and finally the Dolci or desserts. An aromatic
espresso coffee would sound a climactic note at the end of the meal. The most common ingredients in an Italian meal are olive oil – usually extra-virgin olive oil, ripe red tomatoes, garlic, wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar; mozzarella and Parmesan
cheeses, olives and dried or fresh herbs such as bay leaf, basil, oregano, parsley and thyme.
Arborio rice is the best for risotto (ukda chawal is a good alternative), and durum wheat
flour for pasta. A variety of pastas are used in Italian cooking but the most common ones
are penne (quill-shaped), farfalle (butterfly-shaped), macaroni, cannelloni (thick tubes)
lasagne (sheet pasta), spaghetti, tagliatelle (thin and flat) and fettuccine (broader ribbons).
All of these ingredients are easily available in supermarkets, so you should have no difficulty
creating a Little Italy in your own home!