When it comes to cuisine, Italy is an extremely difficult country to rival. While we might marvel at the achievements of the Roman Empire, the Vatican City, Leonardo da Vinci and AC Milan, it’s fair to argue that Italian food beats all of those things put together.
If you’re planning a visit to Italy, then there are a few particular foods that stand out as worth sampling. Let’s run through a few of them.
It’s a dish that just about everyone knows and loves, largely thanks to its amazing versatility. You might even get strong arguments about what particular toppings belong on it.
But an authentic Italian pizza is quite far removed from the one you might order from your local takeaway, which is, in all probability, highly Americanised. Do your research, and find a reputable pizzeria in the vicinity of your accommodation. Fresh, simple ingredients, wood-fired oven, and quick cooking. If you’re in Naples, it’s more or less mandatory.
There are more pasta dishes than can reasonably be mentioned, or eaten in a single trip. Look for carbonara done the right way – with guanciale and lashings of pecorino (and no cream). In coastal cities like Venice, there are sure to be wonderful seafood pasta on the menu; in Bologna, obviously, there’s the all-conquering bolognese sauce.
Expect less in the way of sauce and toppings than you’d find in a restaurant in the UK: in Italy, the pasta itself is usually left as the star of the show.
Risotto is an Italian staple, closely related to the Paella. It needs to be cooked slowly and carefully, by ladleing stock into a sizzling pan. Topped with a mound of parmesan, it’s a dish that’s guaranteed to please – and, fortunately, it’s served in every corner of the country. The difference between a good risotto and a mediocre one can be substantial – so make sure that you sample the best before deciding whether or not you’re convinced. Risotto is tremendously versatile, with the seafood and mushroom varieties tending to be loved by locals and tourists alike.
Italy is famous for the quality of its cured meats. Proscuitto, pancetta, guanciale, nduja and pepperoni are all worth sampling. They can be served as part of a dish, or on a platter in between courses. Pair them with some quality Italian cheeses, olives, artichokes and wines. Again, don’t skimp on quality; the difference between cheap and expensive is often vast. Once you’ve sampled the best, you’ll have a benchmark with which to judge the rest.
Finally, we should mention gelato. The Italian word refers to ice creams of all kinds – but authentic Italian gelato comes from a very particular tradition. It tends to be a little lower in fat, and slightly more airy than other forms of ice cream. While there are lots of flavours available today, it’s generally advisable to stick with the proven classics. It’s difficult to go wrong with chocolate and stracciatella.
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