Semplice e Delizioso: A Guide To Italian Food


When it comes to food, Italians are a little bit obsessed.  Pasta is a serious matter guys… never argue with an Italian about it!  This obsession comes from the fact we are afraid that our precious recipes, passed down for generations and part of our heritage, end up to be misinterpreted or repurposed in a version that has nothing to do with Italian (Olive Garden, anyone?).

Ever tasted an amazing pasta dish in Italy or at an authentic Italian restaurant, but once home you just can’t make it? What is that magic all authentic Italian cooks seem to have? You may be surprised that it’s the same magic used by Coco Chanel, Maya Angelou, Anne Truitt and Norah Jones… Less is More.

Talking to a chef who does cooking classes with Americans in Rome early day, I got a new perspective about how you can learn. Chef Claudia has a few tips for you.

Italian food is healthy, fresh and genuine. The ingredients are key in the making of a dish: buy fresh and local. Fresh juicy tomatoes are just everything in an Italian dish.

Use extra virgin oil. Good oil can elevate any dish.

Forget Chicken Carbonara, Alfredo Sauce, Spaghetti Meatballs, Salami, or extra creamy sauces. If you ask any Italian (born and raised in Italy) you will possibly get a restraining order!

The famous carbonara sauce is probably one of the most ruined Italian food. The original pasta alla carbonara only contains eggs, cheek lard and pecorino cheese. Nothing like chicken, cream, bacon, parsley, garlic, yogurt are original ingredients.

..Oh, and pasta with chicken: The chicken doesn’t go with the pasta. The pasta doesn’t go with the chicken. Learn it.

Even if it’s terribly romantic to think about it, Italians don’t eat spaghetti with meatballs.

No garlic bread allowed on a table. Not a thing. It’s bread, just bread.

Italians only drink wine or water while eating. Never ask for a cappuccino or tea your meal. Nobody will refuse to serve you what you want but the disappointment in your waiter’s face will be almost unbearable.

Whereas the common belief about Italian dishes is “the more the better”, the truth is the opposite. Italian-Americans overcook pasta, serve it in immense portions, and over sauce it. Everything is too much. Simplicity and ease of approach are the keys to good pasta in Italy. Just take a box of spaghetti, some canned tomatoes (we love San Marzano) and some good extra virgin olive oil, sautee a little onion or garlic and add a pinch basil.  That’s it.  Try to stick to the 5 ingredients or less rule and you’ll make a dish that’s far superior to that complex thing you aspire to.

In an article in The New York Time, writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins joked that there is a nervousness in the kitchen that reminds her of how Americans approach sex: ”Was it good for you? Did I do it right?”  Just calm down: Italians are very chill and relaxed when cooking.

According to every Italian I know, overcooking is the single most common American failing. The only way to tell when pasta is done is to test. And test again. At the precise moment the pasta is ready, it must be drained, sauced and served.

About the amount of sauce, it is very simple. The point of the dish is not the sauce but the pasta. There should be sufficient sauce to lightly coat the pasta; no puddles of sauce on the bottom of the dish, no oily emulsions. In Italian, the word for sauce, salsa, is rarely used with pasta. Instead, Italians speak of the condimento, the condiment, that dresses the dish.  For what concerns cheese, Italians use far less grated cheese than many of you think. A teaspoonful a serving is considered sufficient for most dishes, and of course it is freshly grated, either Parmigiano Reggiano, grana padano or pecorino.

Here are the essentials for a good Italian dinner. You see, not much!  Come back this week for our authentic Tiramisu recipe!

What’s your favorite Italian dish?

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