Italian Food, considered as one of the most unique foods of the world, includes numerous dishes such as Bistecca alla Florentine, Bacall alla Vincentian, Lasagna, Pasta e aioli, Pizza, Raga alla Bolognese etc. Italian cuisine is considered to be one of the oldest in the world and it can be traced back to the 4th century BC. Italian foods usually differ extensively look-wise, in taste, ingredients used, in the style of preparation and consumption patterns across the different culinary cultures of the region. Italian cuisine is mostly characterized by the wide usage of locally available fruits, wine, cereal grains, vegetables, and milk and meat products. The traditional Italian diet in many part of the continent has a predominance of cheese products. Coffee, particularly espresso, has become an integral part of Italian cuisine.


Classification of Italian Cuisine

Italian food comes from different regions and provinces of the country which have their own special dishes. The difference in dishes is due to factors like influence of the cuisines of bordering countries, the finances of the provinces and the influence of their natural surroundings (their proximity to the sea or mountains) and seasonal ingredients. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is known for its special ham dish San Daniele del Friuli. The Venetian cuisine, known as Veneto, is popular for the risotto, Trenton-Alto Adige Sadtirol for its fish dishes, Lombardy for its rice dishes, Val D Aosta for its bread soups, Piedmont for its Castelmagno cheese and Filetto Baciato (a type of prosciutto), Liguria for its pies and pasta, Emilia-Romagna for its wheat flour egg pasta, Tuscany for its Ribolllita soup, Umbria for its olive oil and herbal preparations, Marche for its fish and seafood and meat dishes, Lazio for pasta dishes, Molaise and Abruzo for its vegetables and meat and pasta dishes, Campania for its pasta and vegetable and fruit preparations, Apulia for its Durum wheat pasta, Basilicata for its pork preparations, Calabria for its fruits and seafood preparations amongst others, Sicily for its fish and seafood and dessert dishes, and Sardinia for its innumerable seafood dishes.


History of Italian Cuisine

The origin of Italian food can be traced to the 4th century BC, when according to Archestratus, a Greek-Sicilian food critic, fish dishes were one of the first to be prepared by the cuisine during that period without excessive usage of herbs and spices to avoid masking of the natural flavors of the ingredient. In the first century, spices and herbs started being used heavily, thus replacing the old style of cooking. Bread and cheese was introduced by the Romans to the cuisine. The origin of pasta can be traced to the 14th century when its preparation was noticed in Sicily by a Norman ruler. The pasta was called atriya. Italian cuisine, in the real sense, is generally believed to have developed in the middle ages. The regionalism of the Italian cuisine is believed to have started in the 18 th century. The foundations of the modern Italian cuisine were laid a little before the 18th century.


Commonly Used Ingredients and Cooking Methods of Italian Cuisine

In Italian cuisine, fish such as cod, anchovies, sardines, tuna or baccala, potatoes, rice, capers, maize, corn, sausages, pork and various types of cheeses, salamis, pepper, olives, semolina, artichokes, oranges, aubergines, and courgettes are widely used. Many types of pastas such as Spaghettoni, Spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, Fedelini, Vermicelloni, Vermicelli, Fusilli Bucati, Pici are used in making various pasta dishes in Italy. Generally, the Italian food is roasted, baked, boiled, fried or grilled.


Methods of Cooking Italian Recipes

Italian food, originally, comprised of preparations meant for the peasant class. Hence Italian recipes did not necessitate any lengthy methods of cooking which required accuracy in temperatures (enabled by the usage of sophisticated equipment), and also close monitoring by the cooks (which the peasants could not afford as they had to attend to other chores). The Italian food is cooked by simple methods. Boling is by far the primary method of cooking adopted by the Italian cuisine. Pasta, rice, meat and vegetables are mostly cooked by this method. Pan-frying, popularly known as sauteing, is another commonly employed method of cooking. Deep-frying is rarely done as Italian dishes mostly do not require the usage of large quantities of oil or fat. Braising is also done to a certain extent. Pan-roasting and grilling are also favored methods of cooking flavorful meat and seafood dishes. It might be surprising to note that baking is only a recent inclusion to the Italian cuisine.


Popular Italian Recipes

Italian food has gained popularity around the world. It has a considerable patronage in America, South East Asia and other European countries. Some of the most popular Italian recipes that have gained global prominence are listed below:


  • Braciole - This Italian dish is made with thinly sliced beef pan-fried either in olive oil or in their own juice.
  • Bruschetta - This Italian food consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Bresaola - it is a popular air-dried salted beef dish.
  • Salami - Salami is a sausage. It is a fermented and air-dried meat.
  • Tortano - It is a kind of stuffed bread commonly made with meat, cheese and flour.


Soups and Sauces:

  • Bagna cauda - It is a warm dipping sauce made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter and cream (optional)
  • Minestrone - this popular soup is made with vegetables. Sometimes pasta or rice is also added to the dish.
  • Pasta e fagioli - it is a traditional pasta and bean dish.
  • Risi e bisi - Risi e bisi is a famous rice and pea dish.
  • Sugo al Pomodoro - Made with fresh tomato Sugo al Pomodoro is atangy Italian sauce.


Italian Pasta Recipes

Pasta is one of Italy´s most versatile contributions to world cuisine. Italian recipes made of Bucatini, Cannello, Linguini, Penne and pansotti, are some popular Italian pasta dishes. These pasta dishes are generally served with tomato sauce, amatriciana and carbonara.


Non-vegetarian Italian Dishes

Traditionally veal, pork, beef and chicken are most commonly used in non-vegetarian dishes. Fishes are generally caught locally. Bacall, Cacciucco, Alici, Sardine, Anguilla marinate, Seppioline in umido and Missultin e polenta are some of the most delicious Italian non-vegetarian dishes.


Famous Italian Wines

Italy makes the largest quantity of wine in the world. It is also the largest exporter and consumer of wine. Some of the popular types of wine are Abruzzi, Calabria Emilia-Romagna, Campania, Friuli-Venezia and Giulia. Some Popular Italian Recipes for Desserts and Pastries Sweets, such as cakes and cookies form an integral part of Italian desserts and pastry. Anisette, Babà, Biscotti, Biscuit Tortoni and Cannolo siciliano are the most popular Italian recipes for desserts across the globe.


Italian Coffee

Italian style coffee is also called espresso. It is made from a blend of coffee beans, frequently from Brazil. Bicerin, Caffè corretto, Caffè macchiato, Caffelatte and Cappuccino are popular varieties of Italian coffee consumed across the world.


Gourmet Dishes

Italian food comprises of a range of dishes in the gourmet category. Gourmet, pizzas, pasta and risotto are all versions of the every dishes specially created using special ingredients for the gourmet palate. Gourmet pizza can be made by using a pesto sauce as a basic spread for the pizza rather than the ordinary tomato sauce. Basil, pine nuts, artichoke hearts, basil, salami, chicken breast and pepperoni are other ingredients used as toppings for gourmet pizza. Gourmet pasta is made at home or manufactured commercially using different ingredients. Peppers and sausages are a good combination for trying out gourmet pasta. One of the most commonly used ingredients for making gourmet risotto is mushroom.


Italian Breads

  • Muffuletta - a kind of sesame bread used for sandwich making.
  • Pandoro - traditional sweet yeast bread popularly eaten during New Year and Christmas.
  • Panettone - typical bread that comes from Milan. Panettone is commonly prepared and eaten during Christmas and New Year in Italy and Switzerland.
  • Panino - sandwiches that are a specialty of Italian cuisine.
  • Pita - also known as pitta is a round bread consisting of a pocket that is created by steam.


Special/Holiday Italian Recipes

There are different kinds of regional specialties served during holidays and special occasions in different parts of Italy. During La Festa di San Giuseppe, Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve Italians mainly serve special dishes made of Calamari, Shrimp, Oysters and other fish and seafood dishes in delicious sauces.


Italian Meal

A typical Italian meal is divided into 3-4 sections such as antipasti (the appetizer), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course) and dolce (dessert). Italy is also popular for over 400 types of cheese and sausages. Italian breakfast is also known as colazione. Hot coffee with milk or coffee with bread or rolls, butter, and jam are popular traditional Italian breakfast. Sometimes breakfast cereals, biscotti, fruit compote, muesli and yogurt are also eaten as breakfast dishes. The most important meal in Italy is known as Pranzo, or lunch. This consists of cold meats (affettati) and hams, cheese, bruschette and small sandwiches, olives or sauce dips, pasta or spaghetti, soup, crepes, ravioli, risotto, and fish dishes. The mid-afternoon snack or merenda includes fruit, yogurts, ice cream, nuts, brioches, cookies and biscuits, cake, raisins or mousses. Dinner is known as cena in Italian and usually the Italians prefer light food such as a salad, soup, risotto or the left-overs of lunch-time as dinner.


Eating Habits In Italian Cuisine

Italian food is made up of different types of dishes which are eaten according to specific consumption norms commonly followed by the Italians. For example, pasta that is served with seafood is never paired with cheese. Apart from consomme, pasta is not usually preceded by a soup as a first course. Seafood and meat are never ideally served together. Fish is not directly followed by meat. Often an in-between course of sorbet is served. Any vegetable dishes are followed by either meat or fish. The first course, known as primi piatti, is pasta, pizza or rice dishes garnished with vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood or any other ingredient. Pasta is never broken into small pieces for convenience, but twirled around the fork. This is followed by fish or meat dishes as the second course, known as secondi piatti. Espresso is served at the end of the meal and not along with it. The meal is also completed with a serving of drinks called digestivi (digestives).


Places Famous for Italian Food

Sicily, Rome, Bologna and Naples are famous for traditional Italian foods. For eating one of the best Italian dishes made with olive oil or Chianti wine, there is not a better place than Tuscany which is famous for especially bistecca alla florentina ( herbed and oiled steaks), and tripe florentina (beef and spinach dish). Milan is famous for dishes with a German impact. Pasta, the signature Italian food, is best savored at the Emilia Romagna cuisines of Parma, Ravenna and Bologna. Parma is also famous for its prosciutto preparations. Gelato, cannoli and spicy dishes are highlighted features of the Sicilian cuisine. Genoa is known for its Focaccia. Rome has gained popularity for its grapes and wines.


Famous Italian Chefs

Italian food was created by many worthy chefs of the nation from early times of the modern age. Bartolomeo Scappi(1570, personal cook to Pope Pius V), authored the Opera, a book on royal Italian culinary traditions and practices. The book is a storehouse of knowledge on Italian cuisine, recipes, ingredients, cooking methods, eating habits and etiquette and party dining. Bartolomeo Stefani (1662), author of L'Arte di Ben Cucinare, threw light on the ordinary Italian food of the times. Aldo Zilli of the Zilli Fish Group, Giada de Laurentiis, and Gino" D'A Campo, are to name a few celebrity chefs of the modern age.


Italian Cuisine Abroad

Pizza and pasta dishes, for example, spaghetti Bolognese and lasagna with bolognese ragù and Béchamel sauce are the famous types of Italian food which are widely eaten in Britain, USA, Canada, South America and South Africa.


Health Benefits of Italian Recipes

Italian food is not only acclaimed for its appealing taste but also for its nutritive worth. The emphasis on usage of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices by the cuisine makes Italian recipes one of the healthiest of the world. Olive oil, which is a major cooking medium for Italian recipes, benefits not only human health, but also its appearance as it is proved to be very beneficial for the human skin. The antioxidants in spices and herbs are believed to improve the immunity of the human body towards pathogens.