A passion for food and easy access to fresh ingredients make Italy’s chefs some of the best in the world. With endless regional variations on popular dishes, you’ll never have time to sample all of the delicious cuisine Italy has to offer. Here are some of the top tastes to enjoy a little sampler of Italy.
One of Italy’s most-famous exports, pizza was created in Naples. A traditional Neapolitan pizza is baked in a wood oven and is topped with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil for marinara style or with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra-virgin olive oil for Margherita style. Of course endless new varieties have been created and are sold all over Italy. Pizza in Rome is usually made one of two ways – square cut with a thick crust or round with a thin, crispy crust – and topped with various veggies and meats. Pizza is also a tasty, and economical, choice in Venice where it features a thin, chewy crust and is often sold by the gram.
In the Liguria region on Italy’s northwest coast, pesto reigns supreme. It was created here and it is here that the best pesto is still produced. The sauce, made from basil leaves, sliced garlic, pine nuts, pecorino or parmesan cheese and plenty of olive oil, tops pasta, pizza and foccaccia, and is also spread on sandwiches.
There are nearly as many varieties of pasta in Italy as there are fish in the nearby Mediterranean Sea. From gnocchi (potato dumplings) to spaghetti (long, thin noodles) to ravioli (stuffed squares), pasta comes in multiple shapes and styles. It can be stuffed or tossed with meat and cheese, and covered in sauces like tomato, Alfredo, pesto, or brown butter. You can get most basics, like spaghetti, anywhere in Italy but each region also has a few of its own specialties.
In the north Italy region of Piedmont, truffles grow wild in the countryside. The white or black tubers are similar to mushrooms but have a more potent taste and aroma. Each fall, truffle hunters and their well-trained dogs search for the elusive delicacy. In cities like Alba, there’s even an annual festival to celebrate the truffle. If you can’t make it to the source to find one for yourself you can still enjoy truffles sliced on pizza or pasta, or drizzled as truffle oil over a variety of dishes.
Cichetti is a popular Venetian ritual of eating small bar snacks pre- or post-dinner (or as a substitute for dinner itself). Bites cost 1-2 euros each and tend to be pretty basic items such as proscuitto and cheese on bread, aranaci (a deep fried ball of rice and cheese), crostini, and mini Panini. Patrons usually stand at the bar and nibble as it costs more to sit. It’s no haute cuisine, but it is a dining experience to remember.
Prosecco comes from vineyards around Venice and is a very popular drink in the city. The sparkling white wine is available at bars all around Venice for a few euros per glass. You can even buy it by the can at markets and take it to go for a picnic. Prosecco is also the main ingredient (along with peach puree) in a Bellini, a signature drink at Harry’s Bar in Venice.
Given that Italy is surrounded on three sides by water, it just makes sense that Italians enjoy an abundance of seafood in their cuisine. Fish is available throughout the country, but for the freshest catch, head to a coastal area like Liguria or the Amalfi Coast or the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where sardines, squid, tuna and rock lobster are staples. Other popular seafood options in these areas include swordfish, shrimp, trout, and mussels, all caught fresh, often that day, and prepared with an Italian twist.
Gelato, Tiramisu, and Cannoli
Italians know how to do dessert right and you can’t visit Italy with out sampling at least a few of its delicious treats. Gelato, similar to ice cream, is sold at shops all over Italy. You can’t walk more than a few blocks in major cities like Rome and Florence without passing a gelato stand. Tiramisu, a rich cake made of lady-finger cookies soaked in espresso and layered with a creamy whipped mixture, was reportedly created in Siena,Tuscany, but you can find it at restaurants and bakeries throughout Italy. Cannoli are undisputedly Sicilian. These “little tubes” of pastry are filled with a sweet cream mixed with chocolate or pistachios and are the perfect way to cap off an Italian meal.
Written by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com