Thousands and thousands of books have been written about Italian cuisine. It is considered one of the best in the world and, of course, if you might ask any Italian, he will answer that for him the Italian gastronomy does, is really the best. While this last opinion is debatable, as everybody more or less would consider his hometown cuisine the best, by the way what renders Italian cuisine world spread is the dedication, time, feeling, pleasure, creativity and art that Italians put in it. This makes the difference. We are speaking about cultural values, passion, love for art and tradition, and not about food anymore. But why is it like that?
Therefore, ask any Italian about the cuisine of his homeland and watch his chest instantly swell with pride. Italian cuisine extends much further than just food to keep us from going hungry, much more than just sustenance to keep us going day to day – it is a lifestyle. Built on an established foundation of dedication, creativity and passion, food in Italy is often viewed as a form of expression and showcases the beauty of the produce that we are blessed with. One important factor is its variety, and its unique historical, geographical, cultural, climate, weather conditions which develop an incredible gamma of products from wine to wheat, olive oil, tomatoes, fruits, vegetables, truffle, cheese, fish and many others. But the social behaviour and relations, which enhance the artistic creativity and combination of food, are a value added which people often underestimate. One of the moments when we can realize this perfect concoction of “transversal ingredients” is during the Family Reunion Dinner. In it, the seasonal ingredients, the festivity period, the family gathering all together give a good idea of the power of fantasy and ability of the Italian gastronomy.
Italian cooking is entrenched in history and tradition dating back all the way to the Roman Empire and its expansion that brought together a melodious array of influences from neighbouring states such as Spain and France. Exposed to a myriad of ingredients that ran the gamut from Middle Eastern cereals, North Atlantic fish from Britain to freshly caught game from Central Europe along with several cooking techniques (and baking, which the Romans have been mastering for thousand years), the Bel Paese (loosely translated as The Beautiful Country) soon became a melting pot of cultures and the epicentre of gastronomic discoveries. It is a matter of fact that Italian Cuisine (and Sicilian one inside Italy as well) has been the first Cuisine to develop at European national level, and Italian chefs have been the first ones, after the Romans, who wrote gastronomic books and have been requested by every royal court in Europe. By the way it will surprise you to know that Italians, more than national cuisine, consider their cuisine as a sum of never ending different regional and even local gastronomies and recipes, due to their deep history of city-states, where every city represented a foreign Country to each other, and developed different styles and cooking. This is why no other cuisine in the world can compare to the Italian one, because it is the richest in variety and diversity.
Alongside the Japanese, Italians are known to have one of the longest average lifespans in the world thanks to our “Mediterranean Diet”, consisting largely on seafood, wheat, cheese, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil which are elements often found on pizzas or pasta dishes. A typical plate of pasta can contain all the proteins that we need in our daily diet on a single plate. There is a saying in Italy that wine here is even cheaper than water, and the moderate consumption of wine is often thought to help with the absorption of food and nutrients. One of the most characteristic staples in an Italian diet is without a doubt the pasta. Made with a few simple ingredients such as flour, salt and eggs, it is not only economic but incredibly versatile as well. Once considered food for the poor, it was only served with tomato sauce because tomatoes grew well and were in abundance, giving rise to this highly successful marriage which was deemed revolutionary since pasta was originally served plain. Pasta dishes are what we call “semipronto” – the time it takes for the pasta to cook is just enough time to put together a lovely sauce to accompany it which makes it a quick and easy dish. To enjoy it the way the Italians do, have the pasta stripped down and without frills. No fancy, overworked ingredients, just a light sauce accompanied by a sprinkle of grated cheese (original Italian Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano) and served as a first course.
Not only pasta. Pizza and more
And what about our incredible variety of toppings and pizzas? Italian migrants made people happy all over the world when they started sharing the secret of such wonderful simple dish, done with the properly and naturally leavened dough with the combination of tomato sauce, basil leaves, fiordilatte mozzarella, and olive oil if you want, for the most classic of Italian pizzas: the pizza margherita! We Italians love our seafood; our country is surrounded by the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea which is home to a stunning array of fish and seafood much like Singapore is. Its particular conformation and salinity, makes the fish and seafood there tastier and stronger in flavour. Moreover Italians have been able to create particular products like bottarga, the anchovy’s cream, and the squid ink. I would need tons of ink to go on describing the so many great ingredients and delicacies that I will teach and show in my cuisine courses and workshops. I usually like to say that Italian chefs are lucky, because they are mostly combining and assembling the great ingredients that farmers, cheese and wine makers have patiently created and selected for them. The use of good quality ingredients is essential for the best flavour and texture in Italian cooking. We use ingredients seasonally, when they are freshest and the flavour is most intense, but of course we know all of our Nonna’s (grandma’s) secrets to make an average ingredient work.
Bread, pulses, beans, fish and seafood, game and meat, ham and bacon, our sausages, garlic, herbs, salads and vegetables, tomatoes, wild mushrooms, truffles, olives, balsamic vinegar, flour, polenta, rice, fruits and nuts, dairy products, eggs, spices and flower waters, wine, ice cream, desserts, fruit, everything will contribute to make Italian recipes the most appreciated and awarded best gastronomy in the world.
The ultimate secret to our abundant lives, however, lies not with the food. “A tavola non si invecchia”, roughly translated as “When one is at the table with friends and family, one does not age”; this adage perfectly embodies the spirit of an Italian meal, which is meant as an experience to be shared with family and those we hold dear. It is time set apart especially for spending time together enjoying good food with our loved ones, for our loved ones.