Marla Gulley Roncaglia is an American expat living in the Italian Alps. Marla is an accomplished pastry chef, and a master at high-altitude baking. She and her husband Fabrizio (who has also worked as a chef) teach Italian cooking classes and run a bed and breakfast named Bella Baita ("beautiful mountain house"), where they are active supporters of the slow food movement.
It is a nearly impossible to choose just ten desserts that represent Italy. Italian desserts are many, varied, seasonal, and fiercely regional, so it is difficult to proclaim a definitive list. The north to south differences in climate have much to do with dessert preference, and though there are several that most everyone will recognize, there are a multitude of specialities that seldom make it out of their regions, let alone across the pond to Italian restaurants. So if you come across them, do not hesitate; run to try them. (more…)
The Italian way of eating is about the enjoyment of quality genuine food and drink. It is also about eating and drinking in a progression that will aid in proper digestion to enhance the overall experience.
When it comes to Italian drinks, the most obvious thought is usually coffee or wine for which Italy is so famous. You would, however, miss out on a vast range of afternoon and evening drinks shared with friends or consumed to stimulate the appetite or add the perfect finish to a meal. Most of these drinks have an alcohol content that ranges between 15% to 55%. In America, these type of drinks are loosely referred to by the French words aperitif (aperitivo in Italian), digestif (digestivo), and liqueurs. These categories are broad and difficult to categorize, as lines blur with many drinks considered to stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, or simply be pleasurable to drink. Here is a brief look at some of these popular Italian drinks. (more…)
Necessity is the mother of invention, and so the tradition of salting, smoking and air drying was borne from the necessity of conserving meat for long periods of time after the slaughter of animals raised for food. Cured meats, or salumi in Italian, is the general name for this type of meat preservation and has been a staple of the Italian diet for well over two thousand years. Most people are familiar with the spicy salami of southern Italy that Americans know as pepperoni, and the prosciutto crudo of Parma, fondly called Parma ham in the States, but those are merely an introduction. There are countless variations developed and perfected through the ages; the vast amount beyond these two most familiar cured meat specialties are well worth searching out and exploring what the salumeria, or Italian delicatessen, has on offer. (more…)
Spring arrives with that impatient wait in the air — everyone is happy that the days are longer and the temperatures are starting to warm up, but could it please hurry up just a little? The Easter holiday, although based in Christianity, certainly embraces the welcoming of springtime that is eagerly anticipated after the dark, cold, and long winter nights.
Here in northern Italy, we are still experiencing snow, slush, and chilly nights. Italians describe this month as “Marzo, Pazzo,” or crazy March. But with the onset of spring, it’s a time to change up the menu, transitioning from the hearty stews with winter cabbages and potatoes to lighter fare such as dandelion and other early greens for a spring salad or frittata, an Italian omelet.
Whether in America or Europe (and Italy in particular), I think of eggs every which way during the Easter period. The dyeing of eggs is not a common tradition in Italy but has recently started to catch on. Italian traditional Easter dishes, however, prominently feature eggs. Easter menus also often feature lamb and goat as the seasonal meat, after the animals have begun to birth their young in the late winter and very early spring. It is a natural way for the farmer or shepherd to cull too many male offspring from the herd while also serving the dish of gratefulness. All regions of Italy have special dishes for Easter, and many of these dishes have migrated to the whole of Italy, sometimes becoming so popular they might now be served all year round. Here is a sampling of the representative dishes and various courses of the Italian Easter menu. It is by no means an exhaustive list. You might consider some for your own Easter dinner or look for them at your favorite Italian restaurant this spring. (more…)
When dining in or out, Italians generally think about the quality and how flavorsome their food is, followed by the order and timing to ensure digestion and maximize enjoyment. Meals are a multi-course affair that tends to expand and contract as needed. You can be assured that there will be at least three courses, maybe two, but never just one plate. Pizza, however, is the exception because you will be enjoying an entire pizza of your own, so an additional salad or small starter would be about all most people could fit in. Naturally, there are many variations on the Italian dining experience, but the traditional menu throughout all of Italy consists of antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti with or without contorno, dolce, and beverages. (more…)
In 1986, the fast food chain McDonald’s opened a franchise in close proximity to Rome’s historic Spanish Steps. Carlo Petrini of Bra, Italy and a group of like-minded Italians from the Piedmont region feared that this powerful restaurant chain and other giant international food businesses would threaten Italy’s traditional food and cultural heritage by a steady erosion of quality and integrity. I have said this before and I will say it again: if there is one single thing that unites all Italians, it is their passion for their food and the culture surrounding it. The Slow Food movement was borne out of a desire to push back against the loss of cultural food identity, food diversity, its sources, and the disappearance of the myriad smaller businesses surrounding the food industry that are unable to compete with large companies. (more…)
In this third and final part of the regional cuisine of Italy, we find ourselves firmly in the land of olive oil and spicy peppers. Southern Italy is where, with few exceptions, pasta is served as part of each meal. Generally, the cuisine leaves behind the richer butter and cream dishes and features spicier tomato-based pasta.
In arbitrarily dividing Italy into three sections of north, central, and south, some of the regions naturally commingle from one section to the next, with their feet sometimes firmly planted in both. The qualities that unite and separate one region from another are profound because Italy is a country united, barely 150 years ago, from autonomous countries with unique customs and food traditions. Through the years, regional dishes migrated up and down the peninsula and across the sea, sharing a respect for genuine ingredients and an Italian passion for their native regions’ specialties first; embracing the others when it suits their taste. (more…)
In part 1 of this series, I discussed general differences of Italian regional cuisine, north to south, and began to dissect the distinct cuisines of Italy’s north. Heading out of the northern climes of alpine borders and Po river plains, let’s continue our culinary journey on to the central portion of Italy. (more…)
It’s easy to paint a broad-brush stroke across all of Italy when describing, arguably, one of the most popular cuisines in the world. However, you might just miss the mosaic of subtleties that comprise Italy’s fabulous patchwork of regional dishes, heavily influenced by locale, necessity, and intricate history. It is a fair statement to say that the 20 regions that comprise Italy could be considered a loosely stitched patchwork of nation states, as Italians often see themselves through their regional identity first and as Italians after. Ask most Italian Americans about their Italian heritage and you won’t have to dig too deep to discover the region from which their families hail. Italian cuisine is distinctly regional, sometimes fiercely so. When you first visit Italy, you might find it surprising that many familiar dishes won’t always be found in all parts of Italy. Even within a region, you will find wide variations on their classic regional dishes, reflecting not only the personality of the cook, but the nuances seeping in from every nook and cranny of each region. Many of the differences can be attributed to geography, from the mountains that stretch across the north, snaking down the length of the country, to being a peninsula almost entirely surrounded by the sea, or completely so, as in the case of the island regions of Sicily and Sardinia. Then add in the thousands of years of invaders or the adoption of returning explorers’ culinary discoveries and you’ve got an exotic blend of culture, tradition, and cuisine. The dishes of each region have stories whose significance deserve a closer look, although it seems that we’ll just be dipping our toe into this complex subject. I’ll give you an overview of the three main geographical areas, which comprise the north, central and south Italy. I’ll begin with the north, where I reside, and perhaps this will whet your appetite to lean closer in as we delve deeper into the individual regional cuisine. (more…)
When you think about Italian food, the first foods that spring to mind might be pizza, pasta, Parmesan, or gelato, coffee, and maybe even bread and olive oil. You certainly wouldn’t be wrong. However, the long list of Italian food stretches far beyond these particular boundaries to include risotto, polenta, fish and meats, along with copious varieties of salami, cured meats and cheeses, with vegetables certainly not forgotten. When you step off the plane with phrase book clutched tightly in hand, Italian cuisine and culture may reveal a few startling surprises. What we Americans know and love in the US as classic Italian food is not necessarily what you find being served in Italy. I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as “wrong”; it’s just that these “classic” dishes have evolved and transformed themselves to local ingredients and tastes, some not even originating in Italy. (more…)