Pizza, pasta, mozzarella, burrata, parmesan, gelato, limoncello. Once you think you have conquered every type of mouthwatering Italian food, there is another to sample. Is there an end to the country's delicious fare? We sincerely hope not.
So, how can the rest of us adopt some of the core philosophies of Italian cooking - fresh local ingredients and explosive flavours curated with love - in our own kitchens? We spoke to Italian cook Eleonora Galasso, who was born in Rome and is the author of As the Romans Do, to find out.
How has Italy maintained such a vibrant food culture?
Italy is divided into 20 regions and 110 provinces, each one of them resonating with a unique style of cooking. The food strongly represents our inner identity, so it's still the language we would definitely go by.
What are some of your fondest memories of food and eating growing up?
I grew up for most of the time on the heel of the boot, the Apulia region amidst voices of women, the smell of fresh ingredients, the mysterious secrets of the cupboard. As a child I wasn't really allowed into the kitchen, so I would spy from the keyhole limpet. I was forbidden from entering my great grandmother’s kitchen, but I was allowed to taste the linguine to make sure they were “al dente”. The rest is history.
What are some mistakes people make when eating and preparing Italian food that are sacrilege?
In Italy we say that pasta needs to navigate in sea water, but should you put the salt (which should religiously be of the rock kind) in water before it boils, the result would be disastrous: not only would this slow down the whole process, as the water would take an eternity before boiling, but it would result in the product cooking unevenly.
Also, pasta is indeed the queen of the kitchen, so it should never be served as a side to whichever other dish, but on its own, in all its glory.
What do you say to people who think that food like pasta and pizza is unhealthy?
I would ask these people to look at history. Pasta has been eaten since ancient times, helping the growth of healthy populations, without this we wouldn't have gotten to where we are today.
However, there are over 1000 varieties of pasta and amongst those, a large number of shapes which are made of alternative flours. These can easily be suitable for those with all kinds of intolerances. So yes, pasta is a universal dish and a common language for all.
What ingredients does an Italian cook or chef always have in their kitchen?
That's easy! Extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed, of course), salted capers and anchovies in oil to add that salty twist to any dish, tomato puree to improvise that luscious sauce, and loads and loads of fresh as well as dry spices.
Wine is also essential in the Italian kitchen. Each Italian region has its own flagship wine style, so if in doubt when choosing the wine to pair a meal with, check what the locals drink. In Italy, we believe what grows together goes together. I've developed a range of recipes with Italia Wines that reflect the different wine growing regions.
How can a person be more adventurous in the kitchen without being wasteful. Sometimes the idea of trying something new can be daunting when you worry that you won't use the new ingredients you use. Is there a clever way to plan your weekly meals that doesn't involve eating the same dish over and over?
In Italy we call it “l'arte dell'arrangiarsi” - also making do with what one has. So just have a look at those ingredients looking all gloomy in your cupboard or fridge, and starting from as few as a handful of them one delicious meal can be created. Also, it is essential to make good use of leftovers, as throwing them away would be considered sacrilege from where I'm from. This way, each meal would be the continuation of the previous one, in a sort of everlasting motion. Similarly, a leftover glass of Italia Prosecco can play a starring role in a risotto. Simply stir into the rice until absorbed (prior to adding stock) for a pleasingly crunchy outcome.
At the same time, are there foods that you would never, ever eat?
I don't think there are, no. I'm a pretty adventurous eater, and that's because I like to think that each food belongs to someone's tradition, and it's this ravenous anthropological research that drives me, eventually.
What are some Italian foods that people in the UK might not know about but need to taste?
Mostly there are regional foods that are still closed in local enclaves of cucina povera. It's about time the whole world discovers some of them, for example the very excellent canederli, Italian bread based dumplings, the caciucco, a typical spicy fish soup or the bottarga, which is compressed grey mullet roe - fantastic sprinkled on pastas and fish dishes. But, believe me, the list is long and goes on and on.