Italian Cuisine

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Italian cuisineWhat’s exciting about Italian cuisine is that it is a rich variety of different cultural influences that has become part of its rich history. As a nation, Italy was only unified officially in 1861, bringing together different regions that reflect the culinary influences that pervade in that certain area. It can be said that Italian dishes show major influences from the Greek, Roman, German, Turkish, Hebrew, Slavic, and Arab cuisine just to name a few.

On the dining table, a typical Italian dish is primarily a rich concoction of vegetables, grains, fruits, fish, cheeses, and a hearty addition of meats. Italian food can be easily recognized as most are usually seasoned or cooked using olive oil,with the exception of those recipes that originate from the far north. The cuisine in the different regions developed upon the reliance of what the country was able to produce through the centuries.

Italians love to eat. This love has borne a rich culinary history that has also shaped what comes into the typical Italian dining table. Every meal is considered an event. The traditional Italian meal usually starts with the "antipasto", or the appetizer. Then it is proceeded with the "primo" or the first course which usually consist of a hot dish like pasta, risotto or soup. The "primo"usually provides an abundance of vegetarian options, a healthy way of starting a meal.

The "secondo" or the second course is considered as the main dish of every Italian meal. The "secondo" is usually offered as a fish or meat dish, with veal, pork and chicken as the traditional options. Each meal also comes with the "contorno" or the side dish. The "contorno" is usually a salad or a dish of cooked vegetables to complement the main dish.

As for desserts, the traditional Italian meal doesn’t settle for just one. There’s the "formaggio" and "frutta", which consist of cheese and fruits. This is considered as the first dessert and is usually served together. The "dolce" is considered as the main dessert which usually consists of delectable cakes and cookies. For drinks, there’s always "caffe" or coffee on hand. And as a digestive aid, there’s the "digestivo" which actually consists of certain liqueurs or alcoholic drinks , considered as wonderful options for most Italians.

There are distinct differences between food even in the various regions of the country. Roman dishes, for example, makes use of a lot of "pecorino" or sheep milk cheese and offal. Dishes in Tuscany usually feature white beans, meat, and unsalted bread. Even the famous Italian pizza is also cooked differently all across the country. In Rome the pizza crusts are usually thin as crackers, while Neapolitan pizza and Sicilian pizza have their crusts made thicker.

Italian cuisine in part is also known for the popular Mediterranean diet which is predominant in the cooking in the Southern coastal areas of Italy, although it is also the accepted diet in Greece. This diet usually consists of a healthy quantities of fruit and vegetables, bread, cereals, olive oil and fish. The Mediterranean diet is known for being low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber. The red wine that Italians love with their food is also a part of the Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation.