Monday, 12 August 2013

Italian food ingredients

What are the essential food ingredients for Italian cuisine? Spending a week of cooking holidays in Italy was enough to get some top cooking tips from Flavours Holidays' Italian chefs! Here is what we learned:

OLIVE OIL – Essential. Olive oil is perfect for everything: extra virgin olive oil is mostly used for raw, or true to dress salads and to garnish finished dishes. Generally extra virgin olive oil is considered too good to cook with, for this purpose is better a good olive oil. Although Italians know that it is possible to cook with butter too you will hardly find one who prefers butter to olive oil: it is healthier and it tastes good without covering the original taste of the ingredients but accentuating it.

BASIL – It is the base of the pesto sauce, it is perfect in salads and in summer dishes like caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt). Fresh and perfumed, basil can adorn the most basic tomato sauce giving it that touch of summer that makes you feel lighter even on winter. 

TOMATOES – Healthy and tasty, tomatoes are delicious raw, fundamental in sauces and dressings, fantastic when fried, stuffed, gratinéed or baked. It is one of the ingredients that matches with everything, from veggies to meat, from fish to herbs. There are lots of different types (among them pachino, sanmarzano, sardo…) and each type has a best way to be used: some are better for salads, other for rice-stuffed tomatoes, others for sauces… it a very precious ingredient for Italian cuisine. In fact the literal translation of the Italian word for tomato, “pomodoro”, is “golden apple”! 

PEPPER – Italian cuisine widely uses black, green and white pepper. Black pepper is usually ground last minute. It is possible to buy ground pepper but Italians prefer to grind it just before eating because the flavour is more intense. Black pepper is used on cured meats but overall for seasoning and dressing veggies and meats. Green pepper is used in corns, overall for some meat recipes like filetto al pepe verde (fillet with green pepper). White pepper is less spicy, it is used mainly for meats but also with light sauces.

CHILLI – In the south of Italy chillies grow happily in the sun: there chillies are the most popular spice in the local cuisines, but they are very common in the whole country too. To prepare many famous pasta sauces, like aglio olio e pepperoncino or the spicy arrabbiata sauce, chillies are essentials.

PARSLEY –Widely used to garnish warm and cold dishes alike and to season sauces and fillings, parsley really matches with everything in the Italian cuisine. An example? In Italian if you say that somebody/something “é come il prezzemolo” ( is like parsley) it means that a person/an object is basically everywhere!

VINEGAR – Vinegars are generally used to pickle veggies, in marinades and vinaigrettes. Some also use it to brush the food that is going to be grilled. Balsamic vinegar is delicious overall to drizzle on top of meats and cheese, while wine vinegar is often used to cook, accompanied by herbs.

OREGANO – Oregano is used to season warm and cold dishes alike, for example salads, tomatoes, veggies, meats, fish and sauces. It is a fundamental ingredient of the pizza napoletana marinara. Overall in the Naples area and in Sicily oregano has a big role in the local cuisine. Among the most famous dishes with oregano are carne alla pizzaiola and penne with gorgonzola and courgettes.

CAPERS – Capers are the flower buds of the caper bush. Their vinegary taste, due to the fact that the buds are cured in vinegar, and their delicate aroma give a special touch to every dish there are in. Cappers are mostly used for antipasti, for tomato sauces, for various types of fish and for the tartar sauce.

So if you want to find out more about Italian cuisine and learn to cook local Italian dishes, why not consider a cooking holiday in Italy


Rom said...

I think you got the ingredients about right, probably forgot olives and cheeses, the rest I agree, pretty basic but that's all you really need for a good meal.

FlavoursofItaly said...

Thanks Rom, this is what Italian food is all about anyway - simple but very tasty meals!