Italian Food, the Reality Beyond the Myth

Apparently, being an Italian in America is a synonym for good food and good cook (Well, ok, I can understand that!).

The Americans love buying Italian-branded stuff which has nothing in common with real Italian food. This post of mine is a short list of tricks to distinguish real Italian food from an American interpretation. I don`t mean that you need to change your eating habits, but to know what you are buying when you go for an Italian meal.

Enjoying caldarroste, roasted chestnuts.

Enjoying caldarroste, roasted chestnuts.

I can start by mentioning the Italian salad dressing: no dressing in Italy, just extra virgin olive oil and salt (sometimes vinegar or lemon). Fettuccini Alfredo (never tasted), all different kinds of grated parmesan (I bought it once and had to throw it away, it completely spoiled my dish!). Mascarpone-Lemon Pasta sauce? Not to mention the incredible amount of butter, garlic and cheese spread on top of almost every food!

Real Italian food is actually very simple. The idea beyond it is to keep the food`s original flavor, and highlight it. My mom used to tell me, if you need to add dressing on top, that means your food is bad. I totally agree with this!

An Italian picnic.

An Italian picnic.

Most of our traditional cuisine has popular origins and is usually made with very cheap ingredients, but they must be of very good quality. The economic value of our food resides in its quality, not in its quantity: American tourists are often disappointed by the size of our portions (particularly pizza!).

We do not add side dishes next to a food. Our meals are divided in first course, second course and contorno (a side dish, usually a salad or veggies), just because we want to keep different tastes separated. This is the only way to enjoy them completely. You`ll never find noodles as a side dish!

If we prepare a white food, we don`t try to add some color by adding something else on top. If we cook a delicate dish, we do not add cheese or sugar or frosting. We just enjoy their delicacy.

Also, please always remember to share your food. As the Italian saying goes, those who eat alone choke!

As for shopping, here is a list of the best available Italian products I`ve found so far in the Bay Area.

At Costco, I usually buy:

  • Kirkland Extra-virgin olive oil – no alternatives, no olive oil, no Mediterranean mix (?), no Canola oil (EU prohibits the use of Canola oil for food making!)
  • Mozzarella di Bufala Garofalo
  • Mozzarella Bel Gioso, for cooking
  • Pasta Garofalo
  • Kirkland Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio (full slice)
  • Kirkland tomato sauces and diced tomatoes

At Trader Joe’s:

  • Biscotti Latte e Miele (Milk and Honey, this is what we mean when we talk of biscotti)
  • Pizza dough

At Piazza`s:

  • Tonno Genova
  • Fagioli Borlotti

At Cost Plus World Market:

  • Biscotti, jams and other Italian baked products like Pandoro and Panettone

And, last but not least, I have started teaching Italian cooking!  If you are interested in taking a real Italian cooking classes, you can learn more here.

And now, enjoy your food!

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