This month, we are continuing our series of European Cuisine by highlighting classic Italian recipes. In case you missed it, last month, we focused on the country of France, you can find that article here.
We think it’s really fun to learn the history of common dishes and how the culture and environment influence culinary creations differently in every region.
If you’re considering working as a chef or simply enjoy learning more about cooking, this series can help you focus on three things.
- How dishes came to represent different cultures and how that is true in your current hometown and wherever you may travel. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to find out what popular foods are in your area and how they came about.
- Practicing how to make the most popular cuisines from Europe will make you that much more prepared for your future goals in culinary, whether that be classes, employment or being the best cook in the family.
- Once you understand the base of a recipe, you can practice the versatility of making any variety of it based on what produce may be in season in your area, what you have in your pantry, or whatever you’re craving to create.
With these things in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most well-known foods in Italy.
“Every Tuscan family has a recipe for this soup that has been refined and passed down through generations. The name means reboiled, referring to the fact that it is commonly consumed on the day after its preparation, when it is reheated with a dash of olive oil.
The key ingredients in ribollita are leftover bread, cannellini beans, and seasonal vegetables such as kale, onions, carrots, and cabbage. It is a typical winter dish, and one of its main ingredients, Tuscan kale, is available exclusively in winter.” –Taste Atlas
“With roots in the peasant cooking of the region, this vegetable soup is thickened with bread instead of meat, because that is what was cheaper and more readily available for hundreds of years in the desperately poor Italian countryside. In Tuscany, the dish is considered a special treat in the autumn, when the taste of the harvest vegetables is at its most vibrant and the soup explodes with an intense savoriness despite the absence of meat (at least in the traditional versions). Often eaten as a first course instead of pasta in the trattorie of Florence, this is one hearty stew that shows off the immense, and often untapped power of great produce.” –Walks of Italy
Some recipes to consider have been posted by NY Times, Cook With Grazia and The Mediterranean Dish.
Lasagna with Homemade Pasta
“The origins of the word lasagne or lasagna can be traced back to Ancient Greece. What we know as lasagne or lasagna is derived from the word “laganon”, which was the first form of pasta. Laganon was a reference to flat sheets of pasta dough cut into thin strips.” –Mi’talia Kitchen & Bar
Mi’talia’s article also suggests using sausage instead of beef and adding pureed vegetables that aren’t too watery to add nutrients and keep the traditional texture.
“There are some common mistakes made when making lasagna that can ruin it. Make sure you don’t overcook the noodles and lay them flat on a greased cookie sheet to prevent clumping. Make sure you use a béchamel sauce and make sauce the first layer. Use lots of layers and cover it halfway through the cooking time so it won’t get dry. Brown the top a little with the broiler if needed. There are lots of ways to change traditional lasagna up. You can add spinach, roasted red peppers, onions, pesto, ricotta, mushrooms, zucchini and you can use chicken, pork and ground beef. Boiling noodles isn’t even required today with no-boil noodles available. They work by getting soft as the lasagna bakes but there needs to be a lot of sauce so the noodles get wet and cook. Did you know you can make lasagna noodles in the dishwasher? All you need to do is put the noodles in a dish and cover it tightly with aluminum foil and use the heated dry and sanitize cycle to cook the lasagna!” –Table Side NYC
This recipe found on Walks of Italy goes through the steps of making everything from scratch including the pasta, going so far as to claim it’s “the only lasagna recipe you’ll ever need.” Take your time to learn this one. Maybe even practice it several times until you get it right. This will teach you what works and doesn’t and you’ll have a great learning experience under your belt.
“Risotto derives from “riso” meaning rice, and is a dish from northern Italy made with particular varieties of rice that, when cooked with broth and seasonings, form a creamy delicious dish. These rice varieties include arborio or carnaroli, which have high starch and low-amylose contents, as well as short or medium grains that absorb lots of liquid and release lots of starch to make a thick, gooey consistency. Risotti can be made with countless ingredients, but classically have a base of butter, onion, white wine and parmesan cheese, although even these are not set in stone.”
“…I softened diced onion in lots of butter, then stirred in some ground saffron and added the rice, stirring until it was well coated in saffron and fat. I then added white wine and vegetable stock a little at a time, until the rice was al dente and creamy. I then stirred through some parmesan cheese and butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Very simple, but oh so effective; this is one of my favourite risotto recipes…” –Around the World in 80 Cuisines
“This widely popular and extremely versatile group of dishes consists of a base of rice and stock. Butter, saffron, and parmesan are some of the ingredients most often combined with the base to make a variety of flavorful risottos. The history of the dish is rife with conflicting theories about its origins, however, it is certain that rice was first introduced to Italy by the Arabs during the Middle Ages.
Since the Mediterranean climate was perfect for growing short-grain rice, it began being sold in huge amounts, primarily in Venice, Genoa, and the surrounding areas. As rice gained in popularity, it became a staple food of the Po valley, Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, and the city of Milan.” –Taste Atlas
Compare recipes from Tasty, Epicurious and Bon Appetit.
The origin of this desert is pretty heavily disputed.
“The word Tiramisù literally means “pick me up”. It comes from the Treviso dialect, “Tireme su”, Italianised into Tiramisù in the latter half of the 20th century. Historical records state that Tiramisù originated in Treviso in 1800. It is said that this dessert was invented by a clever “maitresse” of a house of pleasure in the centre of Treviso.” –Accademia Del Tiramisu
“Veneto, the northeastern region that calls Venice its capital, claims it first saw the light of day in the early 1970s at Le Beccherie, a restaurant in Treviso. Apparently, it was inspired by a tonic served to pregnant women and nursing mothers to build up their strength.
However, across the border in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a mountainous region that borders Austria and Slovenia, they point to a handwritten recipe for tiramisu said to date from 1959 as evidence they got there first.” –National Geographic
You can find the Accademia’s version of “the original” Tiramisu here.
You can also check out other recipes from Ask Chef Dennis, Recipes From Italy and Also the Crumbs Please.
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