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Mamma Mia! Italian Food Goodness

Italian food is perhaps one of the most popular in the world. Go to any major city, and you’ll probably find at least one “authentic” Italian restaurant. The authenticity may be questionable, but there is no arguing that Italian food holds a special place in our hearts.

How well do you know your Italian? It’s not all about pasta, pizza, and salami, you know. With the abundance of ingredients commonly used in Italian cooking, there are so many dishes that you can prepare. You may not be basking under the Tuscan sky, but armed with the proper knowledge and the right ingredients, you can have a taste of Italy right in the comforts of your own kitchen. To help you achieve that, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used ingredients in Italian cooking.

Pesto


Pesto Pasta
There’s nothing like the smell of freshly crushed basil on a lazy weekend afternoon, is there? Pesto is a sauce made of basil leaves, and it can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Traditionally, pesto is made by adding garlic, salt, and pine nuts to washed and dried basil leaves. This mixture is ground to a creamy paste using a wooden mortar and pestle. Today, you can make your own pesto using a food processor or a blender – resulting in the same creamy goodness without aching hands and arms!

Perhaps the most common use of pesto is as a sauce for pasta.  You can use practically any kind of pasta and just add pesto for a light meal.  If you want something meatier, you can use pesto on chicken.  Alternatively, have some pizza with pesto sauce on it! Check out some recipe ideas using pesto below.

Classic pesto recipe: Pasta with Pesto
Pesto recipe for meat lovers: Chicken Skewers with Tarragon-Pistachio Pesto
If you’re a pizza person: White Pizza with Chicken, Pesto and Pine Nuts

Risotto

Champagne RisottoRice by any other name is still that – rice. There is something about the Italian language that makes everything sound so much sexier, though; and while you might not have associated rice and sexy before, think about it now. Doesn’t risotto have a different ring to it?

Risotto refers to various dishes made from rice cooked in broth. The result is a creamy concoction that will entice even the most disciplined of dieters! Normally served as a first course, risotto dishes come in all sorts of styles and flavors. Mushrooms, lobster, herbs, chicken, spinach, beef – name your favorite ingredient and you can throw it in! If it’s your first time to try your hand at making risotto, why not start with this simple Champagne Risotto recipe?

Tortellini

Chicken Tortellini SoupPasta come in all shapes and sizes, although some people may only be familiar with the basic spaghetti, elbow macaroni, and fettucini. Of all the pasta shapes, I think tortellini just might be the most interesting. This is, of course, my personal opinion. But how can you not want to try out this ring-shaped pasta which is usually filled with a meat and cheese stuffing?

Tortellini is usually served in a broth – you can choose from chicken or beef broth. It can also be served as a salad. It really is up to you how you want to prepare this pasta, but one thing is for sure – you are in for a hearty meal!

For a nice twist to the ultimate comfort food, chicken soup, use tortellini instead. Here’s a recipe for Chicken Tortellini Soup. If you’re not a soup person, you can still have your tortellini in the form of Tortellini Salad.

Truffles

Truffle Roasted ChickenTruffles are one of the most expensive food items in the entire world, and rightly so. It is one of the ingredients in Italian cooking that makes for complex flavors that one can’t just help but want more. Truffles technically belong to the mushroom family, and they have actually been described by French gastronome Brillat-Savarin as “the diamond of the kitchen”.

Truffles can be used in salads, buttered pasta, with foie gras, and roast meat – among many others – as oil or as shavings. One thing to remember when using truffles: less is more. Not only is this ingredient costly, it also adds a lot of flavor even with a tiny amount. Make a not-so-ordinary roast chicken with truffle using this recipe: Truffle-Roasted Chicken. Trust me, you will be hailed the King or Queen of your home! For a nice vegetable dish, try Roasted New Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Truffle Oil. Just writing that makes my mouth water!

Sardines

Alright, not everyone may appreciate sardines, but I suggest that you give this humble fish a try. Sardines are small, oily fish that can be used to refer to different varieties. Some people find the flavor of sardines too fishy, but if prepared properly, they actually make for a very tasty dish! With a little creativity – and the help of tried and tested recipes, of course – you might end up having a totally different view of sardines!

One of my favorite things to do with sardines is for pasta sauce. Give this Sicilian-Style Sardine Pasta with Bread Crumbs a try – thank me after you burp. If you’re holding a party and you’re looking for finger food, try Beer Batter-Fried Sardines and Lime. That’s sure to be a hit.

Cured Meat

You can’t go wrong with cured meat, can you? Think salami and prosciutto – arguably the best things that Italy has to offer in terms of meaty goodness. Salami is basically sausage that is cured, fermented, and air-dried. Prosciutto is simply the Italian word for ham and is dry-cured. Now didn’t I say earlier that everything sounds so much better in Italian?

While you can eat these cured meats right off the packaging, you can also put your kitchen skills to the test by whipping up easy yet scrumptious creations. Health-conscious individuals need not swear off meat with this tasty yet light dish: Sizzled Green Beans with Crispy Prosciutto and Pine Nuts. For a nice appetizer, try Honeydew and Prosciutto with Greens and Mint Vinaigrette.

Tomatoes

Italian Sausage SoupOne can’t think of Italian food without thinking of tomatoes as well. Tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes – I don’t know about you, but I’ll take tomato anyway you can have it! Tomatoes are a basic component of a lot of Italian dishes, and many an amateur cook has long been on a quest to make an authentic Italian tomato sauce.

But pasta sauces aren’t the only use for tomatoes in Italian cooking. Nothing beats Italian Sausage Soup after a long tiring day at work. If you want something lighter, this Tuscan Tomato Soup with Basil will do the trick. For something heavier, Creamy Italian Chicken and Orzo Skillet will fill you up.

Olive Oil

Olive oil has been hyped up extremely over the years, which is quite understandable. This oil can be used for practically everything – from frying to sauteing to baking. Italian cooking uses a lot of olive oil, although the olive tree is said to originate from what is now modern Turkey. There are so many variants of olive oil these days, and they come from various parts of the world as well.

My challenge is for you to try using olive oil in ways that you haven’t before. How about some Lemon Olive Oil Cake for dessert? Add a twist to your usual mashed taties with this Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes recipe. As for seafood lovers, here’s a winner: Halibut Poached in Olive Oil with Broccoli Rabe Pesto.

Parmesan Cheese

Creamy Parmesan SauceI would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t include at least one kind of cheese in this list. For someone who always asks for extra Parmesan, the choice of cheese is a no-brainer. To be accurate, though, we really ought to call the cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmesan is actually the French name. However, under Italian laws, only cheese made in certain regions can be labeled Parmigiano-Reggiano. In any case, you can pick your favorite brand of Parmesan cheese and create delectable dishes for any meal of the day.

This classic Creamy Parmesan Sauce is foolproof, and you can serve it with pasta if you are short on time. Another easy dish is Chicken Parmesan, which is always a winner. Want to up the ante a little? Why not try your hand at making Blue Cheese Souffle?

So there you have some of the most common ingredients/dishes used in Italian cooking. Now why don’t you test your Italian food knowledge, and ask yourself: Which regions of Italy do these food items come from? In case you need some help, here’s a neat infographic of Italian food and the specialties of each region. It may not help you out in the kitchen, but you are sure to boost your culinary cred if you can rattle off these snippets of information at the table!

Infographic: Italian food by region
Infographic created by Italian food enthusiasts. Learn more about where your Italian food comes from.

Comments

  1. Honeydew and Prosciutto with Greens and Mint Vinaigrette – now that’s something I never thought of. …I’m thinkin gof it now though:)

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