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Italian cooking has its basis in the ancient traditions of the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans. The circulation and transmission of culture across the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East and along old Asiatic spice routes has contributed to the rich and varied assortment of ingredients that make up Italian cuisine, which was also significantly affected by the discovery of the New World and the addition of foods such as tomatoes and corn. Centuries of conflict and various occupations have also had a great influence on its development. A constant throughout the upheaval has been the inherent simplicity of the cuisine, meaning that recipes seldom call for complicated procedures, although the time required may occasionally be substantial.
The nature of Italian cuisine depends very much on the region in question, and it is for this reason these recipes have been set out according to location. Each region has its own set of ingredients, methods and dishes, and a specific history and rationale for each, of which its inhabitants are fiercely proud. Any discussion between Italians regarding one’s origins will inevitably throw up the topic of food and who misses which dish from their respective region.
The much-lauded health benefits of a Mediterranean diet certainly form part of the appeal of Italian cuisine. Olive oil is an ever-present feature on any list of ingredients, as are tomatoes, fish, and calcium-rich cheeses. While salt is found in everything, its use is limited by the constant addition of herbs. Rather than adhering strictly to their oil-based, vegetable-rich diet, Italians tend to eat a little of everything, and therein lies the secret…a little.
In the recipes below you will find many a dish featuring a generous serve of butter or animal fat, especially in the dishes from the northern and alpine regions, but such dishes are not eaten one after the other. Rather, a creamy pasta dish might be followed by a simply prepared lean cut of meat and vegetables, or a simple pasta dish might precede a particularly rich meat dish and its side of vegetables.
Herein lies another secret to the inherent goodness of Italian cuisine – the omnipresence of vegetables. As well as frequently constituting the main course, a meal is not a meal without some sort of contorno, or side dish, of seasonal vegetables. Moreover, while Italians are by no means inclined to vegetarianism, to eat a traditionally Italian meal does not necessarily mean to eat meat. A plate of the classic ‘midnight pasta’, spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili, or linguine in fragrant pesto; a gooey margherita pizza, or a slice of cheesy artichoke frittata: none of these is considered to be a concession to vegetarianism, but rather a dish to be enjoyed in its own right. Thus vegetables are not relegated to a secondary status, but enjoyed alongside and instead of rich, meaty dishes.
Enjoyment is perhaps the most healthful aspect of Italian cuisine. Italians love their food, and take great pleasure in sitting down and lingering over their midday and evening repasts. Conversation, discussion, argumentation, flirtation – it all happens at the table.
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Tags: Italian, Grill, Recipes, Cookbook, Pasta, Pizza, Garlic