Updated on November 20th, 2018
Of all world cuisines, Italian has to be the most popular. It’s flavorful, filling, and a feast for all of the senses. An Italian dinner is also a great way to feed a crowd. Learning the basics and traditions behind the cooking of Italy will give you a deeper sense of appreciation for this family-style cuisine.
1. The Main Ingredient Is Freshness
Although there are modern, cosmopolitan cities, Italy is mainly a rural, agricultural-based society. That gives home cooks and professionals alike access to some of the freshest ingredients on earth.
Italian dishes use fresh herbs and vegetables, and combine them with regional cheeses, meats and seafood. Add a splash of olive oil, a loaf of home-baked bread and a glass of good wine, and you have a meal that’s fit for the most discerning palate.
2. Italian Cuisine Is About Diversity
When you think of an Italian meal, you might picture a heaping plate of pasta or a pizza. Italian cooking instructors at Cozymeal tell us that while those may be U.S favorites, there is no one kind of Italian style or dish.
What you’ll get in authentic Italian cuisine is a diversity of taste that varies from region to region, and often from village to village.
Every family has their own specialty, and every Nonna her own way of making it; food is usually purchased at the local farmer’s market that’s found in every village and city.
Italian food is robust and earthy, but it can be subtle and delicate as well. Dishes are widely influenced by the cultural traits of the region they come from, and what’s a delicacy in one area might not be popular in another.
Some of the more renown regions for Italian food are Calabria, Sicily, Tuscany and Napoli. Calabrians like their food a little on the spicy side, with a lot of dishes containing the chilies that are local to the region.
Tuscan food is rustic and on the lighter side, with delicate sauces, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives. Along the coastal regions, you’ll find an affinity for fresh fish.
3. It’s A Family Affair
Another vision that might come to mind when you picture an Italian meal is family. Cooking is definitely a tradition that’s handed down from generation to generation. Most children begin helping in the kitchen at a very early age.
The standard Italian fare that most of us are used to eating today evolved when a family emigrated to our shores and had to adapt their family recipes to the ingredient available in North America.
Authentic food celebrates local produce, with less of an emphasis on pasta and protein. Dishes are based on what’s available and in season; tradition is also important.
4. Keeping It Simple Is Key
The basis for any Italian dish that isn’t a dessert; is olive oil, which is a staple of all Mediterranean diets. Although onions and garlic are found in almost every sauce, you’ll also find green peppers, fresh tomatoes, beans, kale and spinach.
We haven’t forgotten about the pasta, though. It’s the perfect base for those intense, delicious flavors. You’ll also find a lot of rice, but not so many potatoes.
No Italian kitchen would be complete without a decanter of balsamic vinegar and a wedge of Parmigiana or Grana Padano, either.
The beauty of Italian cookery is in its simplicity. It isn’t complicated or filled with a ton of ingredients. Italians have learned how to layer their dishes, with each ingredient building on and complimenting the rest. That makes it easy to learn to cook, and it’s perfect for experimentation once you learn the basics.
Italian food is everyday food that’s meant to make a few ingredients go far and feed a large family. That’s why you’ll find multiple courses, large casseroles or a table filled with a variety of tastes, textures and colors so you can sample a little of everything. Italians know how to make a small budget go a long way.
5. Don’t Forget The Wine
No Italian meal would be complete without a nice glass of wine to wash it down. Wines are as regional and varied as the produce, and there’s always a stock of homemade wine in an Italian kitchen.
The basics of wine pairing apply to Italian food. Dry wines with sweeter foods, a nice red with tomato-based sauces and red meat or pork.
White wine with most seafood and lighter, olive oil-based sauces. Sweet wines are perfect to round out a meal with a light cake or fruit for dessert.
Learning the basics and traditions of Italian cuisine will give you a sense of accomplishment. It provides the basis for a whole new way of cooking and thinking about food, and it’s a great collaborative activity.
If you want to learn more about preparing traditional Italian dishes, find a cooking class Italiano like the ones at Cozymeal near