The most popular cuisine in the world is Italian and for good reason. Across the globe, people enjoy hearty meals loaded with pasta and delicious sauces. It is unfortunate that for some people, pizza is their idea of Italian food. So, what sets Italian food apart from the rest? And more importantly, what is authentic Italian food?
If you are imagining a large plate of spaghetti and meatballs, you’ve got it all wrong. Much like American Chinese food, most Italian eateries serve American versions of traditional dishes. Many Americans are caught off-guard when they visit Italy, because their favorites no longer appear on the menus. Don’t be disappointed, because there really is nothing like the real thing.
If you are a fan of meaty Italian dishes, you may be surprised to learn that authentic Italian meats are served alone. Yes, those meatballs you are imagining covered in sauce and sitting atop a pile of noodles are traditionally enjoyed on their own. Italians don’t call them meatballs either, they call them Polpette. The same goes for fennel-rich sausages, which Americans tend to slice and incorporate into baked pasta dishes. In Italy, the sausage is served sans sauce. This allows diners to capture the full, rich flavor of the meat.
Macaroni and cheese may or may not be considered an Italian dish in America. Rest assured, it is a far-distant relative of authentic maccheroni gratinati, a pasta dish covered with a bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese. Speaking of cheese, most people recognize a few common Italian cheese. Parmesan, Romano and Asiago are probably familiar to most people. Authentic Italian food frequently incorporates cream cheeses and hard cheeses of many varieties. Sheep cheese is actually a very common ingredient in traditional dishes.
Pesto is a basil sauce that many individuals prefer to tomato-based sauces. Pesto is frequently included in northern Italian dishes. One of the very popular ways to serve pesto is mixed with potatoes, which are then served over pasta. Potatoes are probably the least common ingredient in Americanized Italian food, but they are commonly used in northern Italy.
Tomato sauces are most popular among southern Italians. So is olive oil, a common ingredient in all American Italian food. Authentic sauces are made from ingredients that are not generally exported from Italy and therefore, it is nearly impossibly to recreate the fresh and delicious tastes that you would find in places like Tuscany. In the south, fish and seafood are common ingredients, with mussels being very popular. If you are thinking of scampi dishes, it is important to realize that butter is infrequently used in authentic Tuscan food. It is much more prevalent in the north.
Italy is a very old country with a very vast history. One of the interesting facts about Italian food is that it has changed significantly over many centuries. Exposure to many different immigrant cultures and new farming technology meant a new array of ingredients for traditional dishes. While they don’t change very much now, there were definitely a lot of changes early on. For one thing, tomatoes and potatoes were not native crops to the Italians. So, these common ingredients were not even incorporated into food until somewhere around 1500. Some might argue that this evolution makes it ok for Americans to modify authentic recipes based on widely available ingredients. An Italian would probably disagree. Southern Italy is home to simple foods with a few fresh ingredients. The tendency to dress-up “plain” dishes is frowned upon by fans of authentic Italian dishes. It is a shame that at some point, simple dishes became boring. As the simple Italian dishes began to migrate to other countries, people felt the need to add ingredients, modify the spices, change the sauces and the names.
If you are interested in enjoying the authentic taste of Italy, keep it simple. Use the freshest available ingredients and follow the recipes as they were written. If you have Italian family members to teach you the authentic methods and recipes, that is a lucky strike for you. If you don’t, you can still learn how to prepare authentic Italian dishes. This recipe for Simply Classic Chicken Pomodoro captures the taste of Italy. It is an easy recipe to prepare and would make a beautiful addition to your next dinner party.
Simply Classic Chicken Pomodoro
- 1 pound angel hair, or capellini pasta
- 3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts
- 4 ripe roma tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil / 1 Tbsp dried
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon chicken base
- Prepare the water for the pasta according to the instructions. The rest of the recipe will need to be prepared as the noodles cook.
- Slice chicken into thin strips and toss with 1/2 of the olive oil, the basil, and the garlic.
- In a frying pan, cook chicken until lightly browned.
- Once the chicken is browned, add the remaining ingredients and remove the pan from heat.
- Remove, drain, and rinse pasta in hot water
- Toss the chicken and pasta together and serve.