Italian food is very popular in the United States, and rightly so. Italian dishes are simple, tasty, inexpensive and relatively healthy. No matter if you make roast, risotto, pasta, preserves, soups and sauces, there is something in the Italian menu for everyone.
For centuries, Italian cooking has been based upon one simple concept: Food tastes the best when it is cooked from scratch and the ingredients are in season. Many of the traditional Italian dishes that we know so well, such as pizza, were invented a few hundred years ago and sold on the streets of Italian cities such as Naples. How the pizza is made depends upon the region of the country, the season and what is available. This is true in other Italian dishes, too. Italian dishes of the north and south of Italy are very different and they use different types of cooking. In northern Italy, olive trees usually cannot grow, so it is more common to use butter for cooking instead of olive oil. Pasta, of course, is the most common staple of all Italian food. Italians are very adept at using tomatoes and pasta in very interesting ways! Olive oil and pasta are thought to be typical of cooking in southern Italy, and northern Italian food is more focused on butter and rice. Overall, good, authentic Italian food is about local ingredients and flavors, a simple but tasty sauce based upon tomato or cream, some parmesan cheese and authentic pasta from Italy.
One of the benefits of an Italian diet is that its key ingredients - olive oil, garlic, pasta, tomatoes and wine - have been shown over the years to lead to a healthy heart and good overall health. It is the proper balance of these key ingredients that makes real Italian food so appetizing. Also, even though ingredients such as basil, olive oil and garlic are important, the key to being a good Italian cook is to be creative. Italian cooking is very healthy, varied and nutritious. Many of the dishes from an Italian kitchen have been handed down over many centuries. These dishes maintain their connection to a rural Italian life of the past with dishes that are directly affected by what can be grown in the changing seasons.
Much of what we consider to be Italian food in the US came originally from the central part of Italy. Some of the products that come from central Italy include wonderful olive oil, tasty cheeses, marvelous cured meats and savory tomato sauces. Beef is found on tables in this area more often than other parts of Italy. In the Tuscan and Umbria areas, you even can get wild boar in some homes and restaurants. Also, both coasts in this area are the source of wonderful seafood, while the interior of central Italy has more rugged and simple traditional Italian food. In the area of Tuscany, we find where much traditional Italian cooking first started, which was at the court of the Medici family centuries ago. This part of Italy is the home to great olive oils, cheese made form sheep milk and really tasty roasted meats. Florence is very well known for its steak called alla fiorentina. Also very famous in Florence is a vegetable soup that is called ribollita, and also fagioli al fiasco, which has oil, onions and herbs. This dish is cooked in a bottle on a fire of coal. Seafood that is very good in this area includes a dish of red mullet called triglie, and a fish soup that is called cacciucco alla livornese.
As you can see, traditional Italian cooking offers simplicity, great taste and affordability. Give it a try!
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