Five (Italian) Food Facts, I

Italian food is all about ingredients. It’s not fussy, and it’s not fancy.
~ Wolfgang Puck

The two weeks I’ve spent in Bologna so far have been, in a way, food-centric. I talked to and had lunch with a chef about whom I’m writing a piece for the magazine; I went to Starbucks Reserve Roastery Milano; I walked around food markets in Bologna and Firenze; I drank a lot of caffe and cappuccino; and I had dinner with friends who made lasagne bolognese for me.

When I eat with my Italian friends, the topic may turn to Italian food in America. I usually tell them what our restaurants serve, and then I have to pick them up from the floor.  I thought I’d share a couple of Italian food facts with you today.

Spaghetti with Meatballs Is Italian.


Spaghetti is Italian, and meatballs (polpette) are Italian.  Spaghetti with meatballs, however, is not Italian.  (Should I pick you up now?)

Pasta is the first course in an Italian meal, and meat or fish is usually the second.  Most Italians eat spaghetti with a sauce and have the meatballs as a second course later. The reason I say most is that some provinces—especially in the south—have a sauce that includes tiny meatballs (Think marble-sized.).

2.  Fettuccine Alfredo Is Italian.

Caccio e Pepe

NOPE. You most likely will not find fettuccine alfredo on a menu in Italy. The closest is Caccio e Pepe, a simple Roman pasta dish that consists of pasta, pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper.  One of my Italian friends calls it the Italian version of macaroni and cheese.

That said, the dish did originate in Rome early in the 20 century, but it is more American than Italian.

3. Italians Use a Lot of Sauce.

Wrong again. Authentic Italian pasta has a coating of sauce that enhances the taste of the pasta but does not overpower it. It took some getting used to this for me, to be honest. I can eat tomato sauce on almost anything, and I like a lot of it.

4. Italians Cook With a Lot of Garlic.

Lasagne Bolognese

People are always asking me one of two questions: A) How can you be Italian and not like a lot of garlic? and B) How can you be Italian and be allergic to garlic and onions? In reverse order, I don’t get to choose what my allergies are.  Believe me, if I could, I would choose allergies to things I really don’t like. The other question, though, is valid, I suppose, but the answer is simple.

Garlic is NOT and overpoweringly abundant ingredient in Italian food.  I hate to be the one to break the news to garlic lovers, but a lot of the cuisine in the country uses a minimal amount of garlic to enhance (There’s that word, again.) the flavor of the food. My Abruzzese grandmother made some of the best-fried chicken ever, and she heated a little garlic in olive oil to flavor it. She removed the garlic before she fried the chicken.  Look at the recipes I’ve shared from Bologna. No garlic.

The southern regions do use more spice in their food, though. My friend, Giovanni, told me that the food in Calabria is spicier (pepperoncini and garlic) than Sicily, so that makes me happy.

5. Italians Do Not Use Cheese With Seafood.

Spaghetti with fresh clam sauce

This is TRUE. Let me put it this way: If you order spaghetti with clam sauce, cozze (mussels), risotto con gamberi, or another seafood dish and request cheese, your host or waiter will faint.  Save yourself the trouble.

Tomorrow we head to Sicilia, so we’ll check out the food there and report back soon!




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