If you’re heading off to Italy this year, the one thing you’ll find out pretty quickly is that the Italian food take their food very seriously. The richness of Italian cuisine lies in the simplicity of its ingredients and in its diversity – just about every town and village in all of its 20 regions, from Piedmont down to Sicily, offers unique local specialities and cooking techniques.
If you already know you don’t only want pasta al pomodoro or pizza on your Italian tour, you are in luck. You can quite happily eat your way from north to south without sampling the same dish twice. (Now there’s a thought to whet your appetite.) Here are 5 of the best we think you shouldn’t miss. Of course you can also try making these at home whether an Italy trip is in store or not this year.
Osso buco con risotto
The Lombardy region in the north of Italy is known for its dairy products, including rich gorgonzola cheese and creamy mascarpone, an essential ingredient in the dessert Tiramisu. But the jewel in Lombardy’s crown must surely be the golden glory that is Risotto alla Milanese, made with Carnaroli rice and tinted creamy yellow with saffron – perfection on its own, or as an accompaniment to Osso buco, veal shanks braised with vegetables.
The ingredients of Osso buco are very simple but the flavours are intense, thanks in part to the addition of gremolata – a mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon zest. The shank’s bone-marrow give this dish its characteristic gloss.
Sicily’s wonderful mix of flavours reflects its complex and colourful cultural past. Its citrus fruits are vital to its economy and the island is the third largest among the Italian olive oil producing regions. Fish, in particular tuna, has dominated Sicilian cuisine and these days most tuna is fished off the north west coast; swordfish, though, is caught mostly in the Straights of Messina. Also, huge numbers of sardines and anchovies are fished between March and September.
The traditional Pesce spada alla messinese, or Swordfish Messina Style, is a wonderful dish of swordfish with onion, garlic, capers, olives, anchovies, tomato, white wine and olive oil, which encapsulates all that is Sicily’s table at its flavourful best. Enjoy at an outdoor table at the Sicilian seaside if possible.
Bistecca alla fiorentina
Simple, strong flavours mark Tuscan cuisine, food of the earth. The fertile soil produces some of the best grapes and olives in the world and the hills are home to rich farmland. Simplicity is all-important in Tuscan dining, with legumes, cheese, fresh vegetables and fruit eaten on a daily basis. Tuscan beef too is of the highest quality, especially those coming from the Maremmana and Chianina breeds. From the latter comes the meat used for the famous and delectable Bistecca alla fiorentina, grilled Florentine steak, normally cooked medium rare over hot coals and served on a bed of arugula with lemon or grilled vegetables. When in Tuscany, do not miss this!