The Most Popular Foods in Italy
Italian cuisine is world renowned, and pizza remains an American favorite. But there are numerous regional dishes worthy of recognition as well.
Risotto has gained tremendous global appeal, particularly its famed Milanese variety (allegedly developed by cathedral workers who used saffron for dyeing purposes), cannoli, and gelato are also beloved treats.
Pizza is one of the most beloved Italian foods, and an indispensable staple. A flatbread made with tomato sauce and cheese as its foundation can be customized by toppings from around the world – perfect for lunch, dinner or snack time – pizza has long been enjoyed as part of celebrations and festivals throughout Italy.
Pizza dates back centuries, yet modern versions were first created in Naples in 1889. Legend holds that Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples and became tired of eating complicated French cuisine served to her during her visit. So she sought out Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to prepare local specialities including three varieties of pizza made up of lard, caciocavallo cheese, basil and cecenielli cheese, mozzarella and tomatoes and the queen selected her favourite and it eventually came to be known as pizza margherita after her name!
Modern pizza is far removed from its humble lazzaroni roots, yet still recognisable as pizza and contains centuries of social and economic change in every bite. Introduced to America by Italian immigrants during the late nineteenth century and initially prevalent only where there was concentration; its popularity increased following World War II to become a nationwide standard dish.
Pizza is typically enjoyed in restaurants and pizzerias; however, you may also come across it at pizza bars and even people’s homes. Pizza can be easily prepared using just a few ingredients and is thus an economical meal ideal for large gatherings of friends. In terms of its serving method, most often pizza is consumed using their hands instead of fork or knife!
Pizza has long been associated with Italian culture. As one of its signature foods, pizza embodies tradition, history and way of life in this country – it brings people together and remains popular among families as well as young people.
Italy accounts for 30% of world pasta production. Pasta is one of the most beloved foods in Italy and enjoyed daily by millions. Pasta can be enjoyed alone, or combined with meat, vegetables, eggs or cheese as part of a delicious meal. Its versatility adds further appeal.
Americans tend to consume only 26 pounds per capita of pasta each year, while Italians devour an incredible 60 pounds per capita annually! Italian cuisine also boasts some of the world’s most beloved pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara, penne alla vodka and pomodoro sauce – as well as famous international classics.
Pasta has a fascinating story, which is perhaps why it has become such an integral part of Italian culture and cuisine. Each region boasts their own special pasta preparation style; shapes of pasta shapes, bread types and cheese varieties all serve to reflect that history as a culinary map of sorts that helps define their heritage.
As pasta became an increasingly popular meal in Italy, people started experimenting with various cooking styles, ingredients, and shapes of pasta dishes. People also started pairing it with more vegetables and proteins such as fish and legumes; minestrone is one of the most beloved Italian soups today made up of pasta, beans, vegetables and tomato-based broth – one of its most celebrated examples being minestrone soup!
In the 17th century, pasta machines known as torchio were developed, helping spread this beloved food throughout Italy. By making its preparation faster and more efficient, pasta quickly became a household staple. At around this same time, tomatoes – once thought poisonous – began becoming popular sauce accompaniments for pasta dishes.
Today, pasta is an immensely popular food around the globe. In America, most of our dried pasta comes from Italy where production follows strict government controls, using hard durum wheat flour that contains more protein and is better equipped to stand up to the rigorous demands of pasta production than its soft bread counterpart.
International Organization of Vine and Wine has reported that Italy produces more wine than any other nation worldwide, boasting the most impressive production among any of their members. Italy may be best-known for producing classic red wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco; however, their white wines are equally impressive.
Sangiovese is the nation’s most-planted grape (71,500 ha), producing some of its most beloved wines such as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. As an adaptable variety it can produce dry to sweet wines in various styles that range from full to light body.
Cabernet Sauvignon, the second-most-planted varietal in America, produces some of the world’s best-known wines – including Super Tuscans – while Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and other white wines can also make tasty wines to drink.
Italy produces 54% of its wine output as simple table wine – known as vino bianco, vermouth or spritzer — which is widely consumed locally. It provides an easy introduction to all the delicious varieties and flavors found within Italian wine with its own distinct taste that often is described as fresh and crisp.
Italy produces most of its wine from other native grape varieties that have gained much more recognition, especially Nebbiolo which produces Barolo and Barbaresco wines that collectors value immensely; however it also makes superior wines in other parts of Italy such as Valpolicella and Amarone.
Nowadays, most famous wines bear official designations such as DOC or DOCG on their labels; however, in the 1970s some innovative winemakers decided to defy these restrictions by blending Sangiovese grapes with international grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce Super Tuscan wines – becoming legendary bottles known for their outstanding taste!
Nero d’Avola and Primitivo wines, produced mainly in southern Italy, are among the most iconic Italian wines. Both feature bold fruit forward flavors such as strawberry, raspberry and even leather notes; typically best enjoyed within 5-7 years after release. Finally, no discussion of Italian wines would be complete without discussing Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s premier annual wine guides that’s widely recognized around the globe and revered within industry circles alike.
Cheese is an amazingly diverse food product, boasting endless shapes, flavors and textures. Cheese production involves splitting milk into curds (solids) and whey using acidification of proteins or animal or vegetable-derived rennet (rennet is usually animal or plant derived) in order to separate out solid curds from liquid whey; after which solid curds can then be separated from liquid whey by pressing. Once produced, this cheese can either be eaten raw or cooked according to preference, spiced or fruit added or contain molds such as fungi to give each cheese unique flavors!
Italy takes great pride in the traditions and cuisine unique to each region of its nation, including cheeses and traditional foods that represent it. Pasta shapes or meat cuts reflect local cultures. If you see orecchiette pasta shaped like little ears, that likely originated in Puglia or Rome might offer “ciceri e tria,” an array of pasta and bean dishes with Pecorino Romano, an aged sheep’s milk cheese.
Many foods in Italy are enhanced with herbs, spices or other additives to enhance their flavors. Furthermore, foods can be smoked, salted or dried for preservation or texture modification. Based on climate, diet and location differences among animals in an area, cheese varieties from that location will produce cheese with unique tastes and textures that you won’t find elsewhere.
Focaccia is an Italian bread often served with meals as an appetizer or snack and used in sandwiches. This bread can be either sweet or savory and usually includes embellishments such as rosemary, garlic or basil to complete its appearance. Focaccia has become one of the most beloved Italian fast foods.
Cured meats from Italy are an international favorite. Prosciutto hails from Parma in northern Italy while Bresaola hails from Valtellina in north Lombardy. Meanwhile Speck, made from the same cut of pig as prosciutto but cured with salt and other spices in Trentino-Alto Adige region, is often combined with fresh fruits such as cantaloupe for an unforgettable antipasto dish.