Italian Food

How to recognise real Italian Food?

How to make authentic Italian food? What is Italian comfort food? What are the 10 Italian dishes that don’t exist in Italy? When we’re speaking about real Italian food, if someone never visited Italy, and never tried for example southern Italian food, might not even know what it actually is. You know, the food in Italian restaurants around the world might be called Italian, but just a few of them are authentically Italian. Each country and each restaurant changes somehow the recipes. One great example before we start talking about real Italian food in detail is the Spaghetti alla Carbonara. So, let’s get right into the real Italian food and Italian food that doesn’t exist in Italy!

Real Italian food – Authentic Italian dishes

There’s almost no place around the world where this simple Italian recipe would be done authentically, and in most cases, it has actually nothing to do with the real Italian spaghetti Carbonara. Well, in this article we’ll be discussing what is authentic Italian food, and what isn’t. By the end of this post, you’ll learn how to tell if a dish is actually Italian, or it’s just called as so.

You should know, that everything we discuss in this article is considered authentically Italian if it is something that’s popular in Italian cuisine, it’s part of the Italian cuisine or it’s considered being Italian by the Italians. We’ll discuss if different Italian food is used in the kitchen of Italians or if it’s used differently? Also, those originating from Italy but aren’t popular in the country, or they were completely recreated in the United States or other countries.

How to make authentic Italian food?

In New York City – but also in my area, Washington DC – there are few authentic Italian restaurants. My subjective, but experienced, opinion is that 90% of the Italian restaurants in the US are not Italian at all. If the words “Italian food” conjures up thoughts of Italian American restaurant chains or pizza with a red-purple sauce and lots of garlic powder, well… this is simply not Italian!

I personally hate that type of cooking! Italian American food is loaded with too many strange-tasting additives. In fact, one might even call them “addictive,” because people end up getting used to their strong, overwhelming flavor, to the detriment of the much more delicate — and healthier taste of authentic Italian cooking.

Italian dishes are all about simplicity. Italians don’t like to stuff one dish with dozens of ingredients, instead, they prefer making many different but simple dishes. This is very much visible if you’re getting the chance to attend an Aperitivo or a dinner at an Italian house (in Italy!). The table will be full of many different things, but they are all simple, easy-to-make Italian dishes, with fresh and healthy ingredients.

When it comes to authentic Italian food, believe me, that the key is always the natural taste of great ingredients. And never the artificial spice mixes that you can buy in the shop. That’s done for business, and not for your health or healthy eating. So let’s see what are those like southern Italian food types and Italian dishes that are not Italian? Also, we’ll discuss what is considered authentically Italian. But let’s dig deeper into the Italian comfort food and see what’s traditional and what isn’t!

Pasta – the king of Italian dishes

italian pasta
Authentic Italian Food: Strozzapreti, tagliatelle, buffalo mozzarella, real Parmesan cheese 

You may already know that Italian pasta is the base of most Italian dishes. What makes the pasta still really authentic and interesting, that it comes in different shapes and even different colors. You might be asking how many types of pasta exist in Italy! Well, you should know, that each region and even each town and city has their traditional types of pasta that sometimes really defer. It’s great when you are planning to visit Italy to check out the pasta types for the region you’re visiting.

This way, you always know what is local and traditional Italian pasta in the place you’re visiting. This also gives you the possibility to try great Italian local dishes that you might not find anywhere else. So about the shapes. There are more than 350 types of pasta in Italy.

As we know, spaghetti, tagliatelle, macaroni, and farfalle pasta are really popular all over the world. But imagine that, 350 types of Italian pasta! If you eat a dish with a different shaped pasta every day, you won’t be eating the same shaped pasta for almost a year. This variety, and the creativity that has created it makes the Italian pasta a perfect base for different dishes. For more, read here how NOT to cook pasta.

Authentic Italian Dressing?

real italian food

How to make authentic Italian food? Here’s an example of Italian food that doesn’t exist in Italy. That so-called authentic Italian dressing. Just think about how many businesses are that basically make their living by giving their food dressings or salad dressings an Italian name, or putting it on the jars that it’s ITALIAN. As we all love Italy, obviously we want to buy it, am I right?

However Italian dressing doesn’t exist in Italy. Yes, there are different sauces sold here as well, but they aren’t popular among Italians who are still making their dishes the way they learned from the nonna (grandma). Also, in Italy it’s considered a sin to change traditional recipes, or to mix up eating and food traditions, so you can imagine how many people leave the grocery store with some kind of pre-made dressing. Looking it up online, there are more than 100 different brands and types of so-called Italian dressings just in the US.

Well, if you want to eat authentic Italian food, you stop buying those dressings and you start making the sauces and dressings with fresh ingredients, at home! That’s the Italian way. Anyway, Italian dressing is usually either olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice. That’s it!

The same goes for Italian-style bread crumbs or Italian seasoning. Concoctions you won’t find anywhere in Italy. Italian style bread crumbs are dried bread that was grated as anywhere else in the world the normal bread crumbs are made. And about that Italian seasoning… We in Italy use salt, pepper, sometimes oregano and basil, but NOT for each and every existing Italian dish. In Italy, you’re not overpricing the dishes. Remember, simplicity!

Marketing the not-authentic Italian dishes in the United States

real italian food

In the mind of many Americans, Italian comford food continues to be associated with the image of a pretty big guy eating spaghetti with meatballs. But the reality is that, practically, no one eats spaghetti with meatballs in Italy. These days, some people do it now in Italy as well, but spaghetti with meatballs is not at all authentic Italian!

Italians do have meat sauce recipes that require long and laborious preparation (including marinating the meat for 3-4 days in aged red wine), but they also have an incredible number of variations of pasta dishes cooked with vegetables or seafood. The branding in the US for Italian products, like southern Italian food, or Italian dishes is really an amazing marketing trick to make people buy their products, nothing else. It’s just great marketing for something that’s not actually authentic, as it is often being sold as.

The variety of the Italian diet, the continued, widespread reliance on fresh ingredients cooked on the spot, and the extensive use of vegetables, fruit, and olive oil all contribute to the generally healthy state of Italians who, on average, appear thinner than Americans, especially after they hit the age of 40.

It is known, in the end, that there is a direct relationship between being overweight and the heavy consumption of over-processed foods and sugary drinks, along with the avoidance of fruits, vegetables, and a little bit of wine with your meals.

Mind, this problem is not only American, but it begins showing also among Italy’s younger generations, more and more attracted by the American lifestyle and the fast food, that’s trying to break through in Italy as well.

A lot has been written about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Without going deeper into the matter, I would like to tell you that Italian comfort food – that is found in Italy – is not only good for you, but it really tastes great! Enjoy the adventure of exploring authentic Italian food, not only a delight for the senses but also an expression of the cultural and traditional heritage of the country. So if you’re asking how to make authentic Italian food, below you can learn how NOT to do it!

Guide to recognizing real Italian dishes and food

pizza forte sirmione
The best pizza with Gorgonzola and Spicy Salami – Restaurant Al Cavallo, Sirmione, Italy – photo by Helga Dosa

The Italian comfort food includes most of the traditional Italian dishes. When you are outside of Italy, having “Italian” printed somewhere on the menu is not identical to authentic grub. If you’re after Italian-American dishes, then your spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccine Alfredo are perfect, and indeed, they can be delicious. Yet, if you’re after real Italian dishes, then you have to pay attention to a couple of things, both when you shop and you’re eating out.

Shopping to cook – How to make authentic Italian food?

authentic italian food

Shopping to cook a proper Italian meal, or Italian comfort food is actually very simple, once you are into the gist, and it’s pretty cheap, too. Italians tend to cook everything from scratch and that means you’ll probably spend less than you think at the grocery store! You’ll only need basic – but fresh – ingredients!

So, if you’re planning to turn your dining table into an Italian one, you should keep these few things in mind:

  • Invest in very good quality extra virgin olive oil: it’s at the heart of our cuisine and there is no reason to save on that. If you find it, do buy Italian, of course!
  • Always try to cook with what’s in season: in Italy, we like to eat what nature gives us, when nature gives it to us. So, forget about zucchini in December or oranges in August. They are just not going to be at their best.
  • Always keep the following in the kitchen: extra virgin olive oil, plain tinned tomatoes (without any extra flavor or herbs added), 00 flour (plain flour), dried yeast, dried herbs (oregano, rosemary, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves), pulses like lentils, a good chunk of Parmigiano, fresh garlic, a couple of onions, canned tuna, good quality pasta (wholegrain too: we’re getting big into it!) and some seasonal vegetables. With these, you can make everything you want, really.
  • Dress your salad the Italian way: a dash of olive oil, a bit of red vinegar (or lemon, if you prefer it), a bit of salt. Forget about everything else!
  • Eat your bread without butter …..but not together with pasta!

Eating out – Proper Italian dishes

authentic italian food

Taking care of your shopping is easy when compared to the difficult task of recognizing an authentically Italian eatery from a bad, spurious version of it. Let’s see if we can give you a hand!

  • Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! Italian food is all about simplicity so, if a place has over-complex, over-rich dishes laden with cream and egg, then it’s not likely to be a real Italian place!
  • Pasta and chicken just don’t go together in Italy! I am not saying it’s not nice, but chicken is never served with pasta, nor is it, in fact, flavored with pesto.
  • Fresh cream (cooking cream) is not that popular in Italian cuisine! Sure, we use it here and there, but if you see an “Italian restaurant” with a list of creamy dishes as long as Route 66, then you can rest assured the grub ain’t that authentic. Maybe good, but not authentic.
  • Mozzarella is a soft, fresh cheese! You can’t grate it and it’s not smoked or vacuum-packed dry either. Mozzarella is sold in a plastic bag conserved in its own liquid! So, if they offer you grated mozzarella, just leave! That’s not a real Mozzarella. A tip though: Costco imports excellent water buffalo mozzarella directly from Italy.
  • We don’t do lasagne with french fries, nor garlic bread!
  • Pasta is not a side dish for meat! Pasta is a primo piatto, which means it’s the first course and it’s eaten before the meat!

So, how to make authentic Italian food? It doesn’t matter if it’s southern Italian food or from the north. Here’s our little take on the difference between “real” Italian food and what its international version looks like. Mind, there’s no will to denigrate other countries’ cuisines here! In fact, there are many, truly delicious non-Italian Italian dishes out there. Problem is, they are not from the country they claim to be and this creates not only confusion but also an overall problem about the way Italy is perceived and portrayed abroad. Let’s try to keep what’s inspired by Italian comfort food separated from the real thing and we’ll certainly end up with happier, fuller stomachs!

Original Article by Paolo Nascimbeni – Complete makeover by Helga Dosa

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