Easy to get to, amazing wines, fascinating history and vistas to die for, Italy has been top of the destination charts for decades. Whether it’s on your list to inspire your art or photography, experience world-famous sights, visit the incredible beaches or maybe even try to learn Italian.
Regardless of what brings you to Italy, there is always that one thing that pulls people in from all over the world – the food. Now, I’m not about to tell you to go to Italy and try the pizza (because you must get the pizza). Italian cuisine offers so much more and an abundance of gastronomic delights await you.
What to eat in Italy
What flavours to expect:
Only the freshest of the fresh, and the best seasonal produce, with emphasis on cured meats, olives, tomatoes, basil, aged cheeses, anchovies, truffles, seafood, legumes, peppers and aubergine.
Pasta (but not spaghetti Bolognese!)
It really is pasta galore, in bountiful shapes, colours and sizes. However, a classic found on most menus is Ragu alla Bolognese – not to be confused with spaghetti Bolognese (never ask for spaghetti Bolognese in Italy – it’s not a real dish!). It’s a meat based sauce served over fresh tagliatelle – be sure to add a generous spoonful of Parmigiano Reggiano to top it off and dig in.
A hearty, rustic, peasant soup, this dish hails from Tuscany. The start of the soup comes from previous leftovers of minestrone, or vegetable soup, and then bulked up with dried out bread, cheap root veg, and cannellini beans.
Obviously the coastal towns will be dishing up the best seafood, with Sicily being one of the top spots. However, you’ll find the classic dish of fritto misto on most restaurant menus. A mix of seafood lightly dusted and fried, squeeze fresh lemon over the top and enjoy with a crisp glass of cold white wine in the sun. Bliss!
Italy is close to paradise for veggies. There are plenty of delicious dishes that cater for both vegetarian and pescatarian diets. We suggest trying Focaccia Di Recco, a rustic, flat bread best served warm with creamy cows cheese in the middle of it, brushed with great olive oil and coarse sea salt…so simple and tasty!
For fans of aubergine, this vegetable comes in so many different ways. We simply do not use this wonderful vegetable enough in the UK – just look for melanzana on the menu and go for it. Be sure to try:
- Parmigiana di melanzane – fried aubergine, smothered in layers of cheese and tomato sauce. You know this one. Get it.
- Pasta alla Norma – not sure what brought aubergines and whoever Norma is together, but this pasta dish is sublime and usually served with smoked ricotta cheese on top.
Arancini – the crowd pleaser:
Arancini, put simply, are deep fried stuffed rice balls straight out of Sicily. BEWARE – they really are as good as they sound.
Arancini come with a variety of fillings, such as:
- arancini con ragù – the classic and most popular, this is a meat sauce filling with mozzarella and peas
- arancini con burro – stuffed with creamy bechamel, cheese, ham and sweet peas
- arancini con funghi – delightful Parmesan and mushrooms
- arancini con melanzane – sometimes called alla norma, this is aubergine and cheese
SO many great choices, it would be hard to cover them all! You can walk into any bakery and just point to what takes your fancy but be sure to keep an eye out for…
Cannoli – fried pastry tubes filled with lush, creamy ricotta cheese, and often chocolate chips or other accents of delight.
Panna Cotta – sweet cream thickened and molded,with hints of various flavours such as vanilla, caramel, berries, the sky’s the limit.
Struffoli – deep fried little balls of warm dough covered in honey and sprinkles.
What to drink in Italy
For seasoned coffee drinkers, order an espresso or macchiato but make sure you drink it standing up at the bar, just like the locals.
Early evening means it’s time for ‘aperitivo’ and to fit in with the locals, there is only one thing to order – spritz! Equal parts Campari or Aperol, prosecco and soda, served with a slice of orange and an olive. If Campari is too bitter for you, go for the Aperol.
Not to be missed
With so many amazing dishes on offer and restaurants serving great food for reasonable prices on every corner, it’s hard to have a bad eating experience in Italy. Just avoid anywhere red and white checked tablecloths!
As with any trip, we firmly believe in exploring places on your own terms and carving your own personal experiences. However, the NotInTheGuideBooksteam’s personal culinary highlights in Italy were:
• Gelato – yes, it really is different there and yes, it really is AMAZING! Speak to the locals and ask them for recommendations, each town has a gelateria that is ‘the only place to go’.
• Breakfast the Italian way – grab a cappuccino and pick a ‘brioche/cornetto’ (that’s croissant to you). We recommend alla crema but only for those with a sweet tooth!
• ‘Apericena’ – slang for making aperitivo double up as dinner! Many bars will take inspiration from Milan and serve huge buffets where you can pile your plates high to accompany your Spritz.
If this has got your taste buds going and an itch to explore the culinary wonders of Italy, why not take it to the next level on a cooking holiday in Italy?