We all love Italian food but do you much about the history of it? In order to fully appreciate Italian food, looking back in time to learn how it developed makes the whole experience more enjoyable. Please read below for more.
Italian cuisine developed through centuries of social and economic changes in Italy with roots stretching back to ancient times.
With the discovery of the New World and the introduction of new types of foods like potatoes, maize, tomatoes, and capsicums, significant changes occurred.
Italian cuisine was characterised by regional diversity, especially between the north and south sides of the Italian peninsula.
With its unique taste, it has influenced several other cuisines around the world especially that of the United States where it is most copied.
Known for its simplicity in preparation using only two to four ingredients, the quality of the ingredients are more important than elaborate preparation.
Whereas traditionally many dishes varied strictly by region, today they have proliferated and variations can be found throughout Italy.
Food culture was very important to the people of Rome as can be seen from a cookbook called Aspicius that dates back to the first century BC.
Although the country of Italy did not take shape until the 19th century, Italian cuisine can claim roots that are traceable as far back as the 4th century.
Throughout the centuries its development was influenced by neighbouring regions, high-profile chefs, foreign conquerors, and events like political upheaval and the discovery of the New World.
Italian food began to take shape after the fall of the Roman Empire when the country was split apart and people started to form their own individual cities, traditions, and variations in cooking techniques.
Regional cuisine was represented by major cities like Milan in northern Italy which became known for risottos, Bologna in Central Italy for tortellini, and Naples in the south for famous spaghettis.
The United States is a true melting pot of cuisines introduced from countries all over the world.
During the late 19th century a significant number of immigrants from Italy arrived and dispersed across the United States; bringing with them their traditional culinary customs from different regions back home.
At one point in the early 20th century, going to an Italian restaurant was considered a special occasion for Americans.
Accustomed to American apple pie, Jewish babka, and German strudel up to then, they were suddenly able to visit an authentic Italian café where they could enjoy dark espresso coffee with a strip of lemon peel on the saucer and nibble on sugar-dusted, anise-flavored cookies with exotic names like ‘biscotti’, brutti ma buoni’, and ‘baci di dama’.
For dinner, they could indulge in fine Italian cooking that offered exquisite dishes like ricotta-stuffed cannelloni and antipasto consisting of layers of salami, ham, mortadella, olives, and cheeses like mozzarella and provolone.
Garden fresh salads and vegetables were kept simple but drizzled with carefully prepared dressings to enhance their natural flavour.
For dessert, they could indulge their senses with a traditional Cassata cake from Sicily. A Cassata is made from a sponge base that incorporates the rich flavours of liqueur, candied peel, ricotta cheese, and a creamy filling.
Innovative chefs the world over are reshaping the future of Italian cuisine while celebrating the past and honouring the silver-haired spectre of la nonna that still haunts the kitchens of Italy today.
You can, of course, still, find the traditional pizzas and conventional plates of pasta in most Italian restaurants.
However, if you are a foodie in any way, there are a few Italian restaurants where chefs are pushing the boundaries of Italian cuisine with delightful new dishes.
One excellent example is Casa Vecia in Veneto run by the brothers Nicola and Massimo Agostini where you can find unusual fare like a perfectly poached egg, topped with a julienne of veal tongue and lightly coated with truffled Marsala sauce.
Semolina gnocchi is about the only conventional pasta you will find on the small menu but you will find gems like a sugo of rabbit liver with dark, mellow truffles and a breaded veal loin with a radicchio and black olive reduction that boldly lays bitter on bitter.
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