Where to get the best Italian cuisine
Any region you travel to in Italy has its own distinctive cuisine. Most local restaurants will serve a mixture of national and local dishes and – international food chains aside – you’re in for a genuine taste of this country. If you wash down your snack or meal with some local wine, you’ll start to feel right at home in this foodie paradise of a country.
In some places the restaurant may look unassuming, but that doesn’t mean the establishment won’t be serving some of the best dishes around. You could of course follow your nose or ask the locals, but for a bit of insight before you choose to book, read on to find out about the very best Italian cuisine.
A day at the beach
Sometimes the best examples of regional cuisine can be found in local delis or food stores.
If you’re planning on spending a day at the beach, instead of going to all the bother of getting dressed and finding a restaurant for lunch, you can assemble a fantastic picnic from a wonderful assortment of local food goodies.
If you’re in Tuscany, look out for some scrummy fennel sausage. Match this with a fresh ciabiatta roll, olives and ripe, juicy tomatoes and you’ll have a marriage made in heaven. Local cheeses are always great, and taleggio and creamy gorgonzola from the north are delectably moreish. Lovers of goat’s cheese will adore Caciocavallo in the south. You’ll also discover some wonderful hams, across the whole country.
Any of the seaside towns along the Neapolitan Riviera will supply you with a fantastic homemade pizza for your beachside feast, just make sure you remember to include a bottle of local lemonade, or limoncello for a boozy tipple. The Campania Felix local produce shop in Sorrento is a good place to start your picnic mission.
Thousands of words have been written in praise of Italian food, and it’s only by eating the produce in the region where it originates that you’ll experience the very best tastes.
Your pizza in Naples will taste much better than one in Venice, whereas the Venetians swear by their version of risi e bisi – a simple Italian risotto. Granted that rice and peas doesn’t sound much to write home about, but never repeat this to a Venetian. This dish is flavoursome, especially when little morsels of pancetta – smoky bacon – are added to the mix.
While you’ll find pasta throughout the whole of Italy, you’ll be offered a greater selection of rice based dishes in the north. Travelling on the train between Milan and Turin you’ll be able to spot acres of rice fields.
Words to the wise
Whichever region you’re staying in, if you try a local restaurant ask the waiter what’s on the specials board. This is where the day’s best menu suggestions are advertised.
Seafood restaurants on the coast will list the best of the day’s catch that’s been prepared to epicurean heights and listed on these boards. Similarly, if the restaurant is in Tuscany, you might find a tasty boar stew advertised once the game season has started.
Some of the best dishes in Italy are deceptively simple in appearance but complex in taste. Pasta con pesto, or pasta with pesto, is filling and delicious. As long as the pesto and pasta is homemade, you’d never realise that this sauce is only made from basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Its taste varies from region to region and you’ll find almonds rather than pine nuts in Sicily or more spice and pimentos in the Neapolitan Riviera.
Italy's best pizzas and where they come from
As a citizen of the world, you’re probably familiar with pizza. What began as a peasant’s dish in Naples, scraped together from cheap ingredients and thrown in the oven, has since become one of the most popular meals in the world.
Much of the time, pizza tastes incredible no matter what you put on it – within reason, of course. But there are still some sure-fire hits that get our mouths watering any time of day. So here’s to you, pizza. We’re celebrating our favourite pie by breaking down their ingredients and their very own humble beginnings.
The Margherita is perhaps the best-known and most beloved pizza variation. Some die-hard pizza restaurants in Italy refuse to serve anything else, citing it as one of the true and original Italian pizza recipes.
The Margherita pizza is a simple classic. Its toppings consist only of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The story goes that in 1889, it was devised by the head chef of Pizzeria Brandi in Naples for Queen Margherita of Savoy. He chose these few ingredients because together, they resembled the colours of the Italian flag. He subsequently named the Pizza Margherita in the queen’s honour, and the pie was an immediate hit.
Pizza Del Papa
This wildly-wonderful pizza’s name translates to The Pope’s Pizza. It was given this name after chef Antonio Starita of the Pizzeria Starita in Naples served it to Pope John Paul II in 2000. And if it’s been sanctioned by the pope, you know it’s got to be good.
The Pizza Del Papa puts a whole new spin on traditional pizza. It’s a warm and sumptuous pizza with a sauce made from butternut squash instead of tomatoes, topped with smoked mozzarella, courgette, bell peppers and basil leaves. The dough is made like traditional Neapolitan dough, so it should be soft and thick.
Neapolitan pizzas are taken so seriously in Italy that there are special regulations that state exactly how the pizza should be made, otherwise it isn’t authentic. In terms of toppings, an original Neapolitan is as basic as basic comes, with just San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella Campana, both of which are grown and produced in Italy.
It’s the preparation of a Neapolitan pizza that’s trickier. The pizza base must be hand-kneaded and not rolled with a pin or anything mechanical. Its diameter must not exceed 35 centimetres and it cannot be thicker than a third of a centimetre at its centre. Then, it must be cooked in a domed, wood-fired oven.
Four Seasons pizzas are renowned for being incredibly popular within Italy. If we had to say there was a pizza everyone could enjoy, it would be this one – that’s because it’s traditionally divided into four distinct quarters with four distinct toppings, each of which represents a different season.
Typically, the quarters consist of artichokes – which represent spring, tomatoes or basil representing summer, mushrooms in place of autumn and ham or prosciutto sometimes paired or swapped with olives, all of which represent winter. Historically, these ingredients were only really fresh and available during the months for which they stand in, and together represent the full seasonal spectrum. Nowadays with our tendency to import goods, these ingredients are available year-round.