When most people, especially Americans, think of Italian food, what comes to mind is a pile of carbs topped with cheese and tomato sauce. Most of our representations of Italian cuisine are in the vein of pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti.
However, true traditional Italian food is some of the best cuisine in the world, and is much more diverse than most people realize. Italian food production involves some of the highest class foods worldwide. Authentic Italian truffles, cheese, sausage, and ham are top notch cooking ingredients, and Italy’s climate also allows for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables at a quality rarely found elsewhere in the world.
The best Italian dishes are built on innovation followed by tradition and innovation. Because of the variety of ingredients that Italian cooks have had access to for centuries, some of the best foods are the ones that are born out of unlikely combinations that end up growing into a traditional food.
For example, a Tuscan salad of fresh greens and hard bread called panzanella would be recognizable to most of us as the origin of croutons. Panzanella combines delicious Italian crops like cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, onion, basil, and capers with the incredible bread that is baked in Italy to create a unique and delicious dish that eventually evolved into a staple worldwide. Originally, this dish was simply a way that Italian cooks on a budget would stop a stale loaf of bread from going to waste.
Pasta cacio e pepe, meanwhile, is a prototypical example of the modern macaroni and cheese. While a well made plate of pasta cacio e pepe is considered a delicacy today, it was originally developed as a cheap and easy to carry meal for shepherds on the road, because it only contains three lightweight ingredients. Shepherds making this dish would only need to stop for some water to boil, add pasta, and then use some cheese, pepper, and water drained from the pasta to create a creamy sauce. Italian cheese and pasta are both world famous to this day, and recipes like this were developed by taking full advantage of the rich variety of food products that have been available in Italy for centuries.
All of the best traditional Italian cuisine follows this pattern of innovation followed by tradition. Italian cooking culture is full of finding new ways to use familiar ingredients, but the best and most revered recipes are the ones that have been handed down for hundreds of years and were originated by a humble farmer or mother using cleverness and creativity to make ends meet.
While most people think of Italian cuisine as meaning pizza or pasta, Italy has so much more to offer. From olive oil to pasta, cheese to preserved meats, produce to bread, Italian food products are some of the best in the world. Traditional Italian food is all about using this bounty of world-class ingredients to create some of the best food in the world.