Italian cookery is a cuisine that has evolved over the centuries and is known all over the world for its distinctive spicy taste. Mealtime is a time to enjoy family and friends and each meal consists of not less than 3 or 4 courses. Thus, Italians spend longer for meals than in other cultures and on special holidays a meal could last for hours. The main dish usually consists of pasta and is loaded with carbohydrates. Everyday meals, though, usually consist of one or two courses.
Pasta is an important ingredient in most Italian dishes. There are about 350 different sizes and shapes of pasta and each one is associated with a specific dish. Risotto is a traditional Italian dish consisting of rich and creamy rice. The rice is first cooked with butter or olive oil and then broth is added, one ladle full at a time until the rice has the desired consistency. This is the way most rice is cooked in Italy. Gnocchi is the Italian dumpling often made with potato, wheat flour or bread crumbs. Polenta is a dish made from cornmeal and is very similar to porridge.
Some of the terms associated with Italian cookery include:
- Apertivo – this is a drink served at the beginning of the meal as an appetizer
- Antipasto – hot or cold appetizers
- Primo – the first course consisting of pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta or soup.
- Secondo – this is the second and main dish of the meal, usually containing meat or fish. Wild game is very popular in the Tuscany region
- Contorno – a side dish, usually a salad
- Formaggio e frutta – the first dessert, which is a fruit salad
- Dolce – cakes and cookies
- Caffe – coffee, usually digestive – liqueurs
Wine plays an important part in Italian cookery, basically because Italy is one of the largest wine producing countries in the world. Many of the recipes for Italian food call for different kinds of wine and wine is always served with every meal.
Each area of Italy has its own traditional cuisine, depending on its proximity to other countries and therefore the influence of these countries. The cuisine of each region also depends on the types of fruits and vegetables grown there and the seasonal nature of the products. For this region many of the dishes now known as Italian do have flavors of Yugoslavian, Hungarian, Austrian and Slovakian cuisines. Recipes differ by region depending on what foods and ingredients were available, although this has changed with all ingredients being widely available all over the world.