A great way to expand your true immersion into Italian culture is through the amazing foods.
Whilst Italian food is not all just pizza and pasta, they are common staples in the Italian diet.
Pizza is usually eaten one per person as a meal in itself, with the base being quite thin and light, topped with only a couple of ingredients.
Pasta rather is eaten as a first course, so the portion sizes are usually quite modest to ensure there is still enough room for a light main.
General portion sizes per person are around 60 grams of uncooked egg pasta, 80 grams of regular dried pasta and 100 grams for fresh pasta.
Cooking pasta for an Italian is risky business. It must be cooked just right – al dente. Meaning literally ‘to the teeth’, it must be the perfect balance between soft and firm.
Pasta must be cooked in plenty of water (around 1 litre for every kilo of dried pasta) that has reached a rolling boil before having a good handful of sea salt added in. Think 10 grams of salt per litre of water. The pasta will need to be stirred a couple of times after it has been added to the water to ensure it doesn’t stick to the pot or clump together.
Most dried pastas will come with a suggested cooking time, however various factors may influence this (eg: altitude) so it is best to try the pasta a minute before the indicated time. Fresh pasta takes just minutes to cook so is best to check regularly.
Some suggest adding oil to the water to prevent salt but to most Italians, this would just be a terrible waste of their precious ‘liquid gold’. It may also end up with the pasta being too slippery for the sauce to coat well.
Then there is the sauce itself.
Pasta should be covered with a sauce that has been perfectly matched to the pasta shape. The sauce should dress the pasta, not sit in a big blob to one side.
Once the pasta is cooked, strain it in a colander for regular pasta shapes or gently scoop it out of the pot with a slotted spoon if cooking more delicate forms like ravioli (so they don’t break). The cooked pasta should be added into the pan with the sauce and stirred gently for a minute or so to allow the sauce to coat the pasta and the flavours to blend.
Certain pasta forms are better for gripping chunky sauce (like penne or pasta spirals with meat sauce) and finer pasta is better with a light sauce that coats the strands (think spaghetti with pesto).
The secret to delicious Italian food is the simplicity of recipes and quality of ingredients.
Whilst we are very happy to still be trying our way through the literally thousands of variations of pasta and sauce in Italy – even after all these years – we are yet to find any instances of pasta with chicken or lamb.
Beef, pork, rabbit and seafood can be used for more elaborated sauces. Otherwise, you may find simple sauces like zucchini and parmesan cheese, butter and sage, ‘aglio, olio e peperoncino’ (garlic, oil and chili), gorgonzola and crushed walnuts or ‘pummarola’ – a simple tomato sauce.
Parmesan cheese is not to be added to seafood sauces. In fact, it may not even be added to certain meat or vegetable sauces either. In some parts of Italy, they may add instead ricotta salata (an aged, salted ricotta that is so good you will only want to share it with those you truly love – if at all).
For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!
To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
For more ideas on Italy best travelled, see our Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series and be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.