I have travelled to different countries and had the opportunity to visit several restaurants that were either claiming to be “Italian” or to serve Italian dishes. Most of the time what I have eaten was a mixture of Italian and local preparations, generally with the prevalence of the local one. However, the number of tourists travelling abroad has been steadily increasing in the past years and, speaking about Italian food, I have met many non-Italian people who knew our food culture even better than ourselves. Is it time to cook the real thing? Here are some suggestions to avoid what I consider the most common mistake when preparing Italian food.
1. Put pesto in all recipes
I’ve seen this too many times: pesto on every dish, to make it Italian-like! I am sorry, but pesto is supposed to go with pasta and lasagna only. In Liguria you can also eat “pizza al pesto”, but that’s all. Preparing a series of delicious Italian dishes, with different tastes and flavors and then putting pesto on each of them will cancel the natural taste of your dish. Why do that? By the way, the best pasta al pesto is made with a special kind of pasta called “trofie”. Cook them together with runner beans and potatoes and add pesto at the end: the success is guaranteed!
2. Always prepare meals whose ingredients’ colors reproduce the Italian flag
Another very common habit is to insist to serve Italian dishes made by green, white and red ingredients to reproduce the Italian flag. Actually, pizza Margherita was made in those colors, because it was dedicated to the queen. But pizza is made of cheese and tomato, and there is nothing bad in adding some basil to flavor it and complete the flag colors. However, the majority of traditional Italian dishes are not green, white and red, so why turn them into something different? And, not to be repetitive, but the green is generally…. due to pesto!
However, if you really cannot live without serving at least one tricolor dish in your restaurant, why not trying “Pipi chini”, a traditional dish from Calabria which consists of filled peppers that can be prepared in three different colors (green and red peppers with some white ricotta and green capperi).
3. Make a too elaborate dish (and add too many sauces)
Many of you might argue: is lasagna a non-elaborate dish?!? No, it’s not and actually the Italian cuisine does include elaborate recipes, but it is more than lasagna actually. Indeed, the traditional Italian cuisine is instead simple: no sauces and not too many ingredients. The real essence of it is “cucina povera”. I used to live in Tuscany until a few years ago and I really enjoyed the cuisine. Have you ever tried to cook a simple, tasteful “pappa al pomodoro” for instance?
4. Readapt traditional dishes to the local taste and culture
I know what you’re thinking: “This must be done, otherwise people will not recognize it as food!”. Well, actually I agree at least in part, that you cannot copy and paste a menu from a restaurant table in piazza Navona to a restaurant table in Umeå, 200 km from the polar circle. However, the number of dishes in traditional Italian cuisine is so big and varied, that you will certainly find something to offer to your clients, even at the arctic circle!An example might be “Pennette al salmone” for your Swedish clients.
5. Mix regional foods
There’s not one single Italian cuisine, but twenty: one for each region within the country. Mixing regional foods is not actually a mistake, but I would like to take the opportunity to give a suggestion for a regional menu: pasta e fagioli alla lucana, fave e cicoria and some “Canestrato di Moliterno” as a cheese to close the meal. You’ll get a complete meal including carbs, proteins as well as healthy fats from olive oil and a lot of minerals from the cheese. Moreover, you can give details on the menu about the origins and traditions of Basilicata. What more do you need for a meal which is delicious and informative at the same time?
That’s all, I hope I have given you some interesting ideas. If you want to discuss more about the Italian food culture, feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the box below.