You’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat”. This slightly overused mantra has made its way into the vocabulary of food from proselytizing nutritionists to the voice over introduction on one of the Food Network’s most popular shows. The Italians were eating healthy, nutritious regional food long before the term “locavore”, sustainability and week- end farmer’s markets became chic. So it follows that Italians are very concerned about the ingredients they use and most Italians I know would be the first to say that great ingredients make great recipes.
Here are 7 ingredients that no self-respecting Italian would be without.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Italians know that being extra virgin is better. For flavor, taste, aroma and health benefits extra virgin olive oil is absolutely better. It is the freshest oil you can buy, high in polyphenols and protective antioxidants beneficial to heart health. A wide variety of medical studies also document the benefits of extra virgin olive oil in controlling blood glucose levels and strengthening the immune system.
Oregano and Rosemary – Oregano is a source of natural antioxidants and has as many antioxidants as 3 cups of fresh spinach and rosemary is known as an anti-inflammatory. Both carry loads of flavor. Whether fresh or dried, rosemary’s sweet pungent piney scent and the herbal spiciness of oregano are the herbs of choice in Italian cooking.
Tomatoes – Eaten fresh or made into a sauce, tomatoes are an essential ingredient in the Italian pantry. In the summer they are layered between slices of buffalo mozzarella, anointed with extra virgin olive oil and scented with fresh basil or used to make a panzanella, Tuscany’s simple yet sublime bread salad. At all times tomatoes are the base for the Italian red sauce giving depth to hundreds of regional Italian recipes that have made Italian food recognized all over the world.
Garlic – Garlic is the godfather of Italian cooking. Chop it, crush it, then, let it sit to release the aroma, enzymatic and cardio-protective benefits found in fresh garlic. Respect this ingredient; use it well and it will never fail to add just what you need to perfect your dish.
Pasta – Confused about pasta, don’t be. The most flavorful pasta is artisan pasta, roughly textured to allow the sauce to better adhere giving a more uniform and consistently delicious flavor to each bite. Quality pasta ia a “good carbohydrate” made from semolina flour, which is ground from durum wheat with a low glycemic index (41). Italians eat pasta as a small introductory course (primo piatto) to the meal rather than in Mount Vesuvius proportions typical of American style dining.
Grapes and Wine – The pivotal role of grapes and red wine in the maintenance of health is well documented. In Italy wine is considered to be a natural resource, a companion to food, a link to the past, a tradition to be preserved and a respected ingredient in cooking.
Cheese – The soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses of Italy are not easily translated in the US. Americanized versions of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), Mozzarella and Ricotta are not the same as what you will find in Italy. Regional cheese making in Italy is government regulated with strict guidelines for manufacturing with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law. Cheese in Italy is eaten as an accompaniment to a meal and enjoyed as an artisan product. It is often eaten as a dessert course with fruit.