Italian food is as diverse as it is superb. No two regions cook in quite the same way, and even the most classic dishes are prepared differently depending on where you go. One crucial similarity remains, however: Italians are masters at creating phenomenally delicious dishes from just a few, simple ingredients. With a natural larder that blows many cuisines out of the water — from an incredible variety of fruit and vegetables to standout seafood — no one will be leaving hungry. Cosmos’ foodie tours will take you closer to its cuisine: go to Italy for the sights; and stay for the food.
Luisa reveals her in-depth knowledge about Italy’s foodie scene, with a particular focus on Tuscany:
What makes Italian cuisine so special?
Italian cuisine is based on the Mediterranean diet, recognised as one of the healthiest. Its main ingredients are cereals (pasta), fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, unsaturated fat (olive oil), fresh fish, moderate wine and little meat. Not only it is really good for you, but it’s also very varied, with specialities that differ hugely from region to region.
So how do Tuscan dishes differ from those of the rest of the country?
The most celebrated Tuscan dishes are prepared with basic ingredients, such as olive oil, Tuscan bread (without salt), sheep’s cheese, Chianina beef, kale and tomatoes — all grown locally. It’s not complicated, but the authentic, fresh ingredients make it both delicious and healthy.
Talk us through a typical Tuscan meal?
Typically you’d start with an appetiser, which could be tomato, liver pate, or lard bruschetta; the main course could be ribollita (a thick kale and vegetable soup in which bread is soaked) or pappardelle al cinghiale (fresh pasta with a wild boar sauce); the second course would often be a Florentine steak (grilled, thick Chianina steak) and a little dessert of either cantuccini with vin bianco (almond biscuits soaked in sweet white wine) or brigidini (thin anise-flavoured cookies). And, of course, no meal is complete without an espresso to round it off.
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Granita in Sicily
Granita is definitely the Sicilian thing. Eaten with brioche and some whipped cream, it’s the typical breakfast and is lovely on a hot day.
Parmesan in Busseto
Parmesan is known the world over as a mature cheese (aged for between 12 and 36 months) with a slightly moist, grainy texture. Grated, it complements pasta dishes or aubergine parmigiana, but when in Italy make sure you visit a local caseificio (cheese factory) to try fresh parmesan simply eaten on its own — it steals the show.
Limoncello at Capri’s Piazzetta
Traditionally served after a hearty meal to help digestion, Limoncello is typical of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi coast, where lemons are particularly sweet and juicy. Take a funicular from Capri’s city port to its famous Piazzetta; the ideal spot to sip Limoncello while soaking up the beautiful surrounds.