Rigatoni bannerThere’s no denying it, pretty much everyone we know has at one point or another tried Italian cuisine or a variation on this theme. But since April is National Pasta Month, we figured some light reading about such a delicious topic would be a mouth-watering good time for one and all. So today we’re diving into the world of pastas and pizza and more…the Old World Way.

Literally means “before the meal” and refers to the traditional first course in Italian dinners, but today (in the US) lots of menus list various Antipasti items as appetizers, snacks or even salads. You’ll want to give the meats, cheeses and veggies on these plates a try as they pack big flavors into small bites. Start with a couple of delicious cured meats like Prosciutto (cured, thin sliced ham) and Soppressata (Italian salami). Next add a pungent blue cheese like Gorgonzola, some fresh mozzarella di bufala and some Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finally, round out your plate with some roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and olives and you are golden. Whether you’re ordering a la carte for your antipasto or the restaurant offers preselected choices, you’re in for a treat! Just make sure to save room for the rest of the meal.

We all know spaghetti and lasagna, and most of us have sampled ravioli and even tortellini, but the world of pasta is vast and diverse. Next time you’re at an Italian restaurant, look for dishes made with fusilli – thick, squiggly corkscrews that are great with white saucesAsk Your Server GF. Or try something totally different and order a dish with Orrichetti (Italian for little ear). This pasta is adorable and delicious all at the same time. One of our favorite more adventurous pastas to order is gnocchi (pronounced n-y-oh-kee). These little dough pieces are shaped somewhere between a ball and a sliver and are usually served in robust or flavorful sauce. If you’ve never ordered them before, give them a try next time they’re featured on a menu.

If you want a real treat, look for restaurants or menus that boast fresh pasta. The difference? Most of the pasta we eat starts as the dehydrated kind you buy to make at home, but FRESH pasta is pasta that hasn’t been dried. The noodles are more tender, the flavor a little richer and the resulting dish is more decadent than your average spaghetti dinner.

Let’s talk about one of everyone’s favorite dishes, The Pizza. First, you need to start by erasing the Americanized, over-cheesed, thick crust, deep dish, taco ingredient-laden version of pizza you’re currently picturing. Yes, these are all delicious. Yes, we count them as pizza. But are they authentically Italian in nature? Nope.

PizzaTraditional Italian pizza dates back centuries and evolved from oil and herb covered flatbread. Right around the mid 1800’s, Italians cultivated the India Buffalo and mozzarella di bufala became a standard addition to Italy’s version of pizza. Today, you still won’t find the dry shredded mozzarella cheese used for most American pizzas in a true Italian dish. Instead, fresh mozzarella is sliced or crumbled for a rich and delicious topper. There are many styles of pizza that are popular in Italy that you can find right around the corner in your local Italian restaurant. The Margherita Pizza (created for and named after Queen Margherita) features all the colors of the Italian flag – red tomatoes, white cheese and green basil. This simple combination is a total classic and boasts a ton of flavor even with its short list of ingredients. You can find menus with authentic ingredients ranging from anchovies to prosciutto; the Italian
classic Pizza Capricossa even includes a cracked egg.

In restaurants today you can find square pizzas, round pizzas, personal pizzas, deep dish pizzas and more. But an authentic Italian restaurant will serve real Italian pizza with a thin crust, just big enough for one person (think plate sized, but bigger than the Americanized version of a personal pizza).

Getting Saucy
Most people automatically associate Italian sauce with Marinara or tomato sauce, but the truth of the matter is that authentic Italian cuisine contains a slew of sauces made with a whole gamut of flavors and ingredients. Italian Chef, Lidia Bastinanich, explains that, “People sometimes think sauce needs to be complex. In Italy, it’s made with whatever’s available: fresh local ingredients, of course, or things from the cupboard in winter months.” Here are a few of our favorite sauces you’ll find on a menu near you:

  • Pesto – Most commonly made with olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and lots of basil. You’ll also find many varieties made with different kinds of nuts and herbs that are equally delicious.)
  • Creamy Garlic (Alfredo) – Finger-lickin’ good…you’re going to want to try this white sauce.
  • Carbonara – Another creamy favorite, only this one has parmesan cheese and BACON!
  • Marinara – the old standard
  • Pureed Garbanzo Bean – yes, many authentic Italian chefs will make sauces with beans, and they’re delicious.
  • Olive Oil and Garlic – simple, elegant, delicious.

There are so many other delicious and famous foods in Italian cuisine (lasagna, tiramisu, WINE), but there’s no way we can cover them all here. If we’ve left off your fave or if you have a hidden Italian menu gem that we should be trying, share it below!