Italian cuisine is known mainly for its vast diversity on a regional level, its abundance in taste and seasoning and as a classic example of a Mediterranean diet, recognized as an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2010. Furthermore it is one of the best known and appreciated gastronomies globally: in 2019, for example, the US television station CNN placed it in the first place of a ranking with the best cuisines in the world and according to a survey conducted by YouGov based on 24 countries, the Italian gastronomy was the most appreciated with 84% of preferences.
One of the main characteristics of the Italian cuisine is its simplicity, with many dishes consisting of 4 up to 8 ingredients. Italian chefs rely on the quality of the ingredients rather than on the complexity of preparation. Traditional dishes and recipes, over the centuries, have often been created by grandmothers rather than chefs, reason why many Italian recipes are suitable for homemade meals and daily cooking, respecting the territorial characteristics, privileging only raw materials and ingredients typical of the region of origin of the dish and preserving its seasonality. Many Italian dishes that were once known only in the original regions but over the time they have spread throughout the country.
Cheese (a food which Italy holds the greatest diversity of existing types) and wine (of which Italy is the world’s largest producer and the second largest exporter after Spain) are an important part of Italian cuisine, with many indigenous varieties and, in the wine sector, with specific legal protections: the Denominations of controlled origin (DOC) and the Denominations of controlled and guaranteed origin (DOCG).
Also coffee, especially espresso, the one made by mocha and the Neapolitan one, is an important and typical drink of Italian cuisine.
In Italian cuisine the main meals are:
The most popular breakfast nationwide is usually sweet, with hot or cold milk or fruit juice accompanied by baked products such as biscuits or the classic croissant.
The coffee predominates with the variants of cappuccino, latte or the famous espresso.
Less frequent, but not unusual, can be the savoury breakfast often composed of focaccia or just some toasted homemade bread seasoned with extra virgin olive oil or with tomato or some sliced cured meat.
Traditionally, in the Italian culture, lunch is the most important meal of the day and is, if complete, made up of three or four courses:
An appetizer, cold or hot, is the least abundant course, and is generally composed of croutons or bruschetta, salami and / or sausages, cheeses and / or dairy products or cooked and / or raw vegetables or preparations based on fish and / or seafood;
the first course, usually a dish based on pasta or risotto, rice or polenta or legumes or a soup;
the second dish, generally based on meat or fish or dairy products and / or sausages, accompanied by a side, often composed of raw and / or cooked vegetables; then some sweet and / or fruit to finish
coffee: it is very frequent and traditional in Italy that a meal, and above all a lunch, is completed by an espresso, followed by the so-called ammazzacaffè, that consists in a glass of local liqueur, bitter (like a lucano or a montenegro) or sweet (for example limoncello or sambuca).
Wine is inevitable on the Italian’s tables, especially during a main meal such as lunch.
Unlike lunch, a typical and daily Italian dinner does not include the presence of a first course based on starchy foods (like pasta or polenta) or cereals (like rice), so the main course is generally made up of what during lunch would be equivalent to a second dish (therefore a preparation based on meat, fish or cooked and / or raw vegetables) or at most a (light) soup, including however the presence of bread.
The classic scheme of a common Italian dinner consists in an appetizer and a second dish that serves as a main course (or as a first course, if viewed from the perspective of Italian lunch), followed by a side dish of cooked or raw vegetables. However, the presence of a single dish as dinner is not uncommon during dinner.
Some specialties of Italian cuisine
Bread, Pizza and Focaccia
Bread, peasant food par excellence, has always been, as indeed also for other European and especially Mediterranean countries, a fundamental food in Italian cuisine and there are various regional types. Pizza in particular is the most famous and consumed Italian food in the world.
The pasta, dry, fresh, including egg based or filled, is certainly the best-known product of Italian cuisine and the one that is most universally associated with it, there are many types, some of which are world famous and others only spread regionally.
Italy is the first rice producer in Europe, various and famous are the existing types of Italian rice and many Italian dishes in which it is present, so this food also enjoys great importance in Italian cuisine.
In Italian cuisine, eggs are prepared in various ways and recipes.
Meat, both bovine and swine, sheep, goat, equine, burrow, poultry and game is also very present and appreciated in Italian cuisine, which offers it in a very wide range of typical preparations and recipes that vary from region to region.
Since Italy is surrounded for more than three quarters by the sea, has a large coastal development and is rich in deep and fishy lakes, even fish, crustaceans, molluscs and seafood, as well as meat, keep an important role in Italian cuisine.
Cured meats and sausages
Italian cuisine can boast many types of sausages and cured meats, many of which are protected and marked as DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), which make up about 34% of the total European sausages and salami
The variety of Italian cheeses is vast, there are about 600 distinct types across the country, an almost infinite variety of types and flavours.
The desserts, in Italian cuisine, vary from region to region and in an infinite number of recipes and preparations, some of which, over time, have crossed the regional borders or citizens spreading nationally and some others have become internationally famous.