Italian cuisine facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Spaghettata
Spaghetti is traditional Italian cuisine
Italian Delicacies
Some typical Italian gastronomic products in a window display in Imola
Flickr - cyclonebill - Kartoffelpizza med rosmarinpesto
Pizza is one of the world's most popular foods and common fast food item

Italian cuisine is food typical from Italy. It has developed through centuries of social and economic changes, with roots stretching to antiquity.

Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World and the introduction of potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, maize and sugar beet, this last introduced in quantity in the 18th century. Italian cuisine is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and the south of the Italian peninsula. It offers an abundance of taste, and is one of the most popular and copied in the world. It influenced several cuisines around the world chiefly that of the United States.

Italian cuisine is generally characterized by its simplicity, with many dishes having only two to four main ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Ingredients and dishes vary by region. Many dishes that were once regional, have proliferated with variations throughout the country.

Pasta, vegetables, olive oil and fish are a major part of the Italian cuisine. Italian cuisine is probably the most important expression of the Mediterranean diet.

History

Italian cuisine has developed over the centuries. Although the country known as Italy did not unite until the 19th century, the cuisine can claim traceable roots as far back as the 4th century BCE. Food and culture was very important at that time as we can see from the cookbook (Apicius) which dates back to first century BC. Through the centuries, neighbouring regions, conquerors, high-profile chefs, political upheaval and the discovery of the New World have influenced its development. Italian food started to form after the fall of the Roman Empire, when different cities began to separate and form their own traditions. Many different types of bread and pasta were made, and there was a variation in cooking techniques and preparation. The country was split. For example, the north of Italy (Milan) is known for its risottos, the central/middle of the country (Bologna) is known for its tortellini and the south (Naples) is famous for its pizzas and spaghettis.

Ingredients

BasilkumPesto
Pesto, a Ligurian sauce made out of basil, olive oil and pine nuts, and which can be eaten with pasta or other dishes such as soup.

Italian cuisine has a great variety of different ingredients which are commonly used, ranging from fruits, vegetables, sauces, meats, etc. In the North of Italy, fish (such as cod, or baccalà), potatoes, rice, corn (maize), sausages, pork, and different types of cheeses are the most common ingredients. Pasta dishes with use of tomato are spread in all Italy. Italians like their ingredients fresh and subtly seasoned and spiced.

In Northern Italy though there are many kinds of stuffed pasta, polenta and risotto are equally popular if not more so. Ligurian ingredients include several types of fish and seafood dishes; basil (found in pesto), nuts and olive oil are very common. In Emilia-Romagna, common ingredients include ham (prosciutto), sausage (cotechino), different sorts of salami, truffles, grana, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and tomatoes (Bolognese sauce or ragù).

Italian olive oil 2007
Olive oil is the most commonly used vegetable fat in Italian cooking, and as the basis for sauces, often replaces animal fats of butter or lard.

Traditional Central Italian cuisine uses ingredients such as tomatoes, all kinds of meat, fish, and pecorino cheese. In Tuscany pasta (especially pappardelle) is traditionally served with meat sauce (including game meat). Finally, in Southern Italy, tomatoes – fresh or cooked into tomato sauce – peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, oranges, ricotta cheese, eggplants, zucchini, certain types of fish (anchovies, sardines and tuna), and capers are important components to the local cuisine.

Italian cuisine is also well known (and well regarded) for its use of a diverse variety of pasta. Pasta include noodles in various lengths, widths and shapes. Distinguished on shapes they are named—penne, maccheroni, spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, lasagne and many more varieties that are filled with other ingredients like ravioli and tortellini.

The word pasta is also used to refer to dishes in which pasta products are a primary ingredient. It is usually served with sauce. There are hundreds of different shapes of pasta with at least locally recognized names.

Examples include spaghetti (thin rods), rigatoni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Dumplings, like gnocchi (made with potatoes or pumpkin) and noodles like spätzle, are sometimes considered pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy.

Meal structure

Traditionally, meals in Italy usually contain four or five courses. Especially on weekends, meals are often seen as a time to spend with family and friends rather than simply for sustenance; thus, meals tend to be longer than in other cultures. During holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Eve, feasts can last for hours.

Today, the traditional Italian menu is kept mainly for special events (such as weddings) while an everyday menu includes only the first and/or second course, the side dish, and coffee. A notable aspect of Italian meals is that the primo or first course is usually a more filling dish such as risotto or pasta. Italian cuisine also includes single courses (all-in-one courses), providing carbohydrates and proteins at the same time (e.g. pasta and legumes).

Meal stage Composition
Aperitivo apéritif usually enjoyed as an appetizer before a large meal, may be: Campari, Martini, Cinzano, Lucano, Prosecco, Aperol, Spritz, Vermouth, Negroni.
Antipasto literally "before (the) meal", hot or cold, usually consist of cheese, ham and bread appetizers.
Primo "first course", usually consists of a hot dish like pasta, risotto, gnocchi, or soup.
Secondo "second course", the main dish, usually fish or meat with potatoes. Traditionally veal, pork and chicken are most commonly used, at least in the North, though beef has become more popular since World War II and wild game is found, particularly in Tuscany. Fish is also very popular, especially in the south.
Contorno "side dish", may be a salad or cooked vegetables. A traditional menu features salad along with the main course.
Formaggio e frutta "cheese and fruits", the first dessert. Local cheeses may be part of the antipasto or contorno as well.
Dolce "sweet", such as cakes (like Tiramisu), cookies or ice-cream
Caffè coffee.
Digestivo "digestives", liquors/liqueurs (grappa, amaro, limoncello, sambuca, nocino, sometimes referred to as ammazzacaffè, "coffee killer").

Drinks

Coffee

Linea doubleespresso
Espresso

Italian style coffee (caffè), also known as espresso, is made from a blend of coffee beans. Espresso beans are roasted medium to medium dark in the north, and darker as you move south.

Espresso is usually served in a demitasse cup. Caffè macchiato is topped with a bit of steamed milk or foam; ristretto is made with less water, and is stronger; cappuccino is mixed or topped with steamed, mostly frothy, milk. It is generally considered a morning beverage, and usually is not taken after a meal; caffelatte is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, similar to café au lait, and is typically served in a large cup. Latte macchiato (spotted milk) is a glass of warm milk with a bit of coffee and caffè corretto is "corrected" with a few drops of an alcoholic beverage such as grappa or brandy.

The bicerin is also an Italian coffee, from Turin. It is a mixture of cappuccino and traditional hot chocolate, as it consists of a mix of coffee and drinking chocolate, and with a small addition of milk. It is quite thick, and often whipped cream/foam with chocolate powder and sugar is added on top.

Wine

Fiasco di chianti monteriggioni
Tuscan Chianti in a traditional fiasco

Italy produces the largest amount of wine in the world and is both the largest exporter and consumer of wine. Only about a quarter of this wine is put into bottles for individual sale. Two-thirds is bulk wine used for blending in France and Germany. The wine distilled into spirits in Italy exceeds the production of wine in the entirety of the New World. There are twenty separate wine regions. Those vineyards producing great wines are trying to do away with the old image of jug wines so often associated with Italian wine.

In Italy wine is commonly consumed (alongside water) in meals, which are rarely served without it, though it's extremely uncommon for meals to be served with any other drink, alcoholic or otherwise.

Holiday cuisine

Every region has its own holiday recipes. During La Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Day) on 19 March, Sicilians give thanks to St. Joseph for preventing a famine during the Middle Ages. The fava bean saved the population from starvation, and is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Other customs celebrating this festival include wearing red clothing, eating Sicilian pastries known as zeppole and giving food to the poor.

On Easter Sunday, lamb is served throughout Italy. A typical Easter Sunday breakfast in Umbria and Tuscany includes salami, boiled eggs, wine, Easter Cakes and pizza. The common cake for Easter Day is the Colomba Pasquale (literally, Easter dove), which is often simply known as "Italian Easter cake" abroad. It is supposed to represent the dove, and is topped with almonds and pearl sugar.

On Christmas Eve a symbolic fast is observed with the cena di magro ("light dinner"), a meatless meal. Typical cakes of the Christmas season are panettone and pandoro.

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Italian cuisine Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.