How would you rank the Italian culinary art?
For many, Italy is the best place in the world for food . Although I am Italian, I won’t say it’s “the” best, but definitely in good company, together with the French and the Spanish one.
There is an immense range of local products as well as cooking traditions that makes the whole Country an endless journey into food and wine. From the biggest cities to the smallest villages, a local recipe comes out at every step. The Italian soil is very rich: its location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea supply an immense variety of local products, which the expertise of the home cooks turned into delicious plates that everyone likes. Some of the Italian most iconic food really conquered the world, long before globalisation: think about Pizza, Gelato, Pesto, Noodles and Salami, just to mention some of the most popular.
Therefore, together with the immense artistic heritage, that some consider unparalleled, Italy is definitely a journey into food, able to provide a new surprise every day or even every hour or minute.
If I had to plan a food and wine tour of Italy I would be very embarrassed because the choice is too wide and I am sure that I do not know every single recipe of every region, city or village. Therefore, when my friends from other nations ask me to recommend places to visit based on the quality of the food they ask me the most difficult task ever. That is why I have to make some choices. Here below is a list of the 10 best places in Italy for food, based on my own personal opinion, thus do not rely only on my scoring because the Country has a lot more to offer.
I invite you to visit the places listed in my scoring and then let me know.
10 Milan – Risotto allo Zafferano
Milan is not only the capital of Fashion and the city that never sleeps but also is the birthplace of what, to me, is the best rice recipe: Risotto allo zafferano (Saffron Risotto). You probably know that Risotto is a concept rather than a recipe, as you simply have to respect a specific cooking procedure but you can make it with any ingredient you want. In Milan, tradition is to make it with Saffron. If you believe that Saffron is a spice from the Middle east only, you are wrong, because saffron is also grown in central Italy, and it is of very good quality. Conclusion is that despite risotto is made everywhere in Italy, If you want to try the best one, go visit Milan.
9 – Genova – Pesto
Pesto is one of those Italian recipes that conquered the world. Made with very simple ingredients from Basil, Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, Pine nuts and Olive Oil, this delicious sauce, is at the same time the simplest and the most savoury dressing for pasta ever. Genova (Genoa – do not mistake it for Geneva) is the birthplace of Pesto and is the only place where you can discover what really Pesto tastes like. The reason is that you can’t use any basil but only the one that grows in the Tigullio Gulf, just outside the city, which has small but very perfumed leaves. For the pasta you have a choice of 2: Trofie or Trenette. The first one is short and small, while the second looks like flat Spaghetti. Go visit Genova and experience yourself.
8 – Bologna – Lasagne
For many, Bologna is the city with the most savoury food in Italy. Some of the most iconic Italian recipe come from here, in fact. There is one that everybody knows, regardless of their nationality: Lasagne. Although you can find them everywhere across the country, with some minor or major “revisions”, it is only in Bologna that you can eat the original ones. No compromise here: Lasagne is a fat and heavy dish, and that is the reason for its success: this blend of meat ragout, cream sauce and flat rectangular pasta, built of several layers on a baking tray, will make your day. Go visit Bologna and try, at least once, the real Lasagna.
7 – Florence – The T Bone Steak (Fiorentina)
If you are a carnivore, Florence is definitely your place. Ok I agree with you, in Florence there is an immense artistic heritage to discover, and that is why the city if famous, but trust me, the local food tradition will also amaze you. The T-Bone Steak is grilled and “rare”. Do not ask for “well done” meat here as the cooks, chefs, and especially the Barbecue people, will take if very badly. The Fiorentina is an impressively big steak that must have a big and thick T-shaped bone that makes it is impossible to cook it deeply or the result will be a burnt shoe sole that you won’t like to eat. The Fiorentina must be soft and juicy, well grilled outside and pink inside. My suggestion for you is to share it: you won’t be able to have one on your own.
6 – Rome – Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Spaghetti alla Carbonara are a National Monument. The Italians are very funny and ironic people, they do accept friendly any joke about them. Except when food is concerned. You may be the most followed and beloved food blogger on earth or a an excellent cook, but if you just make one single and simple mistake at times of making the Carbonara, your career will be gone forever. The Italians won’t have any mercy on you. Spagnetti alla Carbonara are from central Italy and the best place to have them is Rome. Not any part of Rome. There is an old saying stating that “once in Rome do what the Romans do”, therefore, follow the locals and move out of the city centre to find very small trattorias in the suburbs such as Garbatella or Testaccio. Do you need more reasons to go visit Rome?
5 – Bari – Orecchiette with turnip greens
Bari is a big city in Southern Italy, also referred to as the Milan of the South, in the Puglia Region. This part of the Country became recently very popular among Hollywood starts who choose it to spend their holiday for the quiet of the place and the beauty of its nature. It’s a land of olives growing (one of the best Italian olive oil is from here). The most traditional recipe here is still not so popular outside Italy. It’s an ear-shaped hand made pasta that has to dry a bit before consumption. Have a stroll in the old town of Bari (Bari Vecchio) and you’ll see several old women sat on chairs along the streets, having a nice talks and making Orecchiette all day. The rest is simple: the dressing is made with Turnip greens. Good for vegetarian and vegan goers also. Go visit Bari and enjoy an extraordinary Orecchiette alle cime di rapa.
4 – Catania – Arancini
Sicily is brand itself, right? Some do not even associate it with Italy even though the unification of the Country started right here in the mid 1800s. Catania is the second biggest city of Sicily, located at the feet of the Etna Mount (the tallest Volcano still active in Europe) and beside being a top ranked destination of the lovers of the baroque architecture it also is the birthplace of a very iconic recipe: the fried rice ball called Arancino. The name derives from the fact that Arancino look like an orange (arancio in Italian) once fried: same colour and same size. It’ a saffron scented boiled rice then shaped with the hands in the form of a ball stuffed at the centre with meat ragout, peas and a dice of mozzarella cheese. Breaded and then fried, the Aarancino is a full meal. As it was born as a street food my recommendation for you it to have it while strolling around the city of Catania.
3 – Naples – Pizza
Is there anything I can say about Pizza? Probably the most popular food in the world. I’ve travelled every continent and found pizza everywhere, however, Pizza was born in Naples to honor the visit of the first Queen of Italy, named “Margherita”, with a recipe displaying the colours of the Italian flag: basil leaves for the green, mozzarella cheese for the white and tomato sauce for the red. That is why to me there is no other pizza but “Margherita”: the original. You might be the best pizza maker in the world but if you have never tried a pizza in Naples you don’t know what pizza really tastes like. The quality of the local tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese and the water used to make the dough that comes from the sources below the Vesuvius Volcano, is so rich that makes it simply Pizza and nothing else. So let’s go visit Naples and have your pizza at the feet of the Vesuvius.
2 – Ascoli – Stuffed Olives (Olive all’ascolana)
Ascoli is a small city in central Italy, in the Marche Region, on the Adriatic Sea. As every Italian city there is a lot to discover here, for example the fact that the flooring of the city centre is made of Travertino Marble and that the city it is called, as several others in Italy, “the city of the 100 towers”. But there is another very tasty reason to visit Ascoli: have you ever heard about the stuffed olives – olive all’ascolana? It’s a very savoury snack made with big green olives stuffed with meat, breaded and fried and served hot. It’s one of my favourite snack when I serve Aperitivo to my friend, but unfortunately I do not live in Ascoli, so mine are not as tasty as theirs being one of those recipes, like Pizza, that give their best only at the birthplace. So let’s go and enjoy some stuffed olives in Ascoli.
1 – Torino – Agnolotti del Plin (stuffed pasta)
After the XXth Winter Olympics, which were held in Torino in 2006, the city became well known among travellers as one of the most interesting and fascinating destinations in Italy. Located in a land blessed by Mother Nature a few steps away from the Alps, whose snow covered tips are visible from the city center, and surrounded by the vineyard landscape recently included by UNESCO within the world heritage, Torino offers a culinary tradition of which many are envious. Sophisticated as the French cuisine but well rooted into the Italian way of cooking, the local culinary arts really offer a lot. Among many recipes I choose the Agnolotti del Plin: it’s a hand-made pasta, stuffed with a mix of meats and spinach, closed with a pinch (the “plin” in the local dialect), boiled and served. Tradition is that when the chef is very confident of his Agnolotti, he doesn’t even dress them with any sauce and serve them on a plate wrapped with a linen napkin, flavoured with a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese. Let’s go visit Torino and enjoy your Agnolotti del Plin.
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