Italian food is often listed as the best cuisine in the world – and even won an award for it in 2013.
Known for its simplicity and reliance on fresh, good quality ingredients, Italian food is also fiercely regional due to the country’s varied history, and each area excels at a particular speciality. Here, MasterChef Travel takes us through the local Italian dishes that all food lovers shouldn’t miss.
The traditional version of pesto originated in Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region in northern Italy. Consisting of crushed basil, garlic and pine nuts and mixed with Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) and pecorino sardo (sheeps-milk) cheese, the pesto is normally paired with trenette – flat dried pasta similar to fettuccine.
Ragù alla Bolognese
Originating in Bologna, with the earliest recipe coming from the area during the 18th century, ragù alla bolognese is a slow-cooked and richly flavoured meat-based sauce. Traditionally made using beef and pancetta, the meat is chopped finely and combined with a soffritto of onions, carrots and celery, plus a small amount of wine and tomato paste. The delicious sauce is usually paired with tagliatelle, as this is the pasta that grips the ragù the best.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena
Generally known as balsamic vinegar, the authentic version of this syrup is produced only in Modena, and has been aged in a selection of wood barrels for either 12 or 25 years. The final version of the vinegar is quite sweet with a complex layering of flavours, and is often used to drizzle on ice-cream, strawberries, or Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan); the hard cheese that is also produced in the area. A local recipe for veal scallopine cooked in balsamic vinegar was also one of locally born Pavarotti’s favourites.
Pizza as we know it was invented in Naples and the pizza margherita might be the most famous of all. Created in 1889 to honour the visiting Queen Margherita of Savoy, it consists of tomato passata, topped with buffalo mozzarella cheese (a speciality of the region) and fresh basil – representative of all the colours of the Italian flag. Enjoy a slice of this delicious pizza with an insalata caprese on the side; a nationalistic salad of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
The ultimate example of simplicity, this beef steak from Florence is served on the bone, and is sourced from only two types of cattle. The cut of meat is quite large, as the steaks are made to be shared. Cooked over a wood fire, the meat is seasoned only with salt, pepper and olive oil, and sometimes served with a slice of lemon. The steak is prepared rare, and with no sauce, meaning the true flavour of the quality of meat is able to speak for itself.
MasterChef Travel runs foodie holidays to Italy, accompanied by MasterChef finalists or local culinary experts.
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