Two ideologies form the basis of Italian cuisine, simplicity and passion. Most Italian dishes are made using just four to eight ingredients. The emphasis is always on the quality of ingredients used, and not on the quantity or elaborate cooking techniques. As with anything else that the Italians do, they are passionate about their food, both cooking and eating!
Arborio is the classic risotto rice from the north Italian region of Piedmont. It is probably the best all-rounder for cooking. It is a medium to long-grain rice that can absorb a lot of cooking liquid yet still retain a good ‘bite’ when fully cooked.
Bresaola is a regional Italian speciality of cured beef fillet from Lombardy. A raw beef fillet is cured in salt then air-dried for several months, during which time it turns a deep red colour. It’s traditionally served in very thin slices, dressed with nothing more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Once sliced, it dries out quickly, so it’s best to try and avoid buying pre-sliced bresaola; instead have it sliced to order.
A mildly-flavoured whole cows’ milk cheese from northern Italy with a soft texture and a fruity, creamy character. It has a pinkish-brown rind, and a pale-yellow interior which, although elastic, tends to be increasingly crumbly towards the centre of the cheese.
Made in square blocks, Taleggio has a pungent aroma that becomes more pronounced as the cheese ages. It is protected by an EU PDO which means that it can only be produced in specified regions of Lombardy and Piedmont.
Literally ‘butterfly’ in Italian, this is pasta shaped like little butterflies or bow-ties. Certain pasta shapes hold different sauces better than others – cheese or rich tomato sauces cling well to farfalle because it’s a relatively small pasta shape with a large surface area.
Polenta is a golden-yellow Italian cornmeal made from dried, ground maize (corn), and also the name given to the savoury cornmeal porridge that’s made by mixing cornmeal with water and simmering and stirring until it thickens – a staple dish of northern Italy.
Pecorino is the Italian name for ewes’ milk cheese. It is generally used more specifically to refer to hard ewes’ milk cheeses from central Italy and the island of Sardinia. Although young, fresh pecorinos can be found, you are more likely come across aged examples.
Literally ‘sweet milk’ in Italian, this soft, blue-veined cows’ milk cheese from Lombardy was developed as a milder version of traditional Gorgonzola (hence it’s also sometimes known as Gorgonzola Dolce). It’s renowned for its soft, creamy flavour.