After spending two years in the UK, I can now tell which are the most common misconceptions about Italian food… the ones that make every Italian faint and/or screaming in horror. Ready?
1. WE EAT TONS OF GARLIC
When someone has to make a joke about Italian cooking, it’s always all about the garlic smell. Surprisigly enough, we don’t really use garlic that much. We use it sometimes in tomato sauce (it depends on the recipe though, some people prefer onions, which I agree still smell but in a completely different way) and pan fried veggies, we rub it on bruschetta bread but that’s almost it. Well, maybe if you stay for a whole day in the kitchen of an Italian granny, the ones who wake up at 6 to start slow-cooking the tomato sauce you’ll end up smelling like hell, but that won’t be just a garlic believe me. You’ll have the smell of a whole Italian meal stuck on your clothes for at least a week. Or maybe forever.
2. WE EAT SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE/SPAGHETTI WITH MEATBALLS/MAC AND CHEESE/ALFREDO SAUCE
When I first heard about Spaghetti Bolognese I was already here, in the UK. We do have a sauce called Ragù alla Bolognese but that can be used with any kind of pasta, and most of the time it’s not served with spaghetti (probably most people from Bologna would faint at the thought). Moreover, the actual recipe is pretty much different from the one you can taste abroad, and the most authentic version of it requires the Italian granny who wakes up at 6 to start slow-cooking the sauce (see above). Spaghetti Bolognese is that kind of fake Italian plate you won’t find in any Italian restaurant, together with Spaghetti with Meatballs (damn Lady and the Tramp!), Mac and Cheese (doesn’t the name says it all?) and Pasta Alfredo or Alfredo Sauce (who the hell is Alfredo?). Let me tell you one thing: the more typical Italian pasta you’ll ever find is Pasta al Pomodoro. The simplest yet delicious pasta with properly cooked tomato sauce, extravirgin olive oil and basil.
3. PASTA CAN BE CANNED
OMG no, that’s so wrong! Pasta hoops are wrong in itself, but.. pasta hoops in a can? Pasta hoops in a can FOR CHILDREN? I wouldn’t even give that s**t to a dog, I’m sorry. Pasta must be just cooked, steamy served with a fresh sauce on it. If you love pasta, don’t ever can it! Fight the pasta in a can!
4. PASTA CAN BE A SIDE DISH
No way. Don’t even think about boiling some spaghetti and serve them – pale, depressing and a bit sticky – on the side of some fried chicken. Pasta has always be nice to you, don’t mistreat it that much!
5. OUR FOOD IS FAT
We don’t eat pasta and pizza all the time. Our diet consists of a huge quantity of fresh vegetables and fruit, so that we don’t even need the concept of ‘5-a-day’. We do it naturally. Don’t mistake the kind of Italian food you can find in a restaurant with the food we cook at home. We still use quite a lot of extravirgin olive oil but very little butter, and almost our ingredients are fresh and quickly cooked. Pasta itself, if you don’t use buttery and creamy sauce, can be a complete and energetic meal without many calories. And don’t get me started about the quantity of boiled, steamed, baked veggies we eat J
6. PEPPERONI IS A SALAMI
Try to order a pizza with pepperoni in Italy and you’ll get… pizza with bell peppers! There’s no such a salame (salame. salami is plural) called pepperoni.
7. PIZZA IS THICK AND TOPPED WITH ANYTHING
The authentic pizza comes from Naples and it’s quite thick (but don’t expect the Pizza Hut style). It is made with pizza dough, tomato, mozzarella, olive oil and a basil leaf. That’s all. No rocket salad, no mushrooms, no bell peppers, no pepperoni, no other kind of cheese, absolutely no chicken (please!). As simple as that. If you travel other parts of Italy you may find out that the pizza is thinner and crispier. That’s still authentic pizza, but it’s called Roman pizza.
8. BISCOTTI ARE A SWEET SNACK
Biscotti are not cookies, nor digestives. They’re not buttery treats they’re dry and not so crumbly. They are part of our typical breakfast, together with a caffèlatte or a cappuccino and we usually don’t eat them in any other time of the day (unless you are craving something sweet…).
9. WE DRINK CAPPUCCINO ALL DAY LONG
There’s no way you’ll find an Italian ordering a cappuccino* after breakfast time. If he does, he woke up really late or he has lived abroad for a good number of years and got the habit. Despite my Italian origins, I admit I love drinking a Cappuccino in the afternoon but I still find incomprehensible drinking it right after lunch. Why would you bloat your stomach with frothing milk during digestion? Seriously: why? Have a shot of grappa instead!
*authentic cappuccino has nothing to do with that litre of milk you get at Starbucks
10. CORNETTO AND CROISSANT ARE THE SAME
When I say that one of the thing I really miss about Italy is a proper breakfast, I include a proper cornetto. Cornetto is similar to croissant but the dough is so different. French croissant is buttery and crumbly, Italian croissant is soft and brioche-like. It is usually filled with delicious custard cream, chocolate, Nutella or jam (I’m drooling while writing these lines).
11. A SANDWICH IS CALLED PANINI
One Italian-style sandwich is called panino. Many sandwiches are called panini. Panini is plural. Please, Caffè Nero, if you pretend to be Italian at least spell it correctly!