Italian cuisine has been developing for more than two millennia. Historians say the cuisine originated around the 4th century BCE, even though Italy did not become a country until the 1800s. The food of Italy is defined by its regional flavors, simple preparation, and top quality ingredients that steal the show. Pizza, for example, originated in the Naples region of Italy because of the region’s extensive production of tomatoes and cheese. Since its inception around the 10th century, however…
many distant cultures have adopted pizza and have allowed it to evolve. Toppings can vary greatly depending on the culture. Any way you slice it, the pizza has become one of the world's most popular foods today.
Italian Sauce Recipes
Featured prominently in traditional Italian sauces is the tomato. Marinara is a tomato-based sauce that can be made with a few simple ingredients and used in many different ways. A perfect marinara sauce starts simply by sauteing fresh garlic and onion in olive oil until the onion is translucent. From there, add diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes. Once your tomatoes cook down, add fresh, classic Italian herbs, like basil and oregano. For some heat -- and Italian authenticity -- add crushed red pepper flakes. Marinara sauce can be served over just about any Italian meal you can think of: pasta, pizza, chicken, or veal Parmesan. It also can be used as a dipping sauce. You’ve probably dipped mozzarella sticks or garlic bread into the marinara sauce at some point. Anything you top with marinara is sure to be enhanced by this classic tomato sauce simmered slowly to perfection.
You can also cook your marinara sauce with meat, known in Italy as ragù, and referred to as “Sunday Gravy” by Italian-Americans. This is another tomato-based sauce that begins as a marinara but ends up including meat. Try adding a combination of bone-in pork ribs, sausage, and ground beef meatballs to your sauce to create this Italian tradition in your home. Simmered for hours with a couple of heads of garlic, a hearty ragu will do wonders for a ho-hum pasta dinner.
Have a food processor on hand? With just a few ingredients, you can make another easy and delicious classic Italian sauce - basil pesto. Fresh basil leaves and pine nuts make up the base for this recipe. Process both ingredients with fresh garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil until well combined. Finish by adding salt and pepper and stirring.
Basil pesto can be used over pasta or as a tasty sandwich spread. It also freezes well, omits the Parmesan if freezing and stirs it in after the pesto defrosts and before serving.
There are hundreds of different kinds of pasta in all different shapes and sizes. The most common shape is a long, thin rod, commonly known as spaghetti. Lots of different types of pasta, such as spaghetti, penne, fusilli, and linguine, are all readily available in supermarkets. They’re available dried, fresh, and frozen and can be served as a companion to meat, cheese, and salads. In traditional Italian families, dinner is served in a series of courses and a pasta dish is typically part of the first course or Primo. An aperitivo (apéritif: an alcoholic beverage, such as Campari, Prosecco, or vermouth) and an appetizer (hot or cold antipasto: meats or fish, cheeses, bread, and vegetables, like roasted peppers and artichokes) are served before the first course. During the Primo course, pasta recipes can be topped with a number of different sauces, like marinara, pesto, or Alfredo, which is a cream-based, white sauce. Some types of pasta are designed to be stuffed with other ingredients. For example, ravioli and tortellini are stuffed with ricotta cheese, and sometimes meat or fish. Of course, you don’t have to eat dinner in multiple courses. For a busy family, pasta can be an “all-in-one” meal, like lasagna and other types of layered casseroles with pasta, meat, sauce, and cheese in one delicious dish!
Pasta is cooked in salted, boiling water until its “al dente” (Italian: firm to the bite). Pasta made from durum flour and semolina, which is yellowish, is the most common type on store shelves. In the U.S., however, pasta has changed and evolved for weight-conscious eaters. Now, instead of a carb and calorie-heavy traditional semolina pasta, there are pasta products made from spinach, beans, lentils, and whole wheat. Whether it’s the star of your meal or only a part of many courses to come, pasta is sure to be one of your favorite dishes!
Italian Meat Recipes
Meats are popular throughout Italy and traditionally served as part of an antipasto platter before the Primo “first course,” or as the Secondo “main course,’ served after the pasta. Veal, pork, fish, and chicken are the most commonly eaten meats in Italian cuisine and are sometimes even combined to make dishes even more rich and complex! For instance, meatballs and meatloaf are two different dishes that can be made using ground beef or a combination of ground beef and Italian sausage (pork). Use the meat of your choice with classic Italian seasonings, such as onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and basil. Use breadcrumbs and an egg to bind your ingredients, then shape into a loaf or a batch of delicious meatballs.
Sausage is also commonly used in Italian dishes and can consist of pork, chicken, lamb, and even duck meat. Sausage and peppers are a favorite meal amongst Italians are traditionally combined. When cooking sausage combined with other veggies, it’s merely called “sausage and peppers.” It’s prepared by frying sausage along with onions and red and green peppers in olive oil until the sausage is cooked through and the vegetables are tender and bright. This flavorful meat and vegetable mixture can be added to scrambled eggs and diced potatoes to create a “frittata,” which is similar to an omelet or crustless quiche. A frittata makes an excellent side dish on its own or a satisfying sandwich by folding your ingredients into a sliced hero roll topped with ketchup or mustard.
Another favorite way to enjoy meats in Italian food is to serve it “alla parmigiana. ” Chicken Parmesan is a pan-fried chicken breast topped with gooey mozzarella cheese and warm tomato sauce. It can be prepared in a pan or baked in a dish. Italians brought the idea for this from Europe when they began immigrating to the U.S, but Chicken Parmesan actually originated in America, not in Italy, and we’ve been enjoying it here since around the turn of the 20th century. By contrast, Eggplant Parmesan, or “melanzane alla parmigiana” is an authentic Italian recipe from Italy. Eggplants are lightly breaded and fried, topped with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese, and then baked into a mouth-watering feast.
For a meal rich with classic Italian flavors, pick an Italian dish for your family’s new favorite weeknight dinner. Here at Yummly, we have hundreds of the best Italian recipes for you to choose from. Mangiamo!