Food of the World: Italy

By Adria Kelly

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Italian cuisine is one of the most prestigious and established in the world. With countless rules and rigid traditions, Italian food has some of the most difficult and delectable dishes to perfect. It is impossible to cover the entire cuisine in one article due to the variation of styles throughout the cities and regions in Italy.

Nonetheless, this piece will attempt to span some of the most traditional and popular dishes.

Although the food differs drastically across the beautiful country, most chefs will agree on the ingredients that a true Italian kitchen must contain. The first of these necessities is a well-made olive oil. For the best quality, buy extra virgin olive oil.  There are no added chemicals in extra virgin olive oil, the acidity levels do not exceed 0.8 pH and the olives are cold pressed, retaining all the vitamins and minerals from the olive.

Spices like garlic, Italian parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano and sea salt are next up on the shopping list. Preferably all of the herbs should be fresh when bought, but if you’re on a tight budget, dried works too. After the spice cabinet is filled, the next item is Parmigiano-Reggiano, also known as Parmesan cheese, which adds a brilliant salty flavor to any dish. For the pantry, stock up on tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery and a dark leafy green like kale. These are often used in Italian recipes and can be multi-use ingredients for other cuisines as well. Pancetta, a type of thinly sliced dried ham, is a delicious sandwich meat found in many Italian households. If you grab even half of the list above you’ll be more than ready for a quick Italian meal any night of the week.

The first dish is called Arancini di Riso, or cheese-filled risotto balls. Arancini di Riso is from Sicily, a large island off the southern tip of Italy. Originally created as a way to use leftover risotto, it is a creamy Italian rice dish. Risotto can be a quick job with simple ingredients. My favorite recipe for risotto begins by finely dicing garlic and onions with thyme and salt to be sautéed in a pan until slightly translucent and aromatic. Add Arborio rice, chicken stock and butter and cook until butter is melted. Toss in white wine and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. For the last 15-to-20 minutes, pour in one cup of chicken stock at a time. Make sure each cup is fully absorbed before adding the next. If you’re going to eat some of the risotto before using it for the Arancini, shave Parmesan cheese on top and it is ready to go.

For the Arancini, let the risotto cool. You’re going to be hand rolling it into balls so make sure you can handle it without getting burned. Combine it with finely grated Parmesan, a touch of heavy cream, freshly minced parsley, an egg yolk, salt and pepper and mix well. Roll a croquette the size of a pingpong ball around squares of mozzarella cheese and dunk each in flour, egg wash, and roll in bread crumbs. Chill for two hours up to one day, fry in vegetable oil and enjoy.

The next dish is from central Italy in a region called Tuscany. It is a traditional soup recipe called Ribollita, or reboiled. This is a great dish to cure colds and is also helpful on a tight budget because it will last four to five days and retain the flavor. Pan-fry some sliced red onion and add diced carrots, celery, potatoes and zucchini, then cook until the vegetables have sweated out their liquid. Cover with water, just under a boil, and add shredded Swiss chard, kale, savoy cabbage and sliced leek. Cover and simmer for an hour over medium heat. Add cooked cannellini beans and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring constantly so the beans stay separated in the broth. Add tomato paste and stir until completely blended. Add slices of day-old bread, let sit it in the fridge for the night and reboil the next day.

Lastly is a dessert recipe from Lombardia, one of the northernmost regions in Italy, called Panettone. Usually a dish saved for Christmas Eve, this is the best type of fruit cake. Beat together butter, eggs, flour, milk, sugar, cream of tartar and baking soda thoroughly. Then add orange zest and currants, hand knead the dough for a few minutes, put in a buttered pan and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-to-45 minutes. This sweet bread goes great with freshly whipped heavy cream, butter, jam, tea, coffee and wine.

With deceptively complex yet rustic dishes, Italian cuisine is known all over the world for its depth of flavor. Since the recipes tend to have similar ingredients, these dishes are college student friendly and should be tried at home. Bon appetite.

Adria Kelly can be reached at [email protected]