by Charlie Reese

The signatures of authentic Italian food, a culinary delight indeed

Here in the United States, Italian food is a beloved favorite of millions. It should be noted that, over the years, many Italian restaurants have adapted many of their recipes to appeal to American tastes. Pizza and spaghetti are but two classic examples. Here, we’re used to massive amounts of meats, veggies, cheese and sauce on the standard pizza. American style spaghetti is also loaded with meat and sauce. While still delicious, this can’t truly be called authentic Italian food. Here we attempt to describe the basic signatures of authentic Italian food.

Simplicity is just one of the hallmarks of authentic Italian food. Contrasting pizza in America with that served in Italy reveals almost two entirely different dishes. In Italy, you won’t find a five-pound pizza such as we love to buy for a Friday night family feast. The American version of pizza is usually offered in thin, thick, deep-dish and double stuffed versions. Even the thin crust pizza cannot compare in delicacy and flavor to the authentic Italian pizza.

Perhaps because there is so much piled on top of the American style pizza, you may not even notice the flavor of the crust. The Italian pizza has very little tomato sauce, thick and freshly made, spread thinly on the crust and only a few toppings in far more frugal amounts than we are used to seeing on our pizza. This simplicity and apparent sparsity allows the flavors of each ingredient to come out, making for an absolutely heavenly treat for your palate. With fewer and less of the toppings, fresh seasonings are perfectly matched to the other ingredients.

Another key to authentic Italian food is that Italians are fanatical about using only ingredients which are in season, so much so that Italian cook books are generally organized by season, rather than by categories such as salads, entrees and desserts. Italian cooks tend to shop daily for the produce and meats that will be served that day. Most people have herb gardens, no matter how small, to supply all of the seasonings. Seasonal and as fresh as possible is essential in the making of authentic Italian food.

Another characteristic of authentic Italian food is that the presentation must be artistic. You’ll never see a plate loaded up with an entree, pasta and side dish all on the same platter. Food is served in courses, each with its own plate, to be eaten separately. Thus, cold dishes stay cold and hot dishes are properly hot, eaten in sequence instead of languishing on a single plate until you get to each dish in turn.

Wine is usually served with both lunch and dinner. There are dozens of locally produced wines, each with its own special character. Italian cooks are expert in pairing wine and food, thus enhancing the intensity and flavor of both.

The last signature of authentic Italian food is also found in every Italian restaurant, around the world. That would be the hospitality with which it’s served!

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