Without a doubt, eating in Italy is a highlight of visiting or living here.
Italians are passionate about their cuisine. Indeed, there is a close link between cuisine and family. Recipes are passed down the generations from mother to daughter (it is still unusual to find Italian men cooking – even into adulthood they are looked after by their Mama until their wife takes over the responsibility).
Food is an integral part of family life. Children are expected to be home for dinner. As adults they are expected to return home to their mother’s table for Sunday lunch.
One of our neighbours, a 76-year old, starts in the kitchen around 8am each day preparing lunch for her three grown up children, their spouses and grandchildren. Each lunch consists of a variety of antipasti, a pasta dish, often al forno(baked), and then the main meat dish , followed by a dolce and a digestivo – often limoncello or amaro (a bitter herbal liquer).
Italian dishes are usually simple. They don’t rely on fancy sauces or fancy ingredients. What makes the difference is the quality of the ingredients. That’s why I’m not as great a cook as my friends think when they visit and why they can’t quite replicate the recipe when they return home.
Most of the Italians we know own land and grow fruit and vegetables. They make their own passata from the tomatoes they grow themselves. With love and patience. That simple sauce is rich, full of flavour. With a drizzle of Pugliese olive oil, some torn fresh basil and a sprinkling of grated rodez or altamura cheese (parmesan is more a staple of northern Italy, changing to pecorino as you travel south) even the simplest of pasta dishes is transformed into something quite glorious.