Italian cuisine has a tradition of dishes based on wheat products (such as bread and pasta), vegetables, cheese, fish, and meat, usually prepared in such a manner as to preserve their ingredients' natural qualities, appearance, and taste.
This kind of cuisine puts a stress on lightness and healthy nutrition with natural not processed foods, and tends to vary greatly not only with the seasons but also between the various regions of the country: mountainous regions have dishes rich in proteins, and prefer meat, butter, and cheese, while seaside regions have dishes rich in vegetables and fish.
In this way, the cuisine is born of the people, the territory and the seasons, and is not pulled out of nowhere for no rhyme or reason.
Owing to its peasant roots, classic Italian cooking is inherently simple, and the cooking techniques used therein are those that were accessible to people who worked long hours and had limited resources. This explains the absence of dishes that include elements such as fine pastry or delicate sauces—things which require long, close attention and precise temperatures.
The most common techniques in Italian cooking are:
- Boiling or simmering: food is cooked in hot water. Examples of this include pastas, rice, vegetables, and tough but flavorful cuts of meat.
- Pan frying: food is quickly cooked in a small amount of very hot fat—butter or vegetable oil. This is what we commonly think of as “sautéing.” Although some dishes are cooked in larger amounts of oil—say, an inch or two—deep-fat frying, which requires a large amount of (expensive) oil is rare.
- Braising: food is browned in hot fat, then cooked in a moderate amount of flavored liquid (wine, broth or vegetable juice), most often with aromatic vegetables and other seasonings. A good example of braising is Osso Buco, braised veal shanks. In some respects, risotto is a braised dish; though similar to braising, its method of preparation is entirely unique.
- Pan roasting: similar to braising, the food is initially browned in hot fat; it is then cooked in a small amount of liquid—just enough to keep it moist. This is most often used for chicken, rabbit, and certain cuts of pork and veal—flavorful cuts of meat which are often spit-roasted or, in modern kitchens, oven-roasted.
- Grilling: food is quickly cooked over the embers of a hardwood or charcoal fire. This is used for tender, well-marbled cuts of beef and pork, small game birds, and, on the coast, certain kinds of seafood.
One may wonder “what about baked goods?” As Marcella Hazan notes in The Classic Italian Cookbook, “Reliable ovens are only a recent addition to the Italian kitchen....” As such, breads and cakes were rarely made in the home but, rather, were purchased from the local bakery. Dishes which are oven-baked, like pizza or lasagne, usually require no more than 15-20 minutes baking time to finish. These were traditionally prepared at home, then taken to the local bakery for the final baking.
Following is a list of some Italian dishes, divided into general categories.
- Pasta with Pancetta and Cauliflower
- Italian Pasta
- Lasagne con la Ricotta
- Lasagne with bean sauce
- Pasta Marinata
- Pasta e Fagioli
- Pasta al pomodoro
- Spaghetti alla carbonara
- Spaghetti alle vongole
- Spaghetti alla puttanesca
- Chicken Parmigiana - an Italian American dish not found in Italy
- Veal Parmigiana
- Ossobuco Alla Milanese
- Italian Meatballs