Whose mouth doesn't water when thinking about Italian cuisine? It conjures up images of vineyards and rolling hills, beautiful cities and culture, and of course simple and complex flavors of food and wine that bring comfort and joy unlike any other country's cuisine.
Having watched and learned how Italians cook and entertain during various stints at Italian cooking schools and extensive visits to Italy, I have boiled it down to 6 simple ways to bring Italian flair to your own table.
1. Source local and seasonal produce and resources. Italians use what's local and seasonal in their dishes. Incorporate local produce, honey, oils, wines or whatever else your region is known for.
2. Perfect your Signature Dishes. Define your own signature dishes that are prepared often with care and love. Serve them with pride. Everyone has experienced the anticipation of dinner at a favorite Aunt's house who has been making the same dish for ages. There is no need to always try out new recipes. There is comfort in familiarity.
3. Meals should be Lingering Experiences. Dining is not to be rushed. Your guests and family are there to enjoy divine food, laughter, thoughtful conversation, and lots of Vino. American restaurants are notorious for making us feel rushed. Relax, breathe, and enjoy the evening.
4. Reduce Food Waste. Same ingredients are used until they are gone. Food waste is kept to a minimum. For instance, today's fresh bread is used tomorrow in a tomato and stale bread dish called Panzanella salad or as an extender in a Tuscan soup called Ribolita. With a little weekly menu planning, food waste is kept to a minimum, which is economical as well.
5. Start with a cured meat and cheese plate served with some bruschetta. An Italian house will always have cure meats and cheeses handy at all times. Wine is never served without something to nibble on to bring out the taste of the wine.
6. Serve Dishes in Several Courses, but Keep it Simple. Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contoni, and Dolce are all the courses Italians can include in a meal, but that’s a lot.
Keep it simple and serve a pasta/polenta/risotto(Primi) or a protein (Secondi) with a vegetable side (Contorni).
A beautiful dish is a large bowl or board of creamy polenta below a meat ragu or sauteed garlic mushrooms. Michael Chiarello's Table of Polenta makes a delectable dish perfect to serve at a dinner party.
Keep portions for each course small, so that flavors are savored and tasted, and guests leave satisfied but not uncomfortably full.
The vegetable sides are very simple. Either grilled eggplant and/or zucchini or sauteed garlic spinach is delightful.
And for dessert, something simple and divine is an Affogato, vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso on top. You can use anything you like, try creamy coffee or chocolate liqueur. Tiramisu is an Italian classic dessert that never gets old.
And at the end, top it off with a Lemoncello or Grappa (Degestif)
Now you have an traditional Italian or Italian inspired feast.