Perhaps more than any other type of national cuisine, Italian food is revered and beloved around the world. The country’s propensity for pastas, soft spot for sauces, and adoration for appetizers (or rather, hors d’oeuvres) have combined to make Italian food a theme that countless restaurants and home chefs everywhere try to recreate. You can even learn the art of Italian cooking from Udemy, through our acclaimed “Cooking in Italian” course. By default, the class is taught mostly in Italian, to help you cultivate the most exotic and authentic cuisine experience possible, though English translation is available.
However, while the Italian food tradition has successfully spread its tendrils everywhere – from fast food joints like Fazolis to chain restaurants like Olive Garden, all the way to more authentic (and expensive) luxury restaurants in seemingly every city in North America – countless facts about Italian cuisine remain unknown or misunderstood by the general public. Here are just a few of them.
1. Fettuccini alfredo is not traditional Italian cuisine.
Spaghetti and meatballs? Quintessential Italian cuisine. Lasagna? Same. Fettuccini Alfredo, on the other hand, is not traditional Italian fare. In fact, the cheesy, creamy Alfredo pasta that so many of us have enjoyed at Olive Garden or other Italian restaurants in the United States is not a common dish in Italy itself. The pasta recipe didn’t even originate until 1914, when a chef named Alfredo di Lelio created it as a trademark menu item at his eponymous restaurant, Alfredo. Alfredo di Lelio eventually opened a restaurant in New York, where his dish because famous and was quickly imitated and replicated by other chefs. However, in Italy, Fettuccini Alfredo remains Alfredo di Lelio’s recipe and most chefs have not added it to their menus.
2. Traditional Italian pizza virtually always has thin crust
Though it’s a widely known fact that pizza is a dish that originated in Italy, American cooks have played around with the formula so much over the years that most of the pizzas ordered on this side of the Atlantic in any given day actually bear little resemblance to the pizza eaten in Italy. Most of the disparity is due to the crust, which on authentic Italian pizzas is virtually always thin. It goes without saying that Chicago-style deep dish is an entirely American variation on an Italian dish, but as it turns out, the same is true for most of the pizzas served by big chains like Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, or Dominoes. If you go to an authentic Italian restaurant, either in the United States or on a vacation in Italy, expect thinner crusts.
3. Pepperoni pizza is also an American variation on Italian cuisine
Speaking of ordering pizza while on vacation in Italy, don’t ask for a pepperoni pizza and expect to get the same type of topping you are used to. In the Italian language, the word “peperoni” means “bell pepper,” so an order for a “peperoni pizza” will yield a spicy, thin-crust pizza loaded with peppers. In fact, the standard pepperoni pizza as we know it in the United States doesn’t even exist in Italy. “Pepperoni” is an entirely American type of salami sausage, usually made from a mixture of pork and beef.
4. Pronunciation of Italian cuisine is frequently butchered by Americans.
If you take Udemy’s course on speaking Italian like an Italiano, you will not only learn to read the Italian language and carry on a basic conversation in Italian, but you will also realize how frequently most Americans butcher the pronunciation of Italian words. This pronunciation is especially common in Italian restaurants, where dishes like gnocchi and bruschetta are frequently ordered with Americanized utterances that would drive Italian chefs crazy. If you want to order Italian food in Italy without making a fool of yourself, make sure you have the pronunciation of a few key food words down pat, from the aforementioned terms to others like prosciutto and hors d’oeuvres.
5. Pasta really can be over- or undercooked – and you can tell by tossing it at the wall!
It goes without saying that pasta can be undercooked, a fact to which anyone who has ever eaten stiff or overly chewy spaghetti or penne noodles can attest. However, overcooking pasta is also a big concern in Italy, where the term “al dente” is household language to describe the moment in a pasta cooking cycle when the noodles have reached the perfect level of preparation. Believe it or not, Italian chefs actually do judge the al dente perfection of their spaghetti by throwing noodles against the wall to see if they stick. As soon as sticking is achieved, the noodles are done. Be careful with this method though, because pasta will also stick to the wall when it is overcooked. And while slightly overcooked spaghetti will probably taste fine when piled high with tomato sauce, meatballs, and parmesan cheese, it actually is inferior in ways other than taste: studies have shown that overcooked pasta is more difficult to process and digest than pasta cooked to al dente perfection.
Explore Italian Cuisine
Ultimately, while knowing facts and misconceptions about Italian cuisine (and can help you greatly to know the proper etiquette of ordering food in Italy itself), the most important thing is for you to explore everything Italian food has to offer and find the dishes that you and your family love most along the way.
Whether you are trying to choose an entree from a restaurant menu full of delicious options, preparing a massive multi-course meal for visiting family members, or simply trying to impress a date by cooking him or her a delicious dinner at home, Italian food may have all the answers you need. Take this Udemy course to learn basic cooking techniques for a date, or check out this blog post to discovery a number of surprisingly healthy and deliciously delectable Italian dishes. With a few trustworthy resources, a bit of practice, and a passionate enthusiasm for learning everything there is to know about Italian food, you will discover recipes that you want to continue cooking for the rest of your life.