It’s easy to experience the la dolce vita ("the sweet life") when eating Italian food. From arancini to zabaglione – and everything in between – the country’s diverse spread of fresh, rich and sweet fare is incredibly hard to ignore. Sure in Australia we’ve misinterpreted a few of the classics. Bolognese, for instance, is traditionally served with thick egg pasta like tagliatelle not spindlyspaghetti. And pizza isn’t a place for pineapple or a heavy-handed version of “the lot”. Thankfully times are changing. Wood-fired pizzerias and authentic pasta bars are popping up across the country, while talented chefs like O Tama Carey show us the lighter and brighter sides to Italian cooking with recipes for olive oil cake, snapper crudo and tomato-watermelon salad.
Cucina povera or “peasant cooking” is an Italian food philosophy, particularly prominent in the south. Centred on making more with less, this creative cooking style is popularised by figures such as Mario Batali and Silvia Colloca. Northern Italy, meanwhile, is influenced by the culinary traditions of surrounding nations, including France and Germany. More affluent than their southern cousins, Italians from this region are able to cook with richer ingredients, such as truffle and cream, and add eggs to their pasta.
Pasta, obviously, is a must. Make your own with 00 flour, salt, water and eggs, or stock a range of long and short pastas to match with thick or thin pastas (guide below). Buy good-quality balsamic vinegar, olive oil (for cooking) and extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling and dipping into). Tomatoes are another necessity, so stock up on passata, canned and fresh varieties. For the fridge, think mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan; and a selection of olives.
Golden rule: Make sure your water is boiling (and generously salted) before adding pasta. Stir once then cook for 7 minutes (if fresh) or to the packet’s instructions.
Hello sweetness: When cooking tomatoes in a sauce, check the sweetness levels. If it’s a little acidic, add sugar for balance.
Liquid gold: Adding olive oil to pasta cooking water is a no-no. Only use it to dress the pasta once its been drained.
Get in shape: Delicate pasta shapes are best paired with thinner, subtle sauces; tubular or irregular-shaped pastas like to mingle with chunky sauces; and small pasta shapes, such as risoni, belong in soups.
Hands on: Tear basil leaves with your fingers rather than chopping with a knife. Steel oxidises the herb, turning its edges black.
View our Italian recipe collection here.
This is a fresh and delicate little raw fish number. The sweetness and crunch of the watermelon is excellent with the gentle flavour of the snapper while the hint of chilli and the caper saltiness add a little extra oomph.
"After a long day fishing this is my go-to style meal. I generally pick any lettuce or vegetable from my garden that may complement the dish. If I catch another species of fish that isn’t red mullet, then I use that. It’s fresh, healthy and clean!" André Ursini, Poh & Co. 2