So you think you know Italian food...but do you really?
Spaghetti Bolognese, Fettuccine Alfredo, Chicken Parmigiana, Pepperoni Pizza...if you think these are authentic Italian dishes then no, you really don't know Italian food. The popular dishes that most people perceive to be Italian are in fact Italian-American or Italian-British dishes which don't actually exist in Italy. There are so many misconceptions out there - they grace the pages of glossy cookery books and magazines, they are showcased by celebrity TV chefs and they feature in TV shows like 'The Sopranos'. In Europe our supermarket shelves are lined with fake Italian products with names like 'Dolmio', 'Olivio', 'Pamesello', 'Miracoli' etc which use Italian sounding brand names to fool us into believing that they are the real deal, whilst in the US only around 2% of so-called Italian products actually come from Italy.
Exposed: Spaghetti Bolognese - as British as a bag of Fish and Chips! With so much demand from Brits travelling to Italy's tourist hot-spots, 'touristy' restaurants have actually had to put this British staple on their menus to keep the tourists happy. Real Bolognese sauce is something quite different and would never be served with Spaghetti - besides, most Brits probably wouldn't eat it as it can contain minced offal.
Your local high-street Italian restaurant probably won't win any prizes when it comes to authenticity either. The truth is many Italian restaurant owners and chefs may never have tasted true Italian food! This is as a direct consequence of the DIASPORA (mass economic emigration) from Italy of around 25 million southern Italians, which took place from 1860 to 1980. This mass migration has resulted in at least 250 million people world-wide (including me) now claiming Italian descent. My family were part of the Diaspora. During the late 1890's several of my great-uncles and their families left poverty-stricken Corleone, Sicily to seek prosperity in the USA, then in the late 1950's some of my aunts and uncles left to join a fledgling Italian community in Bristol, UK. My father joined them in 1962. Time and distance from mother Italy, diverse cultural influences, economic prosperity and, more significantly, the substitution of scarce Italian produce for a wide range of ingredients including beef, butter, cream etc has meant that the simple regional cooking that the great-grandparents took with them to their new countries has evolved into completely different cuisines.
Over the generations I and many other Italian descendants have tried very hard to preserve our Italian ethnicity and cultural heritage; our Italian pride is unquestionable - especially the pride we have in our food! I was very fortunate to be brought up between England and Sicily and my family home is in Sicily since my father returned for good in the 1980's. Unfortunately many other Italian descendants (especially those born in the USA, Australia and South American countries) aren't as lucky and have sadly never been able to set foot on Italian soil due to the vast distance and the huge travel costs involved, hence many have grown up with a completely different ideology of Italian food to that which actually exists in Italy.
Exposed: Chicken Fettucine Alfredo - Americans are conviced that it's as Roman as the Colosseum - sorry, but it's more Brooklyn Bridge! Romans do eat an Alfredo dish, but it is simply pasta mixed with a little butter and parmesan - and not widely eaten in the rest of Italy. The chicken is another clue as to the authenticity of this dish: from northern to southern Italy nobody would ever dream of putting CHICKEN on pasta or pizza. Ask an Italian about pasta with chicken and see how they respond...
It's not surprising that like everything else American (McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, Coca-Cola etc) Italian-American style food has proved to be as popular not only in the west but worldwide. It's this style of Italian cuisine that you are most likely to encounter on the menus of many high street restaurants outside Italy; Italian-American cuisine is one more hugely successful American brand that has managed to dominate the globe - yet in reality it is very different to the food that is actually eaten in Italy. Make no mistake, Pepperoni Pizza, Spaghetti Meatballs, Fettuccine Alfredo etc aren't Italian at all! They are dishes that are as American as the Quarter-Pounder Burger with Fries. It's not a criticism - it's simply a fact. I understand that taken out of Italy Italian food had to evolve differently in other countries; I'm also certain that it's very tasty and delicious - because after all, it does have its roots in Italy. My problem is with food that claims to be 'authentic Italian' when it's an adaptation or an invention. Italian-American food writer John Mariani writes that "We thought we were eating authentic Italian food, because the dishes were the same ones all the other Italian families we knew cooked and ate. But in reality, our cuisine was an American invention: an amalgam of hearty, rustic dishes brought here, primarily by southern Italian immigrants, then adapted and embellished upon in American kitchens." Many other Italian-American award-winning chefs also acknowledge this fact and are striving for respect, recognition and a classification for their own style of cuisine - one that separates Italian-American culinary heritage from that that of native Italian and celebrates it in its own right. John Mariani also writes that "...so many chefs have been returning to Italian-American classics recently, preparing them with a new-found zeal and sense of respect". Well I and many others feel exactly the same way about genuine Italian food; I'd love to see people returning to those true and authentic Italian dishes and to see them prepared with the same ‘new-found zeal and sense of respect' that they deserve...
To read more of John Mariani's interesting article, please click on the link http://www.saveur.com/article/Travels/Italian-American-Food.
Exposed: Spaghetti Meatballs - as American as a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Fries! This is going to upset many people, but this popular Italian-American dish really does not exist in Italy. In southern Italy there is a BAKED pasta dish containing very tiny meatballs (about the size of a thumb nail), but the big ones are eaten on their own and never placed on top of Spaghetti or any other type of pasta.
Returning to those true and authentic dishes is very hard though, as the media continues to bombard us with the same old tired misconceptions. These days you can't switch on the TV without seeing a cookery show; Italian recipes are more popular than ever, whilst Italian recipe books top the book charts. It seems that every 'celebrity' chef has something to say or write on the subject as they urge us to cook in a more 'authentic' Italian style. In the UK shows with names like 'Buonissimo' and more recently 'Simply Italian' invites us to "cook authentic Italian family dishes like a true aficionado". At least the very popular 'Nigelissima' show is more honest in its promise to "conjure up the passion and simplicity of Italian cooking, with an English-twist". It's so frustrating; the hype and publicity behind these TV shows and best-selling books (like Italian-British Gino D'acampo's 'Fantastico!') screams 'authentic' at us - yet time and time again they are showing us "how NOT to cook 'authentic' Italian food" as they continue to showcase dishes in the Italian-American style. It's the over-use of that word authentic that I have a problem with - it promises truth yet continues to deliver the same old misrepresentations.
Exposed: UK TV's 'Simply Italian' Michela Chiappa - apparently she knows "the secrets of authentic bolognese" and promises an "authentic meaty sauce". Promises, promises, promises! It was all going well until Michela decided to drop two stock-cubes into her 'authentic' meat sauce. The show should be renamed 'Simply NOT Italian'! The British loved it but Italians crucified poor Michela, with negative comments all over social network sites and cooking forums etc. If only she hadn't used the word 'authentic' to describe her recipes...
Since so many dishes claim to be 'authentic' how can YOU tell the difference?
Easy! The ideology behind authentic Italian food is that of natural simplicity: simple healthy uncomplicated dishes made with a few local and seasonal ingredients. The food may vary from northern to southern Italy but the nature and philosophy behind every dish is always that LESS IS MORE.
By contrast the dishes that are generally perceived to be Italian are very rich and use many different 'blockbuster' ingredients. Tomato sauce and garlic (the ultimate Italian clichés) seem to be the base for about 90% of this type of modified 'Italian' cuisine, as well as an unhealthy amount of butter, cream, red meat, processed meats and cheeses etc.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: For thousands of years Italian people enjoyed the good health associated with a healthy diet, so it's no surprise then that as dishes containing higher quantities of red meat, cream, butter etc have slowly started to creep into Italian shopping trolleys, that obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc levels have started to creep up as well.
La Cucina Siciliana...
'La Siciliana' focuses on the family recipes of the south, or rather the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sicily. I'll leave northern Italian cuisine safely in the hands of my Lombardian and Piedmontese cousins - although you might see the odd recipe pop up now and again.
- I would like to introduce readers to the healthy natural food that is actually eaten in Italy by Italian families.
- I would like readers to throw away the hype and everything else they think they know about 'Italian' food, and get back to the basics of real Italian cuisine.
- I would like to showcase the beautiful island of Sicily: its rich culture, vibrant colours and its simple but delicious cuisine.
Sicilian cuisine, because of its simplicity and limited ingredients, is often defined by professional chefs as 'rustic' rather than 'fine' dining. It may be defined as rustic, but it is never ever poor! The cuisine is driven primarily by women. They possess a passion for cooking and a wealth of knowledge passed down orally, from mother to daughter, over many centuries. In Sicily dishes are mainly composed of locally sourced ingredients such as vegetables, fish, cheese and meat, whilst the Queen of the table is of course pasta which is prepared and adorned in numerous tasty and inventive ways. If you compare Sicilian cuisine to a stage play then healthy vegetarian or fish based dishes take on the starring role; meat does have a part to play but it is usually the supporting act. Especially popular as a first course during the cooler winter months are pulses (fresh or dried broad beans, lentils and chickpeas).
Dishes are seasoned with the local sea-salt and aromatic herbs that grow in abundance on the island together with lemon juice, pine nuts, almonds, pistachios, raisins and olive oil. Dairy products such as cream and butter are hardly used at all, except in some modern sauces, pastries and cakes etc. Cold pressed unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil is purchased in refillable containers from the local olive farmer and rarely from a supermarket. It is thick, deep green and cloudy. It is used in place of butter to cook and bake with, as well as to dress food. In this pure cold pressed unfiltered form its health giving benefits are well documented by scientists whose research reveals that eating a Mediterranean diet, rich in extra-virgin olive oil, cuts the chances of those at risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30%.
So throw away the hype and everything else you think you know about 'Italian' food, get into your kitchen and start cooking the authentic family recipes that are actually eaten in Italy...
'La Siciliana' is a work in progress; I have many more recipes to add which will need cooking and photographing (and eating!) So please bookmark me and keep checking back for new recipes and ideas...
"To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything." Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Direktimport von Feinkostspezialitäten, Olivenöl und Orangen aus Sizilien. In Germany? Want the best Sicilian produce such as OLIVE OIL, ORANGES, HONEY etc. Then 'Mediterrane Produkte' will deliver direct to your home or business. Please click here for more information.
'Casale La Zagara' affordable holiday apartments situated in Sciacca, Sicily. For more information and to make a reservation, please click here.
"I adore your website. My family are from neighbouring Calabria & Basilicata. Thank you so very much for sharing this lovely website with us...this touches my heart to the very core."
Gina - McLean, USA
"I'm a chef working at the _______ I'm massively passionate about Italian food and was directed to your website - I think it is fantastico!!!"
Tim - Bristol, UK
"My family is originally from Sciacca and I love your website and recipes...
"Nat - New York, USA
"I just like to say that your site is very nice" Mustafa - Tripoli, Libya
"Hey, I just found your site for the first time...I have to say it's just wonderful. I'm in foodie heaven! That's all really, keep up the great work! Matt (www.pasta-recipes-made-easy.com) -
“I took a look at your wonderful website and I can't wait to try the recipes. Sciacca looks beautiful from the pictures..."
Patricia - Connecticut, USA
"...love your website! It is cool..."
Susann - Amsterdam, Holland
"This site is fantastic!!!"
Alethea - South Africa
"Your website is great! I can't wait to try some of the wonderful recipes..."
Kathy - Cleveland, USA
"We tried the Pasta con Ricotta e Spinaci. Delicious!! Adding the recipe to our list of pasta dishes."
Juanita - Ohio, USA
"This is a great work you have achieved. Now, you have made me hungry for the rest of the day...will tackle some of your recipes!"
Stephane - Madrid, Spain
"I was so pleased to find your web-site and see your father mentioned. He taught me so much at the Inner Man and Cul de Sac when I began my career in the 1970's. (I am pleased to say I am still in the trade and work as a Head Chef)."
John - United Kingdom
"I really enjoy this site - I am really interested in my roots and this helps me explore them a little more..."
Clarke - Middleburg, USA
I'm a home-cook who is passionate about cooking and is striving to bring truth and authenticity back into Italian cookery. I have an English mother and Italian father and spent my early years growing up in sunny Sciacca, a small seaside town on the south coast of the island. I now live with my husband between the UK and Belgium, but our summers are always spent at the family home in Sicily. My father is a brilliant professional chef who still lives in Sciacca with my step-mother, an equally good home cook. Add to them the formidable women of my family who have passed on to me their traditional recipes and their love and passion for cooking. They each taught me a little of everything I know...
'La Siciliana' @ Stress Relief Ltd.
Copyright © 2013. Concept & Original Content by Melanie Ruffino Killat.
Original Photography by Jörg Killat.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013. Concept & Original Content by Melanie Ruffino Killat.
Original Photography by Jörg Killat.
All rights reserved.