Read on to see what 7 Italian foods I thought were the real deal until Italian food blogger and culinary tour guide Monica Cesarato put an end to it setting things straight about our so-called favourite 'Italian' foods.
1. Pepporoni Pizza
Want some spicy salami slices on your pizza? Then don’t ask for ‘pepperoni’ in Italy - it’s the plural for peppers, so you’ll end up with a pizza covered in grilled peppers. “If you want to order a ‘pepperoni’ pizza in Italian, then you have to ask for ‘salame piccante’ (spicy salami),” counsels Cesarato.
2. Penne Alfredo
This is a definite no-no in Italy, according to Cesarato. Legend has it that, back in the 1920s, an Italian brought a similar dish over to America that was cooked with butter and sage. However, possibly short of ingredients one day, he substituted cream for the butter and parsley for the sage. Presumably his patrons liked it because the dish is now common in English-speaking countries. Not in Italy, though. As for the chicken element of the Anglo Penne Alfredo – “Just don’t go there,” sighs Cesarato. “In Italy, the only chicken you put in pasta is livers and kidneys when you make a ragù sauce. But that’s about as far as we go.”
3. Spaghetti Carbonara with cream
“Carbonara is definitely never cooked with cream in Italy,” says Cesarato. “And it should only be cooked with guanciale (pork cheek).” If you can’t get hold of this, then some pancetta will do. Other genuine Italian tips: the cheese should be either Pecorino or Parmesan. Crack the egg (Cesarato suggests using about one egg yolk per person but some Italians also use a whole egg) over the top of the pasta.
4. Garlic bread
The idea that this could ever be considered Italian is particularly perplexing to Cesarato. “It’s strange because a baguette is not even Italian in the first place,” she says. Italians, of course, rub their garlic bread to make bruschetta. “It’s easy to spread the garlic on Tuscan bread, but try it on any other sort and it just breaks apart,” says Cesarato. “Maybe that’s why English people use garlic butter.”
5. Spaghetti with meatballs
“Oh God!” sighs Cesarato. “Well, this is definitely not Italian.” The dish was probably created by Italian immigrants who moved to the US in the early 20th century. Unable to find good-quality tomatoes, they added meat – which was cheap and readily available – to the sauce in order to make it sweeter and thicker. Traditionally, however, meatballs, or ‘polpette’ as they are known in Italy, are served either as a starter or a main course with potatoes, vegetables or beans. “But definitely not with pasta!”
6. Italian Dressing
You may have come across this orange-coloured concoction of corn syrup, vinegar, vegetable oil and bell peppers on British or American supermarket shelves. But there’s nothing “Italian” about it, says Cesarato. “In Italy, there’s really only one way of making dressing: by mixing olive oil and balsamic vinegar – or occasionally red or white wine vinegar.” You can either drizzle this directly on to the salad or mix it beforehand. “Italian food is simple. I don’t know why the Americans and the British love to complicate things,” grumbles Cesarato.
7. Spaghetti Bolognese
In Anglo countries, spaghetti Bolognese is a classic. For Italians, it’s a heinous crime against food. Cesarato suspects that the dish came into being during the Second World War, when American and British soldiers passed through Bologna and tried ‘tagliatelle al ragù’. Probably because they didn’t know its name, they dubbed the sauce “Bolognese” and later substituted the spaghetti for the tagliatelle. “But the sauce just doesn’t stick properly to spaghetti,” Cesarato points out. “In Italy, you’d only serve ragù with pasta like tagliatelle, fettuccine or maccheroni.” Don’t even get her started on the sauce... “We generally use pork with a little beef, some garlic, a little tomato sauce, onions, celery, carrots and wine - but definitely no herbs or chilli,” she says. Oh, and you have to slow-cook it for three hours.