The Italian Plate: What is the real taste of Italy?
Michael Palin said “I am not a great cook, I am not a great artist, but I love art and I love food so that makes me a great traveller” and we agree- food is at the heart of any great trip. We wanted to recreate that experience of discovery, that first bite of a new dish in this series of interviews. Over four weeks, we’ll be talking to international foodies living and working in the UK to get an insight into the cuisine they were brought up on. This week, we’ll be looking at the Italian plate with the lovely Anna Marin.
Hi Anna, where did your love of Italian Cuisine come from?
I grew up in Venice in the North-East of Italy and was always in the kitchen growing up. Italian people have a very strong culinary education. It’s part of your daily routine. Cooking fits seamlessly in your day, it isn’t just a chore to make your dinner. You dedicate an hour or two every day to cooking with your family. It was part of the inspiration behind my business, Little Yam.
That’s interesting. In what way?
Little Yam helps children create healthy food habits for later in life, by using simple recipes that are designed around story-telling. They aren’t Italian recipes, but the idea is rooted in that early schooling I had as a child. For me, doing was the best way to learn and that’s at the heart of Little Yam. It’s fun too- which helps![laughs].
What is the difference between the relationship we have with food in the UK compared to Italy?
It’s probably more common to grow fresh fruit and veg in our gardens in Italy. In saying that, the UK has a stronger farming heritage and people have a better idea about where their meat comes from. In general though, the connection Italian people have with food is very deep. Cooking is a part of every Italian, you won’t find anyone that doesn’t know how to cook simple dishes. Our Christmas dinners are quite different as well. My boyfriend, Giovanni’s family are from Milan and are very traditional. Aunties, cousins, everyone will help make fresh pasta on the 24th and then they’ll eat it for lunch on the 25th.
So celebrations are centred around food more?
Yes! Even just for a normal night out. In the UK, people will go to the pub for a night out but in Italy, we always go out for dinner. Dinners take centre-stage, even for young people. We’re all thinking about what amazing food we’re going to have, the drink comes second!
What dish would you typically make at home?
Like most Italians, I have pasta everyday and I also make a lot of pizza. It’s basically just flour and water so it’s easy to make and it’s good fun too.
What is a traditional Venetian dish?
The east coast has a strong fishing heritage. So I’d say a seafood linguine, maybe with mussels.
What is the traditional taste of Italy?
Italy as we know it now is only 150 years old, so cuisine is still quite regional. Most of what we recognise as typically Italian: pizza, tomato sauces etc, comes from the south.
It isn’t uncommon to hear that mothers in the north didn’t use tomato sauce until the 1960’s. Before that, they would have just had pasta with butter. I’m talking about the working class generation after WWII. Northern Italy is actually very influenced by Austrian and German food. In the east, where I’m from, we share a lot with Slovenia- a lot of cabbage and butter rather than olive oil.
What are your food recommendations for visitors to Italy?
If you’re going to Italy, try the smaller places and avoid the chains. There are so many small, family run restaurants that will blow you away. If you want to try the best Italy can offer, stick with simple dishes. The Italian kitchen is very poor, meaning it thrives on a few basic ingredients- pasta, tomatoes, flour. It’s never been a very rich country and the culinary tradition reflects that- just simple, fresh ingredients. A visit to Italy is a chance to eat food grown in the same area that its served.
For a taste d’Italia, try Anna’s delectable risotto recipe:
INGREDIENTS: (Serves 4)
1 glass of white wine
150g Grana Padano cheese (Any parmesan will do)
300 grams of Arborio rice.
2g Saffron powder
1L Vegetable stock
Add in the rice, allowing it to absorb the butter. Increase the heat and pour in the wine until it evaporates. Then add 2 ladles of hot stock, stirring constantly. When the stock is almost absorbed, add 2 more ladles.
In the last 5 minutes of cooking, dissolve the saffron in a glass of stock, pour it in the rice and mix well. Once the rice has reached the desired cooking,remove it from the heat and whip in the grated Parmesan cheese and the remaining butter. At this point, taste the rice and add salt if necessary.:Before serving, it is best to leave it to rest for a moment, so that it can absorb the taste further. Sprinkle the saffron on top to decorate.
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.
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