Guest blog: Jeff
In my opinion, the thing that makes food Italian is first to ensure it is being prepared by an authentic Italian using authentic Italian ingredients.
In an informal survey, when asked “What’s your favorite Italian food?” the majority of the replies were spaghetti. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the types of menu items an authentic Italian restaurant will provide to its customers.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, all seven continents, including the country of Italy. In Italy, eating at a restaurant is like eating in someone’s home. You can smell the food being prepared in the kitchen, and you know that is being prepared fresh. The owners and staff not only take your order but treat you like family. Eating Italian is not a rushed event, there’s wine, appetizers, conversation, entree, wine, conversation, dessert, wine, and - maybe - coffee.
Eating at home, or rather in the states, my favorite Italian restaurants are those who have brought the old world charm with them. It’s not about a rushed fast food world, it’s about the choice of quality ingredients and homemade preparation, along with being treated like family.
Quality ingredients are paramount. You can’t just use Sysco pasta for the plated dish. No, it’s needs to be made fresh, rolled out and cut to just the right size whether it’s long pasta like barbina or bucatini, ribbon cut pasta like fettuccine or lasagne, or short cut pasta like marcaroni.
Cheese, let’s not forget the cheese! (No - I’m not going to be cheap and ask the childish question: “who cut the cheese?”) Whether it’s mozzarella or parmigiano, reggiano (which has been produced more or less the same way for over nine centuries) it must be of high quality and fresh. In many cases, for the simple Italian dish the cheese stands alone. Look at a Caprese Salad - one MUST have fresh tomatoes and great mozzarella covered in basil and oregano.
Perhaps we can thank Anthony’s mother from the famous Prince spaghetti commercial or Ragu for coining the phrase “That’s Italian!” which makes us fuse tomato sauce with Italian food. Yes, there’s no doubt sauces can be an integral part of an Italian recipe but it doesn’t have to be red! What about pesto or alfredo? Bolognese or white clam sauce? But if it must be red, how about a spicy red sauce if you’re tired of the old world marinara? Choices… fresh choices… authentic Italian.
As I stated, I’ve traveled all over and there are a few places I know to go when thinking about an authentic Italian meal. When I’m in Chicago - it’s Caro Mio Italian Restaurant. In Beverly Hills - Il Fornaio. In Ann Arbor - Silvio’s Organic Ristorante e Pizzeria. Join me sometime.