Let’s start with a dish that is so globally ubiquitous that it may seem frivolous to call it a treasure – pizza, of course! Modern pizza was developed in Naples, and there are many legends about how and exactly when this came about. Certainly, the idea of putting toppings on flat bread has been around since ancient times but there is something special about pizza. Purists will tell you that the simple margherita and marinara pizzas are the best. Try them for yourself when you visit Naples!

Italian food 1

Aside from pizza, the other staple food that Italy is well-known for is pasta – the invention of which the Italians cannot claim for themselves. Many people believe that it was brought to Italy from the Far East by Marco Polo but, in fact, there are references to foodstuffs that sound very much like pasta throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region dating back to ancient times. It’s what the Italians added to pasta that counts as a treasure of their own devising – all those sauces and clever ways of serving this otherwise simple food.

Two of these sauces deserve special mention. The first comes from Sicily and, although the recipe varies and every chef on the island has their own twist on the theme, caponata combines aubergines and tomatoes in a rich, sweet, sour, salty and always delicious concoction.

Italian spaghetti pesto

Moving from the southern island to the north western coast of Italy takes you to the birthplace of the second precious sauce. The place is Genoa and the sauce is pesto, a food whose wonderous, mouth-filling and immensely satisfying flavour belies the simplicity of its production. Named for the Italian word meaning ‘to crush’, that is exactly how pesto is made, by pounding basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and salt into a paste and…that’s it. The trick, of course is to ensure that the ingredients themselves are the finest quality.

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For a more luxurious pasta dish (or, indeed, a risotto), travel to Umbria, where you will find the tartufo nero (black truffle) being served in a wide variety of styles. In particular, seek out the high-end restaurants of Norcia, a town with a proud gastronomic heritage and home to some of the finest chefs in the country.

Alongside the dishes that Italy has given the world is a list of ingredients and condiments which have added so much to our dining pleasure. One area of Northern Italy has contributed more than its fair share to this list. Parmesan cheese is traditionally made in a small number of provinces which, when grouped together are referred to as Parmigiano-Reggiano. This same area has given us Parma ham and that wonderfully rich and versatile condiment, balsamic vinegar.

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A list such as this must be brought to an end somehow, otherwise pages of text could be filled with the wonders of Italian food. Were we to discuss desserts, we would need to mention Zabaione, that Northern Italian classic, consisting of nothing but egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine, or Tiramisu, which can now be found everywhere but may have originated in Venice, where you can try many versions of it and decide for yourself which you like best…if that doesn’t sound like a rather dangerous temptation.

Of course, the best way to end an Italian meal is to pour a small, chilled digestivo of limoncello – in a ceramic glass, after the fashion of the Amalfi coast. Ciao!