Friday, 13 September 2013

The 10 Italian Cooking Commandments...

Anyone who reads newspapers, Twitter or Facebook will have seen that many articles have been doing the rounds this week regarding The Academia Barilla's release of The 10 Italian Cooking Commandments which are as follows:

  1. You shall not sip cappuccino during a meal!
  2. Risotto and pasta are not a side dish
  3. You shall not add oil to pasta water
  4. Ketchup on pasta: please, don't
  5. Spaghetti Bolognese? No way, it's tagliatelle!
  6. Chicken Pasta: not in Italy
  7. "Ceasar Salad"
  8. The red and white checked tablecloth is only a stereotype!
  9. "Fettucine Alfedo" are popular only overseas
  10. You shall respect tradition and what Italian mamma says
Call me a food snob, but my first problem with this list is that it doesn't cover even half of the embarrassing Italian food faux pas that I am constantly having to explain to confused, and often horrified, Italians. I remember being mortified the first time I brought my Italian boyfriend to meet my family in the UK and my brother insisting that we go to the popular Italian chain restaurant Prezzo (which translates as price or cost in Italian). Aside from the slightly bizarre name choice, he was deeply disturbed by some of the 'Italian' dishes on the menu. Based on some of the Italian-chain restaurant horrors (they know who they are!), we decided to compile some commandments of our own which include:
  1. One does not stuff their pizza crust. Not with cheese, and particularly not with hot dog sausages! I mean, come on people, that's just wrong!
  2. Thou shalt not put chicken, steak, salmon, pineapple, sweetcorn, jalapenos, spicy minced beef, BBQ sauce and god knows what else on a pizza!
  3. Thou shalt not use thousands of ingredients. The whole secret to Italian food is that they keep it simple so stop over-gilding the lily! Pasta with gorgonzola, chicken, pancetta, leeks, broccoli and parsley* or pizza with Sausage, N'duja, chillies, roquito peppers, red & yellow peppers, mozzarella, rocket, pesto, oregano and grana padano**, it's a bit much don't you think?!
  4. There is no such thing as 'Italian nachos'. Nachos are Mexican. They always have been and they always will be, no matter how much pesto you put on top.
  5. Similarly, garlic bread is not Italian either. A baguette is french for starters! Garlic bruschetta maybe, garlic bread, no way.
  6. The tricolore salad does not contain avocado. In fact, they don't even really use avocados in Italy as they're considered a tropical fruit. The green part of the salad is meant to be basil.
  7. Carbonara does not include, onions, mushrooms, garlic or cream. And it's made with pancetta, not bacon.
  8. Pepperoni is not a type of sausage. In Italian, the word peperoni actually means peppers (yes, as in the vegetable).
  9. On a similar note,  restaurant staff could at least do some research into the correct pronunciation of common words such as bruschetta (pronounced brus-ket-ta) or prosciutto (pro-shoot-toe).
  10. Finally, the biggest misunderstanding of all has probably got to be regarding the organization of an Italian menu. It's completely different to that of any other nation in that they have antipasti (bruschetta, meats, cheeses etc) then a primo (usually either pasta or rice) then secondo (fish, meat or vegetarian dish) and contorni (side dishes of vegetables or salad) followed by fruit, desert and, finally, coffee. I'm not saying you have to order them all but it could at least be acknowledged that they exist!

It's not that I'm a some crazy purist when it comes to Italian food, I love a bit of fusion cooking as much as the next person, what annoys me is that these restaurants, supermarkets and even TV chefs put the label of 'Italian' on something that is quite clearly not Italian at all! I almost have respect for places like Domino's because, although they may have taken the pizza and completely butchered it, at least they don't claim to be making 'authentic' Italian food. Just yesterday, I cooked an 'English Carbonara' for my Italian family and they loved it. My problem isn't with adapting recipes, it's with the fact that the British nation seems to have had the wool pulled over their eyes not only in terms of Italian food, but foreign cuisine in general.

*Fusilli gorgonzola - Prezzo
** Pizza Calabrese - Pizza Express


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  2. I think wherever you go, people tend to take a dish they have had before and make it their own. It is a compliment really that they have enjoyed that cuisine, and attempt to adapt it to whatever ingredients they have accessible to them locally. I personally love authentic Italian, and was lucky enough to grow up in an area that had a large Italian immigrant population so you could always find fresh Italian ingredients, but not everyone is that lucky. I love English Bolognese for example

    Totally agree hotdog stuff pizza crust is an abomination, but really, I think pizza is one of those items that so many cultures have a version of, and each enjoy their own version. Even the Italians seem to really differ on the subject if Rome and Naples are anything to go by.

    While I tend to cringe when someone wants to take me to an "American" restaurant in the UK as I know it will be nothing like home, I think sometimes someone will have a spin on a dish I really like that will make it that much better. I love to experience all types of cuisines in all countries. Heck I happen to love Chicken tikka masala and that was a dish created here in the UK, and I wouldn't have it any other way. :-)

    1. I couldn't agree more Steph! As I said, my English Carbonara went down a storm with the Italians! I just wish that these chain restaurants would throw the term 'authentic' around a little less if they're going to put an English spin on things! Although hot dog pizza crust can never be forgiven!

  3. Hot dog stuffed crust is wrong on so many levels. I think if I want "authentic" Italian food I will have to go to Italy. It's on my bucket list to do just that.

    The best Pizza I have ever eaten was made by a Greek in Calgary, Alberta 40 odd years ago. I still dream about it.