Photo by Ola Mazzuca
[I]n Italian culture, food is more than a means of survival and fuel for the body; it is a practice of social customs, a symbol of values, and a way to connect with people you love.
Restaurant franchises like Pizza Pizza should be ashamed for touting menu items like Fettuccine Alfredo or Penne Bolognese as an authentic choice, especially when it’s store-bought and probably from a can.
With over 20 regions from its Alpine north to southern toe of the boot, Italy offers a variety of local ingredients and dishes that reflect its geographical makeup. Staples of the north include Milanese risotto with aromatic saffron, rich Extra Virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar of Modena, and crisp focaccia bread. Dishes can become more intricate with fried zucchini flowers from the southern region of Calabria, fresh seafood from Puglia, and creamy buffalo mozzarella from Campania.
Based on the Mediterranean diet, Italians begin their day with a small breakfast, consisting of a cornetto, a butter pastry similar to a croissant often filled with jam, and an espresso. This leaves room for the main meal of the day: pranzo. Lunch is the most important for its three courses: primo, secondo and dolce. Primo is the first course, which is usually pasta in different forms and sauces. The second course includes meat or fish with a side of vegetables or starch. Italians never refuse dessert, which can range from biscotti, twice-baked cookies, or small pastries with coffee. After a midday break known as a “siesta,” dinner includes a lighter fare such as soups, salads, proteins like beans or cheese, and cold meats.
As the final basil leaf is layered under cheese on a chewy Margherita pizza or dropped onto spaghetti pomodorini, laced with juicy cherry tomatoes, loud conversations and laughter ensue over glasses of Sangiovese red wine.
Both dishes are green, white and red, just like the Italian flag. A family gathers around the dining table.
Their meal is more than a cultural tradition; it is where memories are passed onto future generations to teach the world a greater love of food.
An Italian’s Recommendations:
Toronto has a growing list of true Italian joints serving up traditional eats.
Terroni, 720 Queen Street West, and others, Toronto, (416) 504-1992
Terroni offers an extensive menu of unique, southern fare ranging from roasted veggie salads to hearty meat ragù.
Nino D’Aversa Bakery, 1 Toro Road, North York, (416) 638-3271
For staple ingredients and snacks on the go, Nino D’Aversa Bakery is a great place to grab a veal sandwich or pick up fresh bread, cheese and baked goods.
Pizza e Pazzi, 1182 Saint Clair Avenue West, Toronto, (647) 352-7882 pizzaepazzi.ca
Enoteca Motorino, 4101 Rutherford Road, Woodbridge, (905) 264-1911, motorinoenoteca.com
North of the city, this Vaughan restaurant serves traditional sfizi, appetizers of fish fritters, to the bubbly burnt crusts of Neapolitan-style pizzas.