Italians love food, particularly Italian food, and they’re very proud of it.
So much so that whenever they see something odd with the way Italian food is treated, they feel like they are about to faint or have a heart attack.
I am Italian too and yes, food is one of the most important things in my life. I know it seems a cliché. But in this case, it’s 100% true.
So, although I’m in love with good food in general regardless of its country of origin, I admit I’m guilty of that heart attack feeling too when I see something awkward with our food.
However, I’m well aware that, in most cases, there a are a lot of misunderstandings as far as Italian food is concerned.
Hence, with this post, I hope to (humorously) shatter a few myths non-Italians seem to have about our food and, hopefully, you will even find it useful.
I made a few searches and I narrowed down the most common misconceptions about Italian food.
Let’s find them out together.
1. In order to properly cook pasta, it has to boil for over 10 minutes. Then it needs to be rinsed with water to stop the cooking.
Pasta is probably one, if not the most mistreated ingredient ever. I can’t even count how many times I read recipes mentioning the steps above, or similar ones.
If it’s any consolation for all of you non-Italians, I personally saw Italian people harming pasta, too.
The good news, though, is that cooking pasta correctly is easy, you only need a few adjustments. First of all, in order to eat pasta al dente (which is the way it has to be supposedly cooked, even though people who like it overcooked apparently exist) you always need to check the cooking time on the packaging. It depends on the pasta type, the size, the brand, the raw material, even the texture. It changes all the time, that’s why you can’t count on a set time like 10 or even 20 minutes (yes, I watched video recipes where the suggested time was 20 minutes, which… I don’t know really, probably the final goal was creating homemade glue).
As far as I am concerned, I usually remove the saucepan from fire 1 or 2 minutes before the cooking time, so that I can still eat it al dente even if I have to mix it with the sauce in another pan before serving out.
I don’t know anybody who follows the rinsing step. It is one of those things that theoretically works, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense in practice. First of all, you just cooked pasta in salted water. If you rinse it, not only you remove the salt but even the natural starch pasta has, which is basically what makes a sauce stick to the pasta itself in the first place. So, please don’t do it. It’s unnecessary and will void all your hard work. 🙂
2. About pasta, you need some oil drop to prevent it from sticking.
I read about this step a lot of times. If you cook pasta appropriately (check above point for your reference) it will not stick. A few oil drops are an actual trick though, but only with egg-pasta (such as tagliatelle), especially if homemade. Therefore, you don’t need to do it every time you cook pasta.
3. Alfredo sauce is one of the most famous Italian food’s sauces.
I really hope I will not sound rude, it is not my intention, at all. But I’ll come clean: I had no idea whatsoever of what Alfredo sauce was before running into some US website about food. Hence no, it is not one of the most famous Italian sauces. However, I was still curious to find out why it was so famous abroad and I found out that, in the end, it’s simply what we usually call pasta al burro (pasta with butter) pasta burro e Parmigiano (pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese).
Considering its history, to be honest, I am even surprised it made it to an actual menu. Pasta al burro, in Italy, it’s basically the go-to “recipe” when you don’t know how to cook or when you do not have any ingredient in your storage/fridge to make an actual sauce. I guess this is the real reason why you will never find it in any restaurant in Italy.
A healthier version sees the substitution of butter with extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese. But bear in mind that pasta or pastina (small size pasta) con olio e Parmigiano is what we usually eat when we do not feel very well. 🙂
Of course, it does not mean it tastes bad. Quite the opposite. But, as far as I am concerned, I would never pay for it. Sorry!
4. You need lots of ingredients to make good Italian dishes.
Quickest answer: no, you don’t. I run into many recipes (either written or videos) where the cook happily put a bunch of seasoning ingredients into the saucepan in order to achieve the “typical Italian flavour”.
Granted, it depends from the recipes but generally speaking the most famous Italian dishes do not have lots of ingredients. For instance, pick spaghetti with fresh cherry tomatoes. Olive oil in a pan, stir-fry some onion (or garlic, although I personally add a bit of water because, for health reasons, I should avoid stir-fry onion or garlic), add the tomatoes. Salt and pepper. Let them cook for a while. The sauce is basically ready, and it can even be cooked while you’re boiling pasta. You can add some grated Parmesan, if you like it, before serving out. It’s probably the easiest and quickest sauce I know and it’s delicious.
5. Those lovely Italian dishes such as pasta with chicken and spaghetti with meatballs.
I guess spaghetti with meatballs are delicious (at least, they always look tasty every time I see them in a movie). However, it is not Italian. We do cook many dishes with pasta and meat, jut not meatballs.
I think the closest we have to spaghetti with meatballs is pasta al forno (literally, pasta in the oven, as it is usually prepared with boiled pasta, tomato sauce, small meatballs, mozzarella cheese, parmesan and ultimately cooked in the oven), but it’s normally a traditional, Sunday lunch kind of dish, particularly common in Southern Italy. It is not impossible to find it in some restaurant, but mostly trattorie.
As for the combo pasta + chicken, you will never find such a dish here, simply because we don’t combine chicken with pasta.
And there you have it! Do you think there are other common misconceptions about Italian food? Are you curious to know if you’re doing something wrong at home and want to ask me about it? Do you want to point out popular, mistaken beliefs about the food in your country that foreigners get completely wrong? Please let me know!