When we think about Italian food we often immediately think about pasta, heavy sauces and filling bread. What most don't know is that Italians love their vegetables and love sourcing their ingredients locally.
Mbgfood sat down with Valentina Solfrini, an award winning recipe developer and writer of cookbooks like *Naturally Vegetarian: Recipes and Stories from My Italian Family Farm. *
“With Italian cooking, it’s easy to fall into the pasta/lasagne/prosciutto stereotype,” she says. “But while it is nice to sit out in an osteria with a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of wine every now and then, most meals in Italy are homecooked and include tasty vegetables.”
Let's dive into some of Valentina's tips to eat more like real Italians!
1. Eat Hyper Local
Italy is blessed with a variety of healthy ingredients that can be sourced locally like over 350 types of grains and grapes.
"These local varieties are often sold in their whole-grain version and usually contain little gluten," Valentia says.
2. Seasonal Food is King
This seems intuitive but buying the right ingredients when they're in season also helps stick to tip #1.
Valentina explains. "When something is out of season it usually comes from abroad, and I (and many other Italians) prefer not to buy it. What’s the need when we have so much to choose from? Seasonality also determines Italian rituals: There is no way Italians will make grape focaccia in months that are not August or September, or pumpkin risotto when pumpkin is out of season."
3. Mealtime Shouldn't Mean Stress!
Italians know how to stop and enjoy their meal. Try to enjoy the process of preparation, cooking, and ultimately eating! I had a Scottish friend in college who used to frustrate everyone with how long he took to eat. He was simply savoring every bite. Perhaps he had a few culinary run-ins with some laid back Italians?
4. Mediterranean Food is as Healthy as They Say it is
"In spite of the huge differences between northern and southern Italy, most people in the country eat some version of the Mediterranean diet, which is said to be one of the healthiest in the world," Valentina says. "Its abundance of healthy fats and total lack of processed foods is credited with one of the lowest incidences of cardiovascular diseases."
5. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, All the Time!
The right extra-virgin olive oil contains a copious amount of antioxidants, vitamin E, and healthy monosaturated fat. Valentina says this oil in it's purest state should appear emerald green and murky, and make your mouth tingle to the point of feeling like a very mild chili.
6. Ignore Imported Foods
Valentina says that using imported foods shows a lack of creativity. If you're in a resource-heavy nation like the United States, there are plenty of local and healthy ingredients to choose from!
7. Use Every Part of Fruits & Vegetables
"I love to buy vegetables that I can use even the scraps of: I sauté beet tops in garlic and olive oil; use fennel, carrot, and celery tops to make a tasty pesto; and I roast pumpkin peels so they get crisp and chip-like," says Valentina.
8. Stick to a Few Great Staples
"Italy's food staples have always been rather healthful," Valentina says. "Extra-virgin olive oil is used the most and is present in every cupboard, especially in the countryside, where many people still buy local stone-pressed olive oil. Seaside areas have the advantage of getting lots of local fish, mostly mackerel and sardines, which are high in healthy fats. And, obviously, an incredible variety of vegetables, which are included in many preparations, whether fresh, preserved, pickled, cooked, or raw. Legumes are another important staple throughout the country, and recipes of legume stews and soups with vegetables are many."
9. Go Heavy on the Herbs
"Herbs are incredibly loaded with a vast array of vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting nutrients, but are most of all helpful in flavoring foods without using too much salt, sauces, or artificial flavorings. I love to add lots of chopped herbs (or, even better, torn) to bring all my recipes up a notch."
10. Eat at the Table, Ditch the Couch
According to a chef Valentina knows, "'every Italian meal is a chance for exchange and for building relationships.' It is very true, and I have always eaten at the table and nowhere else. Taking our time when sitting at the table, whether in a restaurant or for a dinner with family and friends, is important to the process of enjoying your meal and relaxing.
So that's it! 10 simple ways to start living more like the Italians do. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments below!