Italian cuisine is similar to a lot of other Mediterranean cuisines; it focuses on natural and simple ingredients that are cooked to perfection so their flavours shine. In this post I want to talk about 4 ingredients that are essential for making really great tasting and nutritious Italian dishes.
Olive oil, high in mono-saturated fat, should be your go-to cooking oil when you are making Italian food. Instead of using butter, using olive oil is also a great way to reduce your levels of bad LDL cholesterol and increase the levels of the good HDL cholesterol. Salads are a big deal in Italy and most Italians dress their salads with extra-virgin olive oil and a simple squeeze of lemon. It is also nice to sauté fresh vegetables in some olive oil. Another interesting way to make use of olive oil that you might not have considered is replacing the butter in baking, to make healthier bread recipes.
As many Italian sauces are red, the primary ingredient is obviously tomatoes. These are jam-packed with vitamin C and an antioxidant called lycopene which helps protect you heart and could help reduce the chance of developing certain cancers. As well as having fresh tomatoes in pasta sauces, on top of pizzas and in fresh salads, it is also rather tasty to have some sliced tomato on a slice of toast with topped with some Parmesan.
Romans believed garlic to be magical, and scientifically this is with good reason. Garlic has both antifungal and antibiotic capabilities and also helps boost anti-cancer characteristics in certain parts of the body, such as the stomach, throat, skin, colon and breast. Garlic is used primarily in pizzas and pasta dishes but is also great when added as part of the dressing of a nice fresh salad or when you are sautéing green vegetables. The best thing about garlic is that it is very versatile and will add extra dimensions of flavour to just about any dish you cook. When you use garlic, your taste buds sing and dance and the smell always reminds me of that lovely aroma when I was walking through the streets of Sorrento.
One of the main proteins used in Italian cuisine is seafood. All seafood is celebrated and has a starring role in some classic Italian dishes. You will also find some pasta dishes that incorporate both shellfish and fish that taste absolutely fantastic. Tuna and salmon are full of heart bolstering omega-3 fatty acids, while the more lean seafood such as sea bass, squid, mussels and shrimp provide selenium, niacin and protein. It is a good idea to have at least two meals a week that include seafood of some description. One great way to do this is to substitute the minced beef in your spaghetti Bolognese for your favourite fish, I love cooking tuna in a Bolognese sauce.
There are plenty of places online where you can find authentic Italian recipes, but one of the best things about Italian cooking is that you can chop and change and switch things around to make dishes that suit your own specific tastes, while keeping a very Italian theme to them.