Italian food is considered to be a very healthy, natural diet. In fact, doctors have recommended the adoption of an Italian based diet as a means for their patients to either lose or maintain weight in an American adaption that has been coined “the Mediterranean diet”. Since, there is a wide use of olive oils and fresh fish, which are rich in Omega 3, fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh herbs as a means to flavor our foods versus fatty sauces and additives like butter and dressings. These practices vary by region as well. With the more Northern communities consuming more a starchy diet with the daily consumption of rices and potatoes and the more Southern communities eating a larger variation of fruits, vegetables and nuts. These variations, of course, due to the climate and farm land.
Being both, Calabrese [a Southern Italian region] and Venetian [a Northeastern Italian region], family meals were most certainly, diverse. But, one thing is always universal, Pasta. Pasta is, of course, a part of every meal, rarely served with meat and never a side dish. Usually served with a bolognese sauce or olives and fresh vegetables like tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, mushrooms or any other combination of vegetables and an array of herbs like garlic, basil and oregano. There is a large variation of pasta, like penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, fettuccine and the list goes on. The pasta dictates the sauce used. For instance, a spaghetti or penne pasta would call for a bolognese and fettuccine would call for an olive oil or Alfredo sauce.
Pasta is usually the second course that follows antipasto, which is Italian for “before the meal”. It could be interpreted as the hors d’oeuvre or the appetizer portion of the meal. It is usually a combination of one or more variations of cured, salted or dried meats such as: Salami, Cacciatore, Capacollo or Prosciutto. All of which are beef or pork based meats, salted, cured but never fried or baked. They are served in combination with tomatoes, any variety of cheeses like, feta, ricotta or fresh mozzarella, as well as olives, fresh basil and breads like crostini. Bruschetta was also a favorite antipasto during Sunday family gatherings. Served crostini, with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes with basil and olive oil with lemon juice.
Having a Venetian Father and a Calabrese Mother, both extremely traditional, made meal times an adventure. Since, the women of the family are considered the matriarchs and decide what is to be served at family dinners, they rarely agreed on the dishes that were to be served. Due to the fact that my Father was raised accustomed to more fish and seafood like crab and Goby along with grilled meats like pork and chicken, whereas my Mother was accustomed to more of the salted and cured meats and seafood like lobster and shrimp. These disagreements served as a solid testament to the variation of food tastes being dictated by the region of origin. Fresh ingredients are used regularly in Italian cultural cuisines. Fresh vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, olives and fresh cheeses like feta, ricotta or mozzarella and fresh herbs like basil, garlic and oregano. Even wild mushrooms and fresh olives are integrated into a traditional family meal, regardless of region.