Since I’ve been in Italy, I couldn’t help but notice that Bear (the Italian half of our blogging duo) has different cooking and eating habits than my American ways – different in majorly good ways!
When I return to the US, these are the new Italian habits that I’m taking with me to dine with an Italian state of mind:
Lots and lots of fresh herbs
Whenever we want to add fresh herbs to our dishes, Bear goes right out his front door to the garden and comes back with fresh sage, rosemary, basil…and to me, it revolutionizes the flavor of the dish. (Well, not every dish requires fresh herbs, but even Bear’s dried oregano is more flavorful than mine back home because he uses the flowers rather than the leaves). In the States, I live in Nevada…we’ve had a garden before but it’s a lot of work to maintain in a dry, mountainous desert climate, so I mostly use dried herbs out of convenience. My next project upon my return: trying to figure out how to grow my own herbs!
Shop frequently for the freshest ingredients
One thing that sets Italian cuisine apart for me is the quality and freshness of the ingredients. In the States I often shop in bulk at Costco, and more times than not fruits and vegetables that I had perfectly good intentions for go bad. I mean, there’s only so many cuties you can eat before you start giving them away to neighbors! Bear, on the other hand, goes to the store much more frequently (okay, every day! lol) and gets only what he is going to use right away. As a result, everything is fresh and nothing goes bad. If you’re like me and the store isn’t right down the street (like it is for Bear), then going to the store daily might not be an option. But I am definitely inspired to buy less, more often.
I thought that I ate pretty healthy and mostly homemade food in the US…but all of the grabbing a sandwich or a burrito for lunch here and there really adds up! (Not to mention all of my snacking on crackers and protein bars!) Bear hardly ever eats anything processed (except for pasta). I mean, 99.9% of the time, he makes his own food from scratch (and he can magically resist all those delicious looking cookies and pastries at the store…how does he do it?!)
Make extra & freeze it
Which brings me to the next point…Bear’s frozen food is all things that he’s made himself. He’ll pull out something from the freezer – homemade broth, tortellini, ravioli, even meat and seasonal vegetables like cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) preserved to be used out of season…so many delicious things – and it’s just as delicious as it had been fresh, I imagine. I wonder why I ever buy packaged frozen foods with tons of additives and preservatives? Never again!
Incorporate dining rituals
I have noticed that Italians approach dining as a sacred ritual: there’s a proper place and time for a meal (no mindless snacking or power bars as meals!). One night Bear and I joked that we were going to have an “American night” and eat on the couch in front of the TV. I was game, but he backed out at the last minute because he said it didn’t feel right not to eat at the table. Growing up, my family always ate homemade meals together around the table, something of my childhood I appreciate tremendously. As I got older and busier, my schedule no longer afforded me that luxury. Then, during a period of living alone, I longed for company so I started eating in front of the TV, or even worse, scarfing down breakfast in my car when I was late to work. In Italy, having a meal feels like the main event of the day, rather than a side-show as it often does in America. Even at restaurants customers are given the luxury to leisurely dine uninterrupted by bill that appears on the table even before you’ve finished your last bite.
Another Italian dining ritual that I love is aperitivo & digestivo. Now, I’m sure that not all Italians have both at every meal…but I love that alcohol is consumed intentionally to aid your digestion. As someone with a MAJOR sweet tooth, I’ve come to love the ritual of ending a meal with something other than sweets, such as caffè or an amaro (amaro means bitter in Italian, and it’s a bitter liqueur flavored with herbs). I recently tried Brancamenta, a dark and syrupy amaro with a minty flavor served over ice. So refreshing!
I love the Italian dining style! What’s your favorite dining tradition (Italian or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments!