I thought I’d finish off, what has become a decidedly foodie themed Summer, with a list of foodie dos and don’ts that we’ve discovered whilst living here in Italy. We’ve had our fair share of finger wagging and tut-tutting about some of our choices whilst eating or drinking with friends so I’m paving the way for all you future visitors to Liguria to be aware of the pit falls when dining out.
1/ A cappuccino can be drunk at any time through the morning until 12 noon – after this time you may as well walk into a bar with ‘I am a tourist’ stamped on your forehead if you want this typically breakfast drink in an afternoon. Also, when ordering your espresso, ask for ‘un caffè’ – which is a single shot of espresso but is how the Italians ask for it (and please don’t call it an expresso, no matter how quickly it arrives!)
2/ A peperoni pizza may have you salivating at the mouth in readiness for your meal of thinly sliced ‘piccante’ meats on a doughy base but you will be sorely disappointed when a pizza covered in bell peppers arrives, the Italian being ‘peperoni’ for this vegetable. If you want spicy salame on your pizza, order a ‘diavola’.
3/ Don’t ask for spaghetti bolognese … it doesn’t exist in Italy, or even Bologna for that matter. The sauce is known as a ‘ragù’ and spaghetti is completely the wrong type of pasta to serve with a meat sauce. ‘Tagliatelle’ is far better suited as the sauce clings to the pasta rather than slipping to the bottom of the bowl … so ask for a ‘tagliatelle al ragù’ and you won’t be disappointed.
4/ As delicious as ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ cheese is, grated over pasta and risottos, you’ll get the wagging finger if you even think of putting it on either of these dishes if they contain seafood. So if you like your ‘vongole’ (clam) pasta, or risotto con gamberi (prawns)make sure the parmesan stays at the other end of the table!
5/ When cooking pasta, my lovely friend Francesca taught me the best way to make sure the water was salted ‘abbastanza’ (enough) – her tip to gauge the proportions was to taste the water before adding the pasta to make sure you could taste the salt. Pasta cooked this way (and always ‘al dente’) is so delicious I could eat it with no further sauces added. And never add oil to the pasta cooking water – it only sticks together when it is over-cooked so if you need oil, your pasta is too far gone!
6/ With all the wonderful ‘pasticceria’ here in Liguria, you’d think that desserts after every meal would be a super-sweet affair, but other than in restaurants or at special occasion meals, dessert is usually fruit (normally peeled at the table with a knife … apples and peaches included!) And after the sumptuous special occasion meals we’ve enjoyed with friends, sometimes we’ve not even got room for that!
7/ If you want to buy ‘zafferano’ (saffron) in the supermarket, don’t waste your time looking on the shelves with the salts, peppers and other spices. You’ll find it at the till amongst the tictacs and batteries … of course!
8/ You know the old ‘waiting for your meal’ snack of a bread basket, a glug of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to dunk your bread into … well it doesn’t exist in Liguria. In fact in most of Italy, the idea of filling up on bread before a meal is unimaginable, let alone dunking it in expensive oil and balsamic vinegar … and double dunking in a communal bowl … the germs, the bacteria, the diseases! And whilst we’re on the subject of oil, salads need no more than a dressing of this, or ‘aceto vino rosso’ (red wine vinegar). Salad cream and mayonnaise … you’ll find them in the exotic food aisle of the supermarket.
9/ Bottles of wine and water are staples on the Italian dining table, unless you’re eating pizza, then only a soft drink or a beer will accompany your meal … even if you’re eating your pizza with a knife and fork. A glass of wine on the side does not make the meal any more elegant.
And finally …
10/ ‘Funghi’ (mushrooms) can be prepared however you want … as long as it’s with ‘aglio’ (garlic), ‘olio’ (oil) and ‘prezzemolo’ (parsley)!