Laura Fraser, author of The Risotto Guru teaches us how to eat like an Italian.
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Italy, of course, is the food. My new book, The Risotto Guru (Shebooks), contains essays on my most memorable food adventures in Italy—a Sardinian wedding feast, meeting a risotto master in Piedmont, learning to taste wine in Chianti, discovering the most flavorful island cuisine. Every time I leave Italy, I’m puzzled about how Italians manage to love food so much, eat with so much pleasure, and rarely worry about their weight. How do they manage to eat Italian and wear Italian designers? Here’s what I’ve learned from my years as a dedicated Italophile:
- Italians don’t eat between meals.
Italians approach meals with ceremony, and don’t just grab handfuls of nuts or crackers every time they pass the kitchen, as many of us do. We graze and feel unsatisfied; they sit down at meals, eat until they’re full, and don’t need to eat again until the next meal. While the American snack culture is starting to infect Italy, most Italians don’t snack.
- Sit down to meals and eat them with other people.
Eating is a social activity in Italy. Sit down and enjoy food in the context of conversation and spending time with others. Eat slowly; enjoy the food and the company.
- Never eat at your desk.
If you don’t go home for lunch, go to a restaurant, or eat a home-prepared meal somewhere other than your desk.
- Never drink a cappuccino after 10:00. Coffee drinks with milk are only for breakfast. You will never find an adult Italian drinking a cappuccino after 10:00, and most certainly never after a meal. It’s straight espresso, or perhaps “macchiato,” with a little spot of milk, for those who have to have some.
- Eat only fresh ingredients.
Most Italians eat very few processed foods—except, of course, the pasta. They’re incredibly picky about the freshest fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat, as well as the highest-quality olive oil. They would rather not eat than eat a microwaved Hot Pocket for breakfast. Which brings me to…
- Italians barely eat breakfast, or anything, until 2:00.
We’re taught that a big breakfast is healthy, and prepares you for the day. Italians somehow survive on a coffee and croissant until late lunch, the big meal of the day. Some of them sneak in a yogurt. But they manage to get a lot done on coffee.
- Lunch is the big meal of the day.
Italians take time for lunch. They go home for lunch. It’s the main event of the day, with several courses. They eat a light breakfast and a light dinner, which allows them room for an antipasto, primi (the pasta course), secondo (the meat course) and contorni (side vegetable dishes). Followed, of course, by an espresso.
- Portions are small.
Italians may eat pasta nearly every day, but in much smaller quantities than we are used to in restaurants here. They eat, at most, a cup of pasta on a plate, with sauce. Unless they have celiac disease, they don’t shy away from gluten. But everything is in moderate quantities.
- Dessert is rare.
Gelato and tiramisu may be some of the first things to come to mind when we think of Italian food, but Italians don’t have a sweet tooth (excepting the Sicilians). They rarely eat dessert, and when they do, it’s most often a piece of fruit. Gelato is an occasional summer treat, and a heavy dessert like tiramisu is for a special occasion.
- Never put grated cheese on a pasta with fish.
Just take my word for it—they will look at you in horror if you ask for grated cheese on your seafood pasta.