Whenever I try to explain how “it’s in the north of Italy, about halfway between Milan and Bologna,” whomever I’m talking to immediately interrupts and starts up about Parma ham and parmesan cheese. Though not without reason.
My area is known throughout Italy for its cold cuts. For us, the pig borders on sacred: in the dialects maiale (pig) has about as many names as there are communities. In my grandma’s village they even call it al nimal (l’animale)—simply, “the animal.” As they say, fish have no word for water…
The idea to make an Italian food course came out of experiences I had with a German friend of mine. I had always cooked Italian dishes, such as scaloppini ai Funghi—a cutlet fried in butter with mushrooms. And then would come the inevitable question: “isn’t there something to go with it?“ Go with it??? What did he think the mushrooms were? “No, I mean the side dish“ Ah. The side dish. And then he slapped down some rice as a … side dish. Any self-respecting Italian would’ve then, depending on mood, burst out laughing or turned her nose up in disgust!
First of all, rice is a first course and can never, ever be served with a second course. Sacrilege!
Secondly, what “goes with” the meal in Italian is called a contorno and basta. You can eat bread… but bread is bread, it’s not a contorno.
So far so clear.
There had never been a course like this before on Babbel—so it was an entirely new concept. I had free reign—but no model. The hardest part, actually, ended up being the image search.
Sure, finding pictures of Italian food sounds easy, but what about when you’ve passed over the line from “whatever pasta with whatever sauce” to, for example, parpadelle (flat, wide pasta) with wild boar ragout? Then you must move slowly toward the stove yourself….
And so it happened I was still frying after midnight (I hate frying!) because I couldn’t find any pictures for the Ligurian dish latte dolce fritto. I had the pleasure of being able to cook dishes from my region, such as erbazzone (spinach and chard pie), which was eaten the next day in the office, or piadina con salsiccia e cipolle (pan-flatbread with Italian sausage and onion).
Unfortunately I was also unable to find good photos for a lot of the cold cuts. So when I was in Parma I was FORCED to buy speck (smoked ham), prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) and coppa (dry-cured pork neck) … and eat them. The things we do for work!
In this course you find out about genuine dishes from various regions in Italy. There’s lots of info about how they’re made as well as what is NOT typically Italian. Here’s an example for you: spaghetti alla Bolognese—a typical Italian dish? You can of course also eat spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, but any Italian would be embarrassed at the prospect. That kind of sauce comes from Bologna, and there, egg noodles like tagliatelle or lasagna are the typical ones. So the dish is actually tagliatelle alla bolognese.
Have I destroyed a myth? Try out the course and get to know lots of other exciting insider tips about Italian cuisine!
About the author: Around five years ago, Barbara Baisi, Italian translator and Finnish studies specialist, started in content and support (at that time still as a student). As of this year, she’s an integral and essential part of our content team at Babbel.