An easy to use dictionary to understand Italian Food terms
ah-BAH-kyoh AHL-la Cah-tchah-TOHR-ah
Abbacchio alla Cacciatora, a traditional dish in Latium, is prepared with garlic, wine vinegar, salted anchovies, and savory herbs such as rosemary and sage. The term abbacchio was originally coined in Latium (the region of which Rome is the capital) to describe a milk-fed lamb. Today, the word abbacchio is used throughout Italy, and refers to grass-fed lamb as well.
ah-GLEEH-oh ROH-ssoh dee sool-MOH-nah
Grown in the area around Sulmona in the region of Abruzzo, this unusual variety of garlic - considered one of the best in Italy - is characterized by its large head and the light wine-red membrane that covers the cloves and which needs to be removed before using. It has an intense and penetrating garlicky smell when lightly crushed and is used like other varieties of garlic. The fresh stem of this variety of garlic can also be used.
A Piedmontese stuffed pasta which was born as a way of using left-over meats, agnolotti are made differently depending on the meat available, local habits, and the preferences of the cook. To prepare the stuffing, various kinds of roasted and boiled meats are used separately or in combination, and a cured meat is always included; escarole is the vegetable of choice, although Swiss chard or spinach are sometimes used, and rice cooked in milk is often added for a lighter texture. Agnolotti can be served in a broth, tossed with melted butter and fresh sage, or lavished with a truffle sauce or gravy from roasts.
This term is used in Italy to identify two different types of herbaceous plant. In the North it is used for "Lepidium sativa" (also know as cress); in central Italy it identifies "Salsola soda" (glasswort).
The first has a long, delicate, white stem topped with two to four leaves (similar to mustard seed sprouts) and is often used as a garnish on sandwiches and salads.
Glasswort looks very much like dill, but with a flat section. Though sometimes used in salads, it is more often boiled, dressed with a little extra-virgin olive oil, lemon sauce, salt and pepper, a preparation that tempers its bitter flavor.
This is a very sweet, red-colored liqueur. The name comes from the Arab "qirmiz", meaning scarlet. It was originally made by the monks of the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella, who soaked cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla in alcohol together with herbs and sugar. The color came from the addition of cochineal. Many recipes have derived from the original one, varying according to the type and quantity of the herbs used. The final liquor has an alcoholic level that varies from 21% to 32%.
A sauce typically paired with spaghetti in the region of Latium, whose capital is Rome, the name carbonara comes from carbone, meaning coal or charcoal, and some believe it was thought up by those who made charcoal up in the mountains. It is prepared by sautéing cubed guanciale in lard; spaghetti is cooked al dente, drained, and tossed into the pan with the warm guanciale. Eggs and freshly grated Pecorino Romano are beaten until smooth in a large serving bowl, then the spaghetti and guanciale are tossed in. Some versions include garlic (cooked with the guanciale), or use butter or olive oil rather than lard. Others use Parmigiano Reggiano instead of - or along with - the Pecorino, and add heavy cream to the egg and cheese.
Puttanesca sauce - usually served with spaghetti - originated in the Isle of Ischia, near Naples, and is made by cooking tomatoes with olives, capers, garlic, chilies, anchovies, and olive oil. The word puttanesca is derived from puttana, a colloquial term for 'prostitute.' Some claim that the sauce earned its name because of its spicy flavor. Another theory holds that it got its name because it cooks quickly - even women with a very busy work schedule could prepare it, or so the story goes. Truth is, like all things alla puttanesca, this sauce was considered a lowly dish, not good enough for high society. Fortunately, we've left such "refinement" behind us and can enjoy this delightfully piquant sauce without worrying about etiquette.
These world-famous almond cookies probably originated in Venice, though they are found throughout Italy, especially in the South. The most familiar version is made with ground almonds (bitter almonds can be added as well), fine sugar, and beaten egg white. Stored in an airtight tin, they last for months. Most amaretti are hard in texture and are often ground to a powder for use in other desserts. They are called amaretti because they are flavored with bitter almonds (amaro means bitter), which gives them their unique taste. Those from the Lombard town of Saronno are the most famous of all. Look for amaretti in Italian markets and gourmet stores, or make your own. There is, however, a softer type of amaretto which more closely resembles a macaroon.
A pasta sauce, originally from the town of Amatrice in the province of Rieti (in the region of Lazio) and a variation on the original Abruzzese version which contained no tomatoes. Amatriciana is made by sautéing a cured meat called guanciale (from the pork cheek) in olive oil, then adding minced onion and cooking until golden. Tomatoes are stirred in, as well as a pinch of chili pepper or black pepper and very little salt. The pasta that is typically used is long pasta: either perciatelli or bucatini. Spaghetti are also used, but are less traditional. Some versions include garlic. When the pasta is al dente, it is drained, then tossed with the sauce and freshly grated Pecorino. Since guanciale is rarely available outside Italy, pancetta is frequently used instead.
A filled pasta traditionally prepared in Parma and other neighboring cities. The filling is generally made with bread crumbs soaked in a very dense meat gravy, to which egg and grated cheese are added. They are cooked and served in a strong beef broth. In Italy, however, this ancient dish has many variations. Parma and Piacenza are the principal cities where anolini are made, and are sometimes called anvein. In some versions an old stewing hen is used in the broth in addition to beef, and in older versions the broth is cooked for a full day, or until the meat disintegrates. Bits of beef are frequently added to the filling, and the resultant pasta (in Bologna) is flavored with onion and nutmeg. While the classic presentation insists on a broth, anolini can be served only with melted butter and grated Parmigiano. There is also a presentation with a tomato and mushroom sauce, although purists frown on tomato in this dish.
These deep-fried rice balls originated in Sicily, but are now popular throughout central and southern Italy, especially in Naples and Rome. The name means little oranges in Italian, since arancini are usually the size of small oranges. To make arancini, boiled rice is mixed with eggs and grated cheese, filled with a dab of rich ragù and a hunk of melting cheese such as mozzarella, dredged in flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs, then deep-fried until golden. Some versions of arancini include peas or diced hard-boiled egg; others use leftover risotto rather than boiled rice for a more intense flavor. Cooks have also devised seafood or fish arancini in recent years.
ah-SPAH-ra-gee dee ahl-TEH-doh
May is the month for asparagus. One of the most highly prized varieties, also if it is not widely known, is the asparagus produced in Altedo, in Emilia-Romagna. It has two main characteristics: it is green and moreover, when cooked, it is distinguished by its distinctive slightly bitter taste. The green spear/stalk is about 7½"-10½" (19-27 cm) long, and it has a white base about 1½" long (4 cm). The spears should be straight and the tips should be erect; moreover the tips should not shed their 'leaves' if lightly rubbed. The leaves, or cladodes, on the spear should be firmly attached. The texture is firm, but fragile and not elastic: if you bend them, they will snap; the perfume is slightly grassy.
The asparagus can be boiled until al dente and then used to make a frittata, or else it can be simply boiled and served with eggs, both poached and cooked in butter (which can then act as a dip). You can also use the asparagus to make delicious creamy soups.
The asparagus should be eaten when it is very fresh, when it hasn't yet lost its characteristic stiffness. Before eating the asparagus, you can store it in the warmest part of the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp cloth.
ah-SPAH-ra-gee dee Bah-SAHN-noh
In the Veneto town of Bassano del Grappa, local producers grow what is considered the best asparagus in Italy. White, thick, tender, and without any trimmings, Bassano asparagus is juicy, flavorsome and distinguished by a characteristic sour-slightly bitter taste. It is appreciated by gourmets not just as a side dish but also as a main course in itself.
Bassano asparagus is excellent boiled and accompanied by melted butter or Hollandaise sauce or even, as is the custom in Bassano, served with hard-boiled eggs. It can be cut into pieces and cooked, then puréed with a little of the cooking liquid, oil or butter and used as a sauce for pasta; once puréed it can also be mixed with a little béchamel sauce and used as a filling for lasagna or cannelloni.
For authentic DOP Bassano asparagus, buy only bunches tied with a band bearing the seal of the consortium showing the profile of the Bassano bridge in the center.
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