A Brief History
On July 29, 2019, we celebrate National Lasagna Day, a day to revel in the wonderfulness of Italian style cooking. We love the layered pasta, cheese, meat and tomato sauce baked deliciousness of lasagna, with or without a nice Chianti. A highly versatile dish, lasagna can be made with different cheeses, different spice combinations, different sauces and different meats, including ground beef, ground turkey or pork, slices of chicken or sausage (Italian, Chorizo, or Hot), or even with no meat at all! Your imagination and personal tastes dictate how you choose to enjoy this family favorite food. (Note: The author LOVES alliteration!)
Obviously, National Lasagna Day has to be celebrated by actually eating lasagna. You can find some pretty good frozen varieties in the grocery store, as frozen food is light years ahead of what it was a few decades ago. Or you could visit a quality Italian restaurant to enjoy their version of the pasta treat. Do not count out small or economical Italian restaurants, sometimes they have better food than the fancy expensive places. Of course, the preferred method of enjoying lasagna is to make your own, using your own tastes and cooking skills to create the concoction that suits you and your family or friends the best. Lots of cheese or little? Mozzarella and Provolone or just Ricotta and Parmesan? Should you substitute cottage cheese for Ricotta? Some recipes call for Cheddar Cheese! Of course, Oregano is a usual addition to the spices added to lasagna, but how about sage, black pepper, crushed red peppers, or marjoram? Cumin? (Please do not use Cumin. We tried it and did not like it. If you insist, make a small lasagna as a trial sample.)
One interesting fact about Italian cooking is that tomatoes and tomato sauce, a sacred staple of Italian foods, did not appear in Italy until after Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas (1492) and brought the tomato plant to Europe. Perhaps this is the reason Italians revere Columbus so much???
Another candidate for the title of “King of Italian Foods” would have to be Pizza, that Italian-American favorite of seemingly everyone. Not only were there about 77,000 Pizza themed restaurants in the US (2018), many tens of thousands of other restaurants also offer pizza on the menu. As with Lasagna and many other Italian foods, the varieties of pizza are just about endless. We are confident that Pizza would have millions of supporters in any poll about the best Italian foods.
Spaghetti and other pastas may also have their aficionados and proponents, but they are too numerous to mention individually! How numerous? Way over 100 different varieties of pasta, maybe close to 200 styles. Plus, you have the type like Spaghetti that is normally used in soups and sauces, and the other type that is filled or stuffed with cheese or meat, such as Ravioli or Cannelloni. Compound the difficulty of naming a particular pasta by the myriad of sauces you could use! Marinara, Pesto, Bolognese, Vodka, 3 Cheese, 4 Cheese, 5 Cheese (how many darn cheeses could you use in one sauce?) and an endless variation of spices and additions, such as meats and vegetables. Any pasta, including lasagna, could also be made with some sort of alternate flour as a base, such as gluten free or whole grain, or even non-wheat. (Note: Despite being part of the national identity, Pasta is NOT an Italian invention. It was introduced to Italy either by the Muslims or supposedly by Marco Polo when he returned from China.)
Just to keep the waters well muddied, Italians make about a bajillion other wonderful foods as well as the pasta dishes we named above. Soups, specialty veal dishes, seafoods, and meats (think Pepperoni, Prosciutto, Salami, Capicola, Italian Sausage, etc.) Italian cheeses are also among the best. Perhaps one of these is your favorite? They make some pretty good breads, too! Then we can think about desserts!!! Yes, Italian desserts rate with the greatest in the world, as do their wines and liqueurs.
As you may have deduced by now, this author is completely helpless to pick a single Italian food to name as King of Italian Foods. As much as we enjoy American, Slavic, French, Middle Eastern, Oriental, Mexican, and just about every other type of foods, we do have to name Italian cooking as our favorite. How about you?
Question for students (and subscribers): Which Italian food would you nominate as King of Italian Foods? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Dickie, John. Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food. Free Press, 2010.
Di Maio, Dina. Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People. Dina Di Maio, 2018.
Rinaldi, Claudia. Gourmet Mag: the Modena Issue: Italian food, recipes, traditions and lifestyle. Independently published, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by PoiseWinsTitles of lasagna with salad, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on by Mindmatrix. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.