It’s rare, and potentially impossible, to find someone that doesn’t enjoy Italian food. We’re all intimately familiar with it, and it’s safe to say that we all love it to at least some extent. But while the common pastas and pizzas that have proliferated around the world are a core part of Italian cuisine, a lot of the intricacies of the national flavor comes from less famous, regional dishes. Here are five “off the beaten path” specialties to check out on your next holiday:
Perhaps one of the heartiest Italian dishes, this relative of central European spätzle is composed of bread crumbs, parmesan, and egg, with a special and unique flavor added—nutmeg. It tastes like an Italian Christmas, and it will amaze you. Served as a pasta dish or in chicken broth, they are a delicious facet of northern Italian cuisine.
2. Pasta all’Amatriciana
As the name suggests, this dish is a pasta that comes from Amatrice. What’s more surprising about it is its smoky flavor. Covered in a red sauce that traditionally includes pig jowl but can use bacon or panacetta instead, the spaghetti in Pasta all’Amatriciana takes on a unique taste. Highly specialized to the region around this central Italian town, it’s best to find it as close to the source as possible.
Anyone visiting Venice in the know should be aware of the moleche season. These tiny, soft-shell crabs are only harvested during exceptionally short time windows in the fall and spring by molecanti fishermen who swoop them up between moltings. Too early or late, and the shells become too hard to eat. The moleche are served with linguine in rich sauce, fried and served as a snack, or added to salads. They’re rare and expensive, but entirely worth it.
4. Polenta e Osei
Polenta? Not exactly. Made to appear exactly like the popular maize dish, this is actually a cake made only in Bergamo. It is sticky, sweet, and topped with marzipan birds (osei) perched on the top. No one knows what this delicacy hasn’t spread further afield, but if you’re able to find it you should absolutely try one (or two, or three…) before leaving.
Couscous’ big cousin, fregola are tiny balls of pasta from Sardinia. They’re baked in an oven, giving them a special toasty flavor. They can be served as a risotto, sautéed, added to paella, or topped on salad. You might not notice them at first, but their distinct taste grows on you. They’re most commonly found in Sardinia and other southern towns.
The best way to become more acquainted with the food of a region is to really spend some time there and become intimate with it. You can get more information on high value villas across Italy here, and start planning your trip now. Your stomach will thank you.