The true taste of Italy: recipes from the past that we still love today
The simplest dishes, born out of need and then elevated to deliciousness through creativity, are the ones that always win hearts and palates.
Italy is known all over the world for its delicious cuisine, both rustic and refined. However, at the origin of everything are the dishes that we define as ‘poor’, those of ancient tradition that recall the peasant and Mediterranean roots of our country.
These dishes, often made using staple ingredients, reflect the authenticity and deep connection to the land and tradition that underpin Italian culinary culture.
This article explores some hidden gems of Italian cuisine, recipes that go far beyond the famous ones and that are a testimony to the Italian culinary art in its simplest and most authentic form.
Pasta and chickpeas: flour and legumes in an embrace
Pasta is a cornerstone of Italian cuisine and, not surprisingly, so is the typical pasta and chickpea dish. This is one of the poor dishes because it is simple, protein-rich and inexpensive. In fact, this dish combines pasta, an Italian staple, with chickpeas, a variety of legume rich in protein and fibre. In some southern Italian regions, it is made by adding cherry tomatoes, but the most popular version is the so-called ‘white’ version, with just garlic, rosemary, black pepper and sometimes a dash of chilli pepper. The simplicity and goodness of the dish still make it a much-loved dish, a perfect example of how simple ingredients can create a riot of flavour.
Trivia: in peasant tradition, this was the dish par excellence during ‘lean’ periods, when noble ingredients were scarce. On the other hand, chickpeas were also known in ancient Rome, where they were used to make a kind of soup.
Minestrone: a rainbow of vegetables
Minestrone is a vegetable soup that can vary from region to region. What makes this dish unique is its versatility, allowing the use of fresh ingredients available in every season. Typically, minestrone includes tomatoes, beans, courgettes, carrots, cabbage, and other vegetables, but the list may change depending on the seasons and the creativity of the cook. This dish is perfect with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano or grated Grana Padano.
Trivia: in Liguria, minestrone is served with Genoese pesto, the typical sauce made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, pecorino cheese and extra virgin olive oil. This combination is a truly irresistible symphony of flavours.
Pappa al Pomodoro: a Tuscan bowl
Tuscany, famous for its hilly landscape and rustic cuisine, is the home of pappa al pomodoro. This dish is a celebration of total simplicity: stale bread, ripe tomatoes, garlic, basil and extra virgin olive oil combine to create a dish as humble as it is rich in flavour. The bread absorbs the tomato sauce becoming soft and delicious.
Trivia: this dish was once prepared to reuse leftover bread, thus reducing food waste. Today, it is considered a gastronomic treasure.
Polenta: the cereal queen
Polenta is a traditional dish from northern Italy, but it is one of the most underrated dishes abroad when it comes to traditional Italian cuisine. It is made with maize flour, cooked to a creamy consistency. Polenta can be served with meat sauces and braised meats, mushroom or cheese, but also codfish or even, with fish-based sauces, a variant that can be found as you travel southwards across our peninsula. The simplicity and versatility of polenta make it an iconic staple of northern Italian cuisine.
Trivia: polenta has ancient roots and the Roman legionaries used to eat it. It became a staple food in the mountainous regions of northern Italy thanks to an abundance of maize.
Pasta e fagioli: the Italian comfort food
Pasta and beans, another classic of rustic Italian cuisine and an incredibly tasty one too. And it is not like pasta and chickpeas: it is a recipe with a dignity of its own. This dish consists of pasta – usually small tubes or short pasta – cooked with beans. The simple combination of these two ingredients is enriched with garlic, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and black pepper. The result is a creamy, thick, and tasty pasta dish that is the Italian comfort food par excellence. In the past, the flavour was enhanced by adding pork rinds, the poorest, discarded parts of the animal, which were, however, precious for this preparation.
Trivia: In Treviso, Veneto, during the radicchio season, very thin strips of raw late radicchio are added as a finishing touch of the dish.
Instead in Naples, this dish is made with many types of pasta. Traditionally, all the leftover pasta from the previous days was put together so as not to waste anything. A tasty and sustainable dish.
Cacciucco: all the sea in a soup
We love seafood soups so much that we dedicated an article to it and, of the many specialities, cacciucco is perhaps the most famous. This fish soup is typical of the Tuscan coast and is made with a mixture of various types of fish, tomato, garlic, and chilli pepper. The recipe varies from family to family, but the one thing that is a constant is the love of fresh fish.
Trivia: cacciucco is a seafood speciality linked to the city of Livorno and its recipe has been handed down for hundreds of years. The history of cacciucco dates to the Medici