Many of us think that Italian food means two things - fantastic pizza and tasty pasta. However, there is so much more to Italian cuisine! The simplistic culinary style makes use of the best ingredients, with a wide range of fresh produce from all over the country. Italian cuisine is all about succulent seafood dishes, moreish antipasto snacks, and tasty meat dishes.
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Caprese salad is a popular side dish in Italian cuisine. It’s also just as enjoyable on its own, as a healthy lunchtime snack. The main ingredients are cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh buffalo mozzarella. It is typical to dress Caprese salad with balsamic vinegar. If you want to spice the dish up a bit more, try dressing it with a pesto of your choice.
This easy recipe is the perfect summer dish and is ideal served with barbecued chicken or pulled pork. It's also perfect as a midday snack, and is low on carbs and gluten-free! The balsamic reduction adds a delicious sweet flavour which compliments the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes and the basil. The extra virgin olive oil will add a fresh, grassy flavour to the dish.
- 250g of cherry-sized mozzarella, halved or quartered (if you can’t find the smaller mozzarella balls, use one large ball chopped into smaller chunks).
- 300g of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half.
- ¼ cup of fresh and chopped basil
- ½ cup of balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Add the balsamic vinegar and the honey to a small saucepan and place on a high heat.
- Reduce this mixture until it is as thick as you want it. This usually takes between 10 and 15 mins. Make sure the reduction does not get too thick, but a syrupy texture is good.
- Once thick, remove the saucepan from the heat.
- In a separate salad bowl, add the chopped mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes and chopped basil and toss them together.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle the balsamic reduction and the extra virgin olive oil over the salad and toss again.
Add A Personal Touch
The fantastic thing about Italian cuisine is that it’s incredibly simple, which means you can add a personal twist on the meals. Italian households are famous for keeping recipes secret in the family for generations. The difference in recipes is often down to a few simple ingredients added to existing dishes. It's also why you can travel from town to town around Italy and find dishes of the same name made way different from one place to the next.
Basil pesto is a fantastic ingredient to add to a Caprese salad. You can use it in place of or in addition to the balsamic glaze. To bring out more of a herby flavour, replace the balsamic with pesto.
Use sun-dried tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes. Chopped up sun-dried tomatoes have more of a tangy flavour. They will add richness and texture to your Caprese salad. Have fun with the recipe and don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients.
Cacciucco is a Tuscan seafood stew and originates from the port town of Livorno. The dish is a culmination of octopus, squid, mussels, clams, langoustines and whatever fish was available on the day. Fishermen used to make this dish as a way to use up the smaller fish they couldn’t sell.
The stew is eaten with bread to soak up all the flavours. The bread was traditionally stale, as Italian bread is usually not made with salt, meaning it spoils quickly. The bread was therefore toasted and rubbed with garlic.
While we traditionally cook seafood in white wine, this is a red wine based dish which adds a real depth to the flavour. This recipe gives you a lot of freedom to add your favourite seafood to the dish. If you have the time on your hands, buy a whole fish to make the fish stock yourself. You should also make the bread yourself! This one-pot recipe will be a winner at any dinner party or on a romantic night in for two.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Pinch of chilli flakes
- Pinch of fennel seeds
- 4 minced garlic cloves
- One diced onion
- One finely diced stick of celery
- 1 small octopus cleaned and diced (if you don’t want to do this yourself, ask for someone to do this for you at the fish counter)
- Squid cleaned and sliced into rings (again, you can get help at the fish counter)
- 250ml red wine (suggest shiraz for a spicy touch)
- 2 sprigs of sage
- 400ml Italian, chopped tinned tomatoes
- 1 litre fish stock
- Pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning
- 200g of clams, cleaned
- 200g of mussels, cleaned
- 6 langoustines
- 200g of monkfish tail, cut into 6 pieces
- 200g of gurnard, cut into 6 pieces
- 200g of red snapper fillet, cut into 6 pieces
- 6 slices of toasted bread
- 2 garlic cloves
- Chopped parsley
- Add the olive oil, chilli flakes and fennel seeds to a hot pan.
- Add the onion, garlic, celery and a pinch of salt and continue to cook until the contents soften but do not change colour.
- Remove the vegetables from the pan and place them in a separate bowl.
- Turn up the heat and place the pan back onto the stove.
- Add the octopus and the squid and cook until they release some liquid and it evaporates.
- Put the vegetables back into the pan.
- Add the red wine and the sage and simmer so that you reduce the liquid by half.
- Add the tomatoes and 600 ml of the fish stock.
- Simmer for one hour, occasionally stirring, until the octopus is tender.
- Add the rest of the stock, the pieces of fish and the langoustines. Do not stir the dish too much as you will break up the fish.
- Place a lid on the pan and let it simmer again for 5 mins.
- Remove the lid and add the mussels and the clams.
- Put the lid back on for another 3 - 4 minutes until the shells have opened.
- Throw away any clams or mussels which shells have not opened as these could be toxic.
- Rub the toasted bread with the garlic gloves and garnish with the parsley
- You can serve the dish with the bread on the bottom or on top.
Make It Your Own
As with the Caprese salad, don’t be afraid to play around with the ingredients. If there is a particular fish in the above recipe that you don’t like, leave it out of the recipe. If you make your bread, fish stock or even tomato sauce yourself, the dish will already have a personal touch.
Italy is a hub for simple cooking, always using the freshest and best quality ingredients. Pizza and pasta are great, but Italian cuisine has so much more to offer, and often no one thinks of the other delectable dishes. Have fun with these recipes by adding and replacing different ingredients. There are so many more recipes you can try that aren’t pizza or pasta. Enjoy expanding your Italian cuisine horizons!