Italian cuisine, as a whole, ranges over many provinces throughout the famous ‘boot’ of the Mediterranean, but what many people don’t think about too much is the obvious fact that Italy is bordered on three sides by water. Everyone hears the words ‘Italian food’ and they think of lasagne (either the Sicilian style with ricotta or the Bolognese style with bechamel sauce), spaghetti with meat sauce or other well-known favourites involving pasta.
But Italy isn’t always just about the pasta and meat sauces. Italy is, believe it or not renowned for its sea food dishes. And of course, once you’ve tried a classic dish, you’ll recommend what you’ve eaten as a ‘must try’ to your friends.
A Healthy Alternative
Many doctors recommend a Mediterranean-style diet, which often includes Italian cuisine as a healthier way to eat, but some people might interpret that as ‘go for the meat sauce, bread sticks, etc all you like,’ and ignore the fact that a true healthier alternative is eating smaller portions, and that a leaner, heart-and-brain-healthy Italian dish is most always going to involve seafood. This is not just because of the nutritional qualities in seafood, but because of the way seafood is often prepared in Italy, with very light sauces, if any at all, and as you might have heard: no cheese!
This said, there are many sea creatures that are not only difficult to find outside of Italy, many Italian dishes feature squid (three ‘calamari’), as well as clams, oysters and scallops, four species of seafood that many people either love, or prefer to skip in favour of shrimp or fish. This said, Italian cuisine is also known for its use of anchovies, which is a fish that is often relished or loathed, depending on your experience of it.
Of course, if you’re willing to be adventurous and try a particular dish involving a type of seafood you’ve disliked before, but is perhaps prepared in a different way than you’ve had previously, you might come to love that particular food.
But if you’re completely new to the idea of seafood in Italian cuisine, here are three dishes that might help you dive right in:
- Frutti di Mare. This is a type of Italian pizza served with shrimp, mussels or squid. What may surprise you is that this pizza does not have cheese on it, as the school of thought on using cheese with seafood is this: don’t do it. You want to bring out the flavour of the seafood, especially with smaller-sized shrimp, as well as many whitefish, which will have a more delicate taste. Lactose-intolerant people will, of course rejoice at this delicious no-cheese pizza.
- Spaghetti Allo Scoglio. This is a common dish served throughout Italy, and it’s named for the shellfish that live among the rocky cliffs and bluffs, called the scoglio. If you attempt this dish at home, you’ll need to make sure your mussels and clams are washed thoroughly to remove any grittiness.
- Cacciucco (kha-chu-ko). A common seafood stew served in both Tuscany and Liguria, this hearty concoction features five different types of seafood, one for each of the ‘c’s in the name of the stew. Since Italy has had a long tradition of picking out market-fresh food, they’ll often use what’s not just regional, but what’s fresh that very day. Common seafoods in this dish include monkfish, redfish, grouper, mussels, shrimp, squid and yes, even eels!
There are many, many dishes that are a must-try, but the above three will be a truly delightful introduction to traditional seafood dishes.