[Thoughts on the Table – 78] A Chat with Award-winning Author Andrew Cotto

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning American writer of Italian descent. His latest novel titled Cucina Tipica tells the fascinating adventure of a young American who falls in love with Tuscany and with the culture of its people. Naturally, food and wine end up setting the pace and become deeply entrenched in the story.

I was humbled to be contacted by Mr. Cotto who sent me a copy of the book for consideration as he thought it would fit with the theme of the podcast. After reading it, I couldn’t agree more! Please join us in this episode where we discuss the novel in its many aspects–from the significance of food in the Italian culture to the chemistry of taste, from culture shock and relocation to speaking a foreign language and what it does to interactions and introspection.

You can follow Andrew Cotto on andrewcotto.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and InstagramCucina Tipica is available on Amazon.


As an “appetizer” for the book, Andrew sent me a recap in the form of a Food and Wine Plot Menu with 24 tastes each corresponding to a food scene in the novel. Enjoy!

Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure
A Novel by Andrew Cotto

Food & Wine Plot Menu

Food and Wine Plot Menu

Novel Overview: Cucina Tipica is the story of a disheartened American who arrives in Italy on holiday and decides he never wants to leave. What follows is a wine-soaked, food-filled travel adventure about one man’s quest for an antiquated existence in the modern world.

Jacoby Pines – a forlorn young American with a “golden palate” and hopes of redemption in Italy
Claire – a travel writer and Jacoby’s fiancee
Bill – a septuagenarian ex-pat from Texas and Jacoby’s wingman in the “adventure”
Paolo – Jacoby and Claire’s neighbor and landlord in the hills south of Florence near the village of Antella
Dolores – Claire’s “outrageous” English cousin and “Chiantishire” resident
Helen – An Aussie/English ex-pat and Florence museum guide

1st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Excelsior Palace Hotel – Rapallo, Italy
Food: Prosciutto, cheese, olives, dried lemons, fresh figs
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: They ate with their hands and drank from the bottle, leaving stains and crumbs on the bed sheets, which Claire attempted to clear before removing her bikini bottom…

2nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: A “hole-in-the-wall” seafood osteria in Rapallo
Food: a basket of lightly fried calamari, shrimp, bream and whole anchovy seasoned with salt and lemon; pureed and garlicky fish soup; steamed prawns dipped in aioli; grilled sardines; plates of pasta with pesto and plates of pasta with clams
Wine: Carafes of Vermentino
Additional Notes: They shared the meal of seafood by the seaside in the Rapallo back alley as completely as possible, holding hands under and above the table, kissing frequently, filling each other’s glasses, and laughing throughout the two hours of slow and utter indulgence.

3rd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Paolo
Where: The terrace behind Paolo’s villa featuring a wood-burning oven
Food: Handmade pizza with olives, anchovy fillets, and fresh basil; “Misto Arrosto” – a mixed roast of lamb, sausage, rabbit, liver in caul fat, guinea hen, halved-potatoes, heads of garlic, caramelized carrot and fennel.
Wine: “Local Chianti” – DOCG Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Jacoby felt as peaceful and inspired as he had in months. Maybe ever. The best two meals of his life had been had over the first two days in Italy. The country itself was more beautiful than pictures could capture. The people spoke a lovely language and wore elegant clothes. It was all good. And he wanted in.

4th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Comune di Norcia (Umbria)
Food: Porchetta sandwich for Jacoby; salad of wilted wild mushrooms atop bitter local greens for Claire
Drinks: Soft

5th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: An elegant agriturismo in Le Marche
Food: Charcuterie plate of house-cured meats; silky thick noodles topped with black truffles; lamb roast; Pecorino cheese drizzled with honey
Wine: Rosso Piceno
Additional Notes: After dinner, they roamed the silent grounds and made love on a pool-side chaise lounge after skinny dipping in the cool water that rippled with shards of silver moonlight.

6th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: The tiny piazza in Panzano-in-Chianti
Wine: Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: Claire tucked into Jacoby’s side and put a foot up on the bench against the back of her leg. They silently swirled the wine and took small sips, staring at the valley beyond the village that burned gold with smoldering sunshine of a fading afternoon. Jacoby savored the apple smell of Claire’s radiant hair and the feel of her lithe body pressed into his. He thought that they, in that still pose, would make a great statue, like a modern Apollo and Daphne, frozen in marble so that their love would always last.

7th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Restaurant in Panzano owned by a young butcher (inspired by the auspices of Dario Cecchini)
Food: Bistecca Fiorentina, uccellini in brodo (white beans with tomatoes in broth)
Wine: Vecchie Terre di Montefili – Chianti Classico
Additional Notes: The flavor of the beef was as profound and complex as any Jacoby had ever tasted. Steak in the States was bland, in need of sauce, but this simply-prepared choice cut was perfectly grilled – seared on the outside, rare and warm internally – helped by hints of lemon and rosemary and coarse salt while letting the flavor of the meat itself dominate. Amazing. Transcendental. Good f****** lord.

8th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Terrace behind the barn where they lived on Paolo’s property
Food: Eggs with prosciutto and sage, bread
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: Jacoby loved cooking for people, then sharing the meal and the mutual pleasure of being together. Eating the same food; drinking the same wine; everyone on the same stage. It was like sex when sex was good and mutual. What people called “making love.”

9th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Mercato Centrale, Florence
Food: Margherita Pizza
Wine: Moralino di Scansano

10th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini, Antella
Food: Sausage and eggs with stewed tomatoes
Drink: Espresso
Additional Notes: “I’ve been an ex-pat for 35 years, and the only thing I miss about America is breakfast,” – Bill

11th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Spring Minestrone (generous with pieces of artichoke, asparagus and carrots in a broth of pureed onions and leeks with a snap of garlic); fresh fettuccine with fava beans and Pecorino; rabbit loin wrapped in pancetta over polenta dotted with green olives
Drinks: Negroni, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Bill and Jacoby ate and drank and spoke of their looming adventure into Florence proper, in search of a matriarch holed up in a palace marked by a cat statue. They laughed at their dim prospects, which were soothed by the magnificent meal and flowing wine.

12th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Florence, food stand near the Sant’Ambrogio market
Food: Lampredotto sandwiches
Wine: Chianti in plastic cups
Additional Notes: The aroma out of the stand was pungent; the sandwich warm in his hand, of tomato infused broth and hearty filling tucked between the bread. The taste was super savory to the bite, ample aromatics and a soft texture from the holy trinity of bread and filling and broth.

13th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, a gazebo in Piazza Signoria
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: “Why, yes. Yes, I would,” Helen said. “There’s few things I prefer more than a glass of Prosecco.”

14th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, Il Teatro del Sale
Food: Gurguglione; artichoke sformato; polpettini; fried rabbit; zucchini stuffed with ground pork; roasted chicken & sausage with potatoes, flourless chocolate cake
Wine: House red, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: There was nowhere else in the world Jacoby wished to be. This was his Grand Canyon. His Hawaii. Mount Everest or Disney World. His paradise was a theater-cafeteria-commissary, sharing a table with two people he hardly knew but liked immensely, full of possibilities, in a room full of shamelessly happy people.

15th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, club Sriracha
Drinks: Negronis (many)

16th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: The barn
Food: Steak & eggs
Additional Notes: Tears fell down Jacoby’s face as he continued to chew enough to swallow safely. The salt from the tears entering his mouth brightened the flavor, making it more clear what was happening even before Claire descended the stairs in the same clothes she wore before, a suitcase thumping beside her.

17th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Al fresco table at the cafe in Antella
Food: Ceci and bread
Wine: Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Additional Notes: “Ciao,” Jacoby called before tucking into his plate of oven-baked chickpeas that tasted as flavorful as anything he’d ever eaten, washing the legumes and bread down with the local red wine as he sat in the cool shadows of his own private dining terrace on a Friday night in a silent village as twilight settled upon him in what felt like the most important place in all of the world.

18th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Osteria in Pienza
Food: Pici with porcini; pappardelle with wild rabbit ragu
Wine: Argiano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: In a shaded osteria at the end of town, Jacoby couldn’t decide between two pastas… so he ordered both, taking the mushroom plate first, followed by the gamy second course, both washed down with separate, massive goblets of Vino Nobile, which he swirled and sipped with great delight.

19th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Enoteca la Fortezza, Montalcino
Food: A plate of Pecorino in three varieties
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino (2007)
Additional Notes: When it was over, Jacoby felt a thread of sadness which he hoped to dash through the purchase of a case of the very wine he just drank.

20th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: A cantinetta near Antella
Food: mixed antipasti; tagliatelle with porcini; roasted pork ribs; cantuccini…
Wine: Colli Fiorentini Riserva, …Vin Santo
Additional Notes: “That was incredible” Jacoby said. Bill made a face of modest expression and flicked a wrist in the air. “Cucina tipica,” he said.

21st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Helen
Where: Lo Sprone Vinaino, Santo Spirito, Florence
Food: Cacio e Pepe; charred octopus & potatoes; roasted pigeon
Wine: Martinis (in the piazza out front), white wine (unnamed)

22nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: The meat was as tender as it was flavorful, filling his mouth with silky decadence buttressed by layers of flavor only attainable through days of preparation that precedes slow, slow cooking.

23rd Taste:
Who: Claire & Dolores
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: “My f****** God!” Dolores’ voice shot from the kitchen. “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!”
Jacoby and Claire cracked up and parted their hug.
“Bring it in here,” Jacoby called.
“No f****** way!” Dolores called back.

24th Taste (in absentia):
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores, Bill
Where: The cantinetta near Antella
Food: To be determined
Wine: To be determined (lots guaranteed)
Additional Notes: “How’s the food?” Dolores asked Jacoby. “Decent?”
“Oh, it’s way better than decent,” Jacoby said. “More like typical.”


Deep Fried Squid (Calamari Fritti)

This is another recipe that I had the opportunity to document during my last Italy visit: deep fried squid. Unlike the potato crusted sea bream dish, calamari have always been standard in my family, ideal for a Sunday meal, especially in the summer. Naturally, this second course needs to be paired with a starter and/or a first course. Should be served accompanied with lemon wedges, bread or grissini for the table, and chilled white wine. Goes well with a side of green salad (lettuce, white vinegar, salt, and olive oil).

Deep Fried Squid (Calamari Fritti)

Yield: 4 servings

Total Time: 30 minutes

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Deep Fried Squid (Calamari Fritti)


  • 800 grams whole squids (uncleaned)
  • 1 liter peanut oil
  • half cup all-purpose flour
  • salt
  • 1 lemon, sliced in wedges


  1. Clean and wash the squid, then slice it coarsely, lay it on a cloth, and pat it dry with paper towel. It's very important for the squid to be very dry or it will splash during frying.
  2. Put some flour on a plate. A few at a time, transfer the squid pieces onto the flour.
  3. Cover well in flour, ensuring that the flour goes inside the rings.
  4. Shake off any excess using a sieve.
  5. In a deep-frying pan, allow the oil to reach a very high temperature (4-5 minutes at high heat).
  6. Place the floured squid pieces onto the frying sieve. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you may have to deep fry in batches.
  7. Submerge the squid pieces and deep fry for 2.5 minutes at high heat.
  8. Drain the pieces and let them rest for a minute on paper towel. Proceed with the next batch.
  9. Serve seasoned with salt, along with lemon wedges.


Can also add shrimp for extra flavor.


Potato Crusted Sea Bream (Orata in Crosta di Patate)

During my last Italy trip, I got a chance to document the making of a dish that has become a staple in my family: potato-crusted sea bream. Based on a quick search, it appears to be quite popular in Italy and it has started to be featured internationally on restaurant menus.

Quite possibly, the diffusion of this preparation follows the increased popularity of Orata (Gilt-head sea bream) and Branzino (European seabass), two kinds of marine white fish that are delicately flavored and low in fat, but still moist and tender.

This is my mother’s take on the dish, a festive second course that showcases its simple but noble ingredients.

Potato Crusted Sea Bream (Orata in Crosta di Patate)

Yield: 3 servings

Total Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Potato Crusted Sea Bream (Orata in Crosta di Patate)


  • 3 sea bream fillets, skin on, can also use seabass
  • 3 yellow potatoes, sliced 3-4 mm (1/8 inch) thick
  • 3-4 rosemary twigs, needles detached and finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt & white pepper


  1. Mince the rosemary needles, we used a 'mezzaluna' knife, but a chef knife will do.
  2. Peel and wash the potatoes.
  3. Slice the potatoes. We used a food processor with a slicing blade, but a mandoline slicer works too. It's important that the slices are not too thin and not too thick, therefore slicing them by hand is not advisable.
  4. Allow the slices to rest on a towel and pat them dry with some paper towel.
  5. Line the bottom and sides of a large bowl with potato slices and dress with a sprinkle of olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped rosemary.
  6. Then add another layer of potato slices and repeat the seasoning. Continue until you've used all potato slices, then gently slide them around in the bowl to complete the seasoning. Preheat the oven at 200 C.
  7. Put the fish fillets, skin down, on lightly oiled parchment paper, season them with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
  8. Cover each fillet with partially overlapped potato slices.
  9. Cook in the oven for 30-35 minutes at 200 C.
  10. Serve accompanied with a green salad.


[Thoughts on the Table – 64] Introducing Crazy Italians and their Video Series on Italian Food

An unusual interview today on Thoughts on the Table! Yvette from Crazy Italians restaurant in Memphis found my page while looking for references on authentic Italian food. We started chatting and I discovered that not only did she and her husband Giampaolo open a successful restaurant, for over a year they have been producing amazing short videos featuring their daughters Azzurra and Lucrezia to help introduce continental Italian food to North America. Since I know you’re curious, here are a few of my favorite episodes: Bruschetta, Who is Alfredo, Carbonara, Pomodoro, Salad dressing.

In the podcast, Yvette, Giampaolo, and 9-year old Azzurra share their story and describe the laborious process of video production which involves the entire family, including some funny behind the scenes!

To know more about this amazing restaurant and project, please check out crazyitalians.com. You can also find Crazy Italians on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Yvette, it was great to get to know you and your family – thanks again for your fantastic contribution in letting the world know about the real food of Italy. And for this, please accept the Cannolo Award!

A listener kindly pointed out that a variation of Lasagna made with ricotta exists in the Naples area. This may be why Italian-American lasagna has ricotta.

The music in the episode is by www.purple-planet.com.


Italian Words Gone Wrong – 6 Mistakes Native Italians Don’t Make

For a narrated version of this article, please check out: Italian Words Gone Wrong – Mistakes on the Menu

Even though Italian food is prominent in North America as well as other English speaking countries, restaurant menus often use Italian words in ways that are not even remotely close to what would sound natural to a native Italian. And it isn’t just because of spelling mistakes, the grammatical and logical use of Italian words is also frequently incorrect.

This post started as a chat with two Twitter friends, Cecilia Razelli (@cocci_ge) and Carlo Settembrini (@csettembrini.) Cecilia found it amusing that I titled one of my articles “Formaggio Cheese,” given that she had noted a similar trend with constructs like “salsiccia sausage” and “prosciutto ham” (if you don’t see why Italians can find this amusing, keep reading!) Then Carlo joined the conversation, expanding to other types of mistakes that English speaking people make when using Italian words. We kept chatting on Twitter for a bit, then we moved the conversation to a shared Google Document, which eventually became the outline for this article. I would like to thank Cecilia and Carlo for engaging in this collaboration – literally, this post wouldn’t have happened without you!

To help illustrate the variety of errors that are commonly made when non-experienced Italian speakers use the Italian language, we grouped the mistakes according to their nature into six distinct families. So, let’s get started!

1. Spelling

When native Italians look for authentic Italian restaurants abroad, they often assess their authenticity merely on the number of spelling mistakes they can spot on the menus. Since the Italian language is mostly phonetic (i.e. written as pronounced,) there are no spelling competitions in Italy – spelling is generally not an issue over there(1)! This is why spelling mistakes stand out even more to the Italians.

Some spelling mistakes seem to reflect the way Italian words tend to be pronounced by English natives. Take ‘focaccia’ as an example: its misspelled counterpart ‘foccacia’ is gaining popularity because it’s closer to how it sounds in English. At other times, alternate English spellings appear to reflect the dialect of the first Italian-Americans. Words like ‘Cappicolla’ and ‘Macaroni,’ for instance, bear clear signs of a southern Italian heritage as opposed to their national counterparts: ‘Capicollo’ and ‘Maccheroni.’ Other words, like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini,’ reflect a combination of causes: their dialectal origin and the way the correctly spelled ‘linguine’ and ‘zucchine’ sound when read with an English accent.

To a native Italian, it’s bad enough to hear a misspelled word, but things get even worse when the alternate spelling has a different meaning in Italian. For instance, ‘panini’ is sometimes misspelled as ‘pannini.’ Now, while ‘panini’ is a diminutive of “pane,” which means ‘bread,’ the word ‘pannini’ is a diminutive of ‘panni,’ which is equivalent to “items of clothing” or “rags.” So now you know why a native Italian may get a giggle when they read that the chef’s special is the “house pannini.”

2. Plural vs. singular

Even when spelled correctly, Italian words may be misused in the context of a sentence because of an incorrect “grammatical number.” A classic example of this mistake is using the word ‘panini’ (which is the plural of ‘panino’) to refer to a single sandwich. It’s not clear why the plural ‘panini’ entered the English language instead of the singular ‘panino,’ although one theory is that ‘panini’ is assonant with other Italian-sounding words like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini.’ Regardless, a sentence like “I’d like a panini” sounds to a native Italian as wrong as “I’d like a sandwiches.” And it goes without saying that the word “paninis” doesn’t make any sense to a native Italian since it’s a double-plural. The same mistake occurs when ‘biscotti’ is used to refer to a single cookie (in Italian it’s the plural of ‘biscotto.’) The word ‘gelati’ instead is often used interchangeably with the word ‘gelato,’ when in reality it’s its plural form and should be used when referring to two or more Italian ice creams.

When using the English language, however, nobody is expected to use Italian grammar. Therefore, words like ‘paninos,’ ‘gelatos,’ and ‘pizzas’ are perfectly acceptable. In fact, Italians do the same with English words: they adopt the singular form and use it interchangeably both as singular and as plural (“un computer, due computer” = ‘one computer, two computers.’)

3. Feminine vs. masculine

In the Italian language, nouns have gender. Moreover, articles and adjectives must match the gender of the nouns they are used with. Because of this, besides knowing if nouns are plural or singular, in order to write proper Italian one must know the gender of nouns. Luckily, most of the times it’s easy to tell if a word is masculine or feminine: if it ends in ‘a’ it’s feminine; if it ends in ‘o’ it’s masculine (this for singular words, for plural words it’s ‘e’ for feminine, ‘i’ for masculine.) So, for example, because ‘pizza’ is feminine, one should say ‘pizza classica,’ not ‘pizza classico.’ And it’s ‘pasta ai gamberi,’ not ‘pasta alle gamberi.’ Consistency is important!

4. Adjective vs. noun

Many Italian dishes bear colorful names also thanks to the use of descriptive adjectives. As an example, ‘Bolognese’ means “from the city of Bologna.” When native Italians use words like ‘bolognese’ to refer to the famous kind of ragù (a generic word for meat sauce), they say “alla bolognese,” meaning “in the style of the city of Bologna.” Although it’s acceptable to say “Bolognese sauce” (“salsa bolognese,”) it doesn’t make sense to say: “I’ve had pasta with Bolognese” (leaving out the noun.) The sentence: “I’ve had Bolognese pasta” is also likely incorrect since it means “I’ve had pasta from the city of Bologna” with no reference to its sauce. Worse yet, if you order “a Bolognese” in a restaurant, it will sound like you are ordering a person from Bologna – that would be a very dubious kind of meat sauce!

Similarly, ‘Parmigiano’ or ‘Parmigiana’ means “from the city of Parma” (referred to a masculine/feminine subject respectively.) As for the famous eggplant dish, however, it’s equally correct to say “melanzane alla parmigiana” (“parmesan eggplants”) or “parmigiana di melanzane” (“parmesan of eggplants,”) the latter using ‘parmigiana’ as a noun.

And to conclude this category of mistakes, let’s not forget that the word ‘balsamic’ is an adjective, and it means “curative,” or “having the same properties of a conditioner” (‘conditioner’ = ‘balsamo’ in Italian.) It makes no sense to an Italian to use ‘balsamico’ without a noun or a pronoun. So, you can’t have anything like “I’ll have balsamic on my salad.” Balsamic what?

5. Generic vs. specific

‘Formaggio cheese,’ ‘salsiccia sausage,’ ‘prosciutto ham’ don’t make sense to a native Italian because they are redundant. ‘Formaggio’ is Italian for cheese, ‘salsiccia’ is Italian for sausage, ‘prosciutto (cotto(2))’ is Italian for ham. So, in Italy, all you are saying when you say ‘salsiccia sausage’ is “sausage sausage,” or “‘ham ham,” “cheese cheese.” We know the prospect of Italian food is exciting, but just one term will do!

As for the origin of this construct, it may come from the North American practice to use generic product names combined with specific adjectives. For instance, people say “cheddar cheese,” or “tuna fish,” when really ‘cheddar’ or ‘tuna’ can’t be anything other than ‘cheese’ and ‘fish’ respectively.

Interestingly, however, ‘gelato ice cream’ is technically correct since gelato is not exactly Italian for ice cream: it’s a particular kind of ice cream (denser, less sweet, and less fat.) Because of this, it may be justifiable to use ‘gelato ice cream’ as a marketing strategy to indicate a specialty product (likely to be sold at a higher price.)

Also technically correct is ‘espresso coffee’ since ‘espresso’ is indeed descriptive of a distinct kind of coffee extraction. In Italian coffee bars, however, people just call it ‘espresso,’ or even simply ‘coffee’ since the coffee sold in coffee bars is almost exclusively espresso. When ordering a coffee, Italians also often shorten the name when they order an espresso variation, which comes with its own descriptive adjective. Examples are ‘corto’ (short), ‘macchiato’ (stained or spotted with steamed milk,) ‘corretto’ (corrected with liquors or spirits,) etc. Sometimes they even leave out the noun altogether and order directly a ‘macchiato,’ which ironically also happens in North America.

The construct: ‘ricotta cheese,’ instead, is completely wrong since ricotta is technically not even cheese (being it made from whey, and therefore considered just a dairy product, or ‘latticino’ in Italian.)

In the Italian language, the following are generic names as well:

  • ‘Panino’ is the generic name for ‘bread roll’ or ‘sandwich,’ whether grilled or not.
  • ‘Biscotto’ is the generic name for ‘cookie,’ though Italian cookies tend to be crunchy, rather than chewy.
  • ‘Antipasto’ is the generic translation of ‘appetizer.’ Not a particular kind of appetizer made of pickled vegetables, olives, and often tuna, or (worse) this “invention” from Kraft.
  • ‘Latte’ is the generic name for milk, cold milk to be precise – which is what you would get if you ordered a ‘latte’ in Italy. The proper name for the espresso-based drink is ‘latte macchiato’ (steamed milk stained or spotted with coffee.)

6. Food vs. preparation

To end the list of mistake families, we can’t leave out one of the most mysterious ones exemplified by the Italian-American dish called Shrimp Scampi. Scampi, plural of scampo, is a crustacean similar to a small lobster. For some reason, it also became the name of a preparation (based on tomato, garlic, and white wine) that is generally used for shrimp and other crustaceans. But if “Shrimp Scampi” makes no sense to a native Italian because it’s essentially “Shrimp Shrimp,” Olive Garden’s Chicken Scampi makes even less sense, since it’s like saying “Chicken Shrimp.”

Sometimes Shrimp Scampi is instead used to refer to a crustacean, possibly just to make a dish sound more mysterious, or “elevated,” and definitely more “Italian.” Dishes like “Linguine with Shrimp Scampi” from “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten are a clear indication of how mainstream this misconception has gone. It goes without saying that actual Scampi are nowhere in the ingredients.

To make matters worse, dictionaries such as the Merriam-Webster define ‘scampi’ as “a usually large shrimp; also: a large shrimp prepared with a garlic-flavored sauce,” also reporting ‘scampi’ as a singular noun with an invariant plural form. Fortunately, heroic bloggers like my friend Frank Fariello set the record straight by correctly explaining the naming issue behind this dish.

To end the category and this article, ‘Calamari’ is another example where non-native Italians may confuse an ingredient with its preparation. Whereas in Italian it generically means ‘squid,’ outside of Italy, and especially in North America, it refers to its deep-fried ring-shaped slices.

(1) In some regions of Italy, Italians make certain kinds of spelling mistakes due to how words sound in their dialects. As an example, those who speak a Venetian dialect tend to drop double consonants. In southern Italy, instead, double consonants tend to be added where they don’t belong (e.g. Carabbinieri instead of Carabinieri.)

(2) In Italy, there are two kinds of prosciutto: ‘cotto’ (“cooked” similar to ham) and ‘crudo’ (“raw, cured.”)

A World of Eggs – How They Differ Between Italy and North America

Chicken eggs are one of the world’s most popular foods and have a significant presence in the diet of both Italians and North Americans. However, their aspect and the way they are consumed are substantially different between Italy and North America. In this article, I will list 5 of these differences, while also describing why eggs are an essential ingredient in cooking and a marvel of nutrition.

Color and nutritional/culinary properties

The first most obvious difference is in the color of the shell. In Italy eggs are prevalently brown; in North America, prevalently white (difference #1). What causes this difference? The color of the shell comes entirely from the breed of the chicken: white hens make white eggs, red and brown hens make brown eggs. So are Italian chickens indigenously brown? No, they are chosen by the breeders according to the preference of the market.

It’s interesting to see how the shell color preference varies around the world. As illustrated in the map below, it doesn’t have any obvious correlation to the geographical location – it varies more based on culture.

Distribution of white eggs versus brown eggs
Distribution of white eggs versus brown eggs as reported by the International Egg Commission in 2008.

What about the color of the yolk instead? That depends entirely on the hen’s diet. If the hen is fed plants rich in xanthophylls (such as alfalfa or yellow corn), the yolk acquires a darker color. So, is Italian feed more conducive to producing orange yolks? Not really, similarly to the breed, the choice of the feed is driven by the preference of the customers: North America seems to prefer lemony-gold yolks, whereas Italy and most of Europe goes for deep orange yolks.

A dark yellow yolk found in a brown egg, and a lemony yellow yolk found in a white egg.
A dark yellow yolk and a lemony yellow yolk.

When eggs with pale yellow yolks and eggs with orange yolks are both available on the market, matching shell color is generally chosen to distinguish between the two: white for pale yellow yolks, brown for orange yolks.

Nutritionally speaking, all eggs are identical being designed to nourish the embryo until the chick hatches after 21 days of incubation.

Within the egg, the yolk and the white have substantially different properties and nutritional values, however. The yolk weighs about 1/3rd of the whole egg and contains ¾ of its calories in the form of proteins and aggregates of proteins-fat-lecithin. These aggregates give eggs their emulsifying properties: the amazing capacity to bind with both fat and water to create wonders like mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauce.

The egg’s white (or albumen) contains a similar amount of protein as the yolk, but the majority of those proteins actually have anti-nutritional value when eaten raw. While they are nourishing for the embryo, they inhibit digestive enzymes and prevent the absorption of vitamins and iron. The egg white also contains ovomucin, a protein with thickening and binding properties meant to protect the developing bird. Ovomucin is also very valuable in cooking: it helps keep together cakes and certain kinds of pasta (e.g. tagliatelle and lasagna), stabilize foams, and give a shiny finish to pastries.


Eating raw eggs is discouraged in North America. This isn’t because of the anti-nutritional properties of raw egg white, but because of the fear of Salmonella, a bacterial infection that can have serious health consequences.

An egg in the UK, with its British Lion mark.
An egg in the UK, with its British Lion mark.

Both Europe and North America have been exposed to Salmonella outbreaks, but they have adopted different strategies to counteract them. In 1998, the UK introduced a program called the “British Lion Code of Practice“. The initiative certifies egg farms that adhere to a stringent code of practice, which includes: vaccination for the hens, complete traceability of the animals’ origins, and complete traceability of their feed. It also mandates that each egg is individually marked with a code identifying the expiry date, the farm of origin, and the keeping of the hens (free-range, barn, or cage).

Since 2004, egg marking has been adopted by the European Union.

An egg in Italy. On the carton, a legend explains on how to read the mark.
An egg in Italy. On the carton, a legend explains how to read the mark.

Despite overall improvements in the conditions in which hens are kept, North America still doesn’t apply the same stringent regulations and Salmonella infections are still quite common. As a result, North Americans are wary of raw eggs and the US FDA strongly recommends cooking eggs through or using pasteurized eggs. In Italy and in the rest of Europe such fear is much less prevalent (difference #2). Raw eggs are also traditionally part of popular preparations, such as homemade mayonnaise and Tiramisu, which makes them more culturally accepted.


The fear of Salmonella also causes the next difference (difference #3). By law, in the USA and Canada eggs must be refrigerated in supermarkets and grocery stores. This policy is motivated by the fact that a contaminated egg is mainly harmless until the bacteria have had a chance to multiply and colonize the egg, a process that is slower at low temperatures.

Italy, the UK, and other parts of Europe don’t have mandatory refrigeration. As a matter of fact, they have the opposite policy: refrigeration is forbidden until the eggs reach their final storage destination (the home fridge). The reason for the different policy lies in another important difference: in Italy eggs are unwashed! (difference #4) When eggs are laid, they are naturally covered with a thin film that makes the shell less porous and isolates it from bacteria that are present in the hen’s intestinal tract. This film helps preserve the egg by maintaining more of its water content, by avoiding CO2 perspiration (a byproduct of the loss of acidity that occurs when the egg ages), and by isolating the egg from off-flavors that it could absorb from the environment (e.g. the smell of other foods in the fridge). This protective film can easily be washed away by the natural condensation of the moisture in the air as it comes into contact with the cold surface of a refrigerated egg. Condensation is particularly harmful because it won’t just wash off the protective film, it will actually melt it in place and allow any bacteria that is present on the surface of the egg to get inside. It’s customary for Italians to wash eggs before using them should the shell comes into contact with the egg’s content during cracking.


Despite the differences in the hens’ breed and feed, eggs taste the same in Italy as they do in North America. However, traditionally, their role in the diet differs substantially. In Italy, eggs can be found, in various preparations, as lunch or dinner options. In North America, instead, they are mostly associated with breakfast (difference #5).

The names of the different cooking styles have creative translations in Italian:

Sunny-side up‘occhio di bue’ (literally “bull’s eye”).
Scrambled eggs‘uova strapazzate’ (literally “overworked” eggs).
Hardboiled egg‘uovo sodo’ (literally “firm” egg).
Soft boiled‘alla coque’ (from the French word for “shell”).
Poached‘in camicia’ (literally “in a shirt”).

IncredibleEgg.org has excellent instructions on how to properly cook eggs in any of these styles, and others too.

As described in the article “Breakfast or Colazione?“, Italians prefer to start their day with something baked, along with coffee or cappuccino. Fried eggs, instead, are seen as an informal meal, often prepared in a frittata (from ‘fritto’, fried, generically indicating a dish in which eggs are cooked in a pan on a layer of fat). To prepare a frittata, the eggs are beaten with salt and pepper, and sometimes a small amount of milk or water. Often, additional ingredients are mixed in, either individually or in combination. Common add-ons include vegetables (e.g. onions, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus – all sautéed in advance), cheese (e.g. Provolone, Taleggio, Fontina, grated Parmigiano), and meat (prosciutto cotto – the Italian ham -, salame, sausage). In a frittata, the eggs can either be scrambled or set. When set, the thickness can vary between a few millimeters (like in a French omelet), and a few centimeters (like in a Spanish omelet).

Other than in frittata, eggs are the main component of a number of other Italian dishes:

Zucchini Frittata
Zucchini Frittata

  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara, a dish from the Rome region, where eggs are the main component of the sauce.
  • Asparagi alla Milanese, sunny-side up, fried in butter.
  • Sandwiches (e.g. as a zucchini frittata).
  • Stracciatella soup (also a dish from central Italy, known as “egg drop soup” in North America).
  • The Tiramisu dessert (where raw eggs are part of the mascarpone cream).
  • Pastry cream (‘crema pasticcera’) a custard also used to fill some kind of pasticcini.
  • Zabaione, a dessert consisting of a light custard, flavored with Marsala wine.
  • Gelato (as a natural emulsifier).
  • ‘Uovo sbattuto’, an old-fashion afternoon snack (raw yolks beaten with sugar, with optional cocoa, or even with a shot of espresso!)

The following instead are uses that are almost exclusively North American:

  • As breakfast (any style with bacon or sausage, in breakfast bagels, breakfast burritos, Eggs Benedict).
  • In the Egg Salad sandwich.

Finally, these are uses that are common between North America and Italy:

  • To make breaded veal, beef, or pork steak, like in Cotoletta alla Milanese – the Italian equivalent of Schnitzel.
  • In salads (hardboiled).
  • In Deviled Eggs, or in its Italian equivalent (usually stuffed with tuna).
  • In meringues (although Italian meringues are dry, light and crunchy, as opposed to soft and gooey).
  • In preparations like cakes, egg pasta, and as an emulsifying and binding element in countless other recipes.

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Insalata di Riso

‘Insalata di Riso’ (rice salad) is an informal Italian dish that is especially popular in the summer as an appetizer or as a refreshing first course, particularly for lunch. Its main component is Parboiled rice, which is the most appropriate for this preparation as its grains remain firm and separated when cooked, and stay soft when they get cold. The cooled rice is lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and flavored with a variety of add-ins, according to personal preference, but also following the tradition.

Insalata di Riso

Yield: 3-4 servings

Total Time: 45 minutes

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Insalata di Riso



    • 1 cup parboiled rice
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
    • 100 g mild cheese (Fontina, Montasio, Raclette, Gouda), cubed
    • ½ cup Italian pickled cucumbers (no dill and no garlic!)
    • ½ cup Italian mixed 'sottaceti' (vinegar-preserved vegetables, e.g.: peppers, corn, capers, carrots, olives, fennel, artichokes)
    • ¼ cup sliced olives
    • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
    • the juice of 1 lemon
    • salt


    • pickled 'cipolline' (small onions), halved
    • pickled bell peppers, cut in small pieces
    • tuna in olive oil, crushed
    • ham, diced
    • cold roast beef or chicken, cut in small pieces


    1. Boil or steam the rice then spread it over a cloth and let it cool down, by the end the rice should be dry and fluffy.
    2. Meanwhile, hard boil the eggs and cook the peas, then let them also cool down.
    3. Move the rice into a bowl (fig. 1) and gently mix in the olive oil. Gather the pickled veggies (fig. 2).
    4. Gather peas, eggs (fig. 3) and diced cheese (fig. 4).
    5. Mix all of the add-ins together with the rice, then stir in the lemon juice.
    6. Adjust the salt and let the salad rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.


    The Italian Courses

    Italians like structure in the way they eat. To them, the balance between the different courses of the meal is as important as the balance between the ingredients of each dish. In Italy, eating is far more than nutrition, it’s a moment of aggregation where families, friends, colleagues get together, relax and participate in the dining ritual. This article describes a typical everyday meal (at home or in an informal restaurant) and compares it with the bigger and fancier meal reserved for special occasions (a wedding, for instance).

    In Italy, even the most informal meals commonly include multiple courses. This doesn’t mean that people eat more food – the various courses are a way to break down the meal into different sections, add variety and create a progression. Appetizers and first courses come first because of their delicate flavors (and textures); second courses follow with their stronger elements; desserts, coffee, and liquors are reserved to end the meal. The subdivision into courses also introduces pauses, which in some cases are intentionally extended to give the diners the necessary time to rest their palate, and socialize.

    In this article we will be referring to both lunch (“pranzo”) and supper (“cena”), as the mid-day meal and the evening meal. As for the early-day meal, please see the post on breakfast (“colazione”).

    Everyday meals

    Everyday meals generally only include a first course (“primo piatto” or simply “primo”) and a second course (“secondo piatto” or “secondo”), plus possibly some fruit (“frutta”) and coffee (“caffé”).

    • The first course is usually based on dry pasta, gnocchi, ravioli, or rice (“risotto”). First courses don’t need any sides and they are not accompanied by bread. Mostly during winter, and especially for dinner, the first course can take the form of a soup, which may contain pasta or rice or may be served with croutons (“crostini”).
    • The second course is centered on a protein – typically meat or fish, but also cheese or eggs. Second courses are normally served with one or more side dishes (“contorni”), such as salads or roasted vegetables. They are usually eaten with bread, polenta (boiled cornmeal), or boiled rice.

    The structure of everyday meals may seem somewhat similar to North America, where it’s common to have soup or salad as a first course, a main course, and dessert. The difference is that the Italians put a lot more emphasis on the first course, so much so that the second course loses the title of ‘main’.

    Formal meals

    Italian formal meals always begin with a starter course (“antipasto”), and continue with one or more first courses, one or more second courses (meat or fish, sometimes interleaved with a lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser), a cheese course (“formaggio”), desserts, a fruit course, coffee, and liquors. One or more second courses may be replaced by a “piatto di mezzo” (a soufflé or a “torta salata”, similar to a quiche).

    • For starters, a selection of appetizers is a must. They may be in the form of pre-assembled platters, or, more informally, they can be brought to the table in serving dishes, or even presented in a self-service buffet (see the article on antipasto).
    • First courses have elaborate preparations and sometimes make use of expensive ingredients (e.g.: truffles, seafood). When more than one first course is served, the portions of each become smaller. In some cases, a sampler of primi containing 2 or 3 dishes on the same plate may be offered; this, however, is becoming more and more uncommon.
    • Second courses also have a refined presentation and sophisticated ingredients. With respect to North America, the meat portions are smaller to compensate for a filling first course. In restaurants, for some meat or fish dishes, a chef may plate each portion in front of the diners by working in a carving or plating station set up next to the dining table. If both a fish secondo and a meat secondo are served in the same meal, it’s customary to serve them in that order and to interleave a sorbet (usually lemon) as a palate-cleanser. If all second courses are based on meat, or if there is only one second course, then a sorbet may be served between first courses and second courses.
    • Formal meals often have an entire course dedicated to cheese, either in the form of pre-assembled samplers, or where a selection of cheeses is presented on serving trays. In some cases, aged cheeses are paired up with jams (especially figs and pears jams), aromatic honey (e.g.: chestnut tree honey), or mostarda.
    • Desserts are also a must in formal dining. In restaurants, a daily selection of cakes, pastries or tarts is often presented on a serving cart for each diner to choose from.
    • The fruit course may be prepared in a salad (called “macedonia”), and optionally served with ‘gelato’. In winter, a combination of dried fruit and fresh fruit might be offered.
    • Coffee is always served. In restaurants, it’s in the form of espresso; at home, it may be from a home-espresso machine or a ‘Moka’.
    • Liquors often conclude the meal because, like sweets, they quench the appetite. They are normally digestive bitters (“amari”). However, grappa, Sambuca, amaretto, nocino, and especially limoncello are also common.

    Note that the aperitif (aperitivo) – an appetizer drink generally accompanied by a light snack – is not part of the courses as it’s usually had some time before the meal, possibly even in a different venue.

    Bread and wine

    In both informal and formal setups, bread is very important to the Italians (so important that any food that comes with bread is generically called “companatico”). Individual buns and sliced loaves may be served in a basket, or set directly on the table. Butter is not part of the tradition, though in some cases unsalted butter curls may still be served. Bread may be had as a snack before the primo – sometimes in the form of breadsticks (“grissini”) – and it always accompanies the second course. In informal setups, it’s acceptable, after the primo, to use a few bread chunks to wipe up any pasta sauce that may be left on the plate. This practice, called “scarpetta” (little-shoe) is however never used after eating risotto, as its cream (made of starch) is not technically a sauce.

    Wine, somewhat common in everyday meals (especially for dinner), becomes mandatory in formal dining – and it must be of high quality. First courses, “piatti di mezzo” and fish courses are paired up with white wines or light reds. Meat-based second courses, instead, require stronger red wines. See the article on wine for more information.

    Further Readings

    For more information, check out 10 Facts About Italian Food, an interesting article on some of the less known misconceptions about Italian food.


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    Aperitivo – The Italian Pre-Dinner Cocktail with Accompaniments

    Known in North America by the French name apéritif, an aperitivo is a drink meant to be had before the meal as an appetizer. To this purpose, the apertitivo is usually a moderately alcoholic cocktail based on vermouth, bitters or white wine. Non-alcoholic versions also exist.

    Even though the aperitivo is technically a starter to the meal (the word comes from the Latin verb ‘aperire’, to open), Italians usually have it well before lunch or dinner, accompanied by a snack. Because of this, the aperitivo often refers to the whole experience of drink plus food (as Italians say: “fare l’aperitivo”, do the aperitif), with the actual purpose of quenching the appetite while waiting for a late meal.

    As described in the article on breakfast, in Italy bars double as coffee shops and are often part of people’s daily routine. And in the bars of Milan and other north Italian cities, the evening aperitivo has evolved into its own tradition. Starting at around 6 pm (which is at least one hour before restaurants open) and continuing until 8 or 9 pm, most bars offer a lot more than peanuts and chips to accompany their drinks. For a slight surcharge on the aperitivo drink, a complimentary buffet of appetizers is commonly offered.

    The best aperitivo venues overflow with customers attracted by their luscious buffets and compete in providing the best ambiance and quality. They are especially popular as social hubs, typically for after-work gatherings, while waiting for dinner time. Even though the buffets can be very tempting, generally people try not to take advantage and limit themselves to one or two small appetizer plates. However, aperitivo spots are also appreciated by students and younger crowds in general, which may help themselves more generously and even decide to have more than one round of drinks and skip dinner altogether.

    As for the actual drink, all of the standard “pre-dinner” cocktails are served. These include:

    • Dry white wine, especially the sparkling Prosecco (see the article on wine);
    • Martini, which in Italy is just straight vermouth on the rocks (from the historical brand Martini e Rossi), as opposed to North American Martini – a cocktail based on gin or vodka;
    • Classic long-drinks, such as gin and tonic, rum and coke (also called Cuba Libre), Americano (gin and sweet red vermouth).

    But the Italians favorites are bitters-based, they include:

    • Straight Campari (25% alcohol, created in 1860) or Aperol (11%, created in 1919), both served on ice and possibly topped up with soda water;
    • Campari (or Aperol) and white wine;
    • Negroni (gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth);
    • Spritz (Aperol or Campari, sparkling wine and soda water), which originated in the North East of Italy.

    It has to be noted that none of the alcoholic aperitivo drinks are particularly strong. In North America they would all be considered “girly” drinks, also because of their bright colors. Italians enjoy them as appetizers, leaving red wine and beer to accompany dinner, and stronger liquors for later in the night.

    Aperitivo drinks can even be entirely non-alcoholic and are quite popular in the morning before lunch. The most common are ‘San Pellegrino Bitter’ (more recently commercialized as ‘Sanbittèr’) and ‘Crodino’, both of which contain herb extracts that give them a bitter aftertaste. They are sold in small individual glass bottles (100 ml) and served on ice with a slice of lemon or orange, or as part of juice-based cocktails.

    Pre-made low-alcohol aperitivo cocktails also exist and can be bought in single-dose glass bottles. The most important are Camparisoda (10%, created in 1932) and Aperol Soda (3%).

    Appetizer display at Spritz bar.
    Appetizer display at Spritz bar in Milan-Navigli.

    As for the accompanying appetizers, other than the typical potato chips and toasted peanuts, it’s common to have olives, savory tarts, bruschette, pasta salads, pizzette. Also quite standard are cold cuts (including prosciutto, mortadella, salame), mozzarella and tomatoes, grilled vegetables, cheese bites (e.g.: Parmigiano slivers, smoked scamorza), or even generous blocks of spreadable cheese (e.g.: gorgonzola or brie), and a selection of breads (small buns and sliced loaves). More rarely deli appetizers are featured, for instance ‘insalata di mare’ (seafood salad, containing boiled octopus, squid, and shrimp in olive oil and lemon), ‘insalata russa’ (Russian salad, containing diced boiled potatoes, peas, carrots, in mayonnaise).

    More appetizers at "Spritz" bar.
    More appetizers at “Spritz” bar.

    Occasionally, warm appetizers and even actual hot courses are offered in the classic buffet chafing dishes, heated with alcohol burners. Example include first courses that don’t need to be freshly made (e.g.: butter and sage tortellini, gnocchi with cheese sauce, baked pasta), second courses (e.g.: meat stews), and sides (e.g.: roasted potatoes or polenta).

    Half-wheel of Parmigiano and focaccia slices.
    Half-wheel of Parmigiano and focaccia slices, also in a Milan bar.

    Every appetizer is served in bite-size portions meant to be eaten directly at the buffet or put on a small disposable plate and taken to the table. Plastic forks and knives are usually provided, though some places limit their customers to using toothpicks and serving spoons.