The 10 Commandments of Italian Food

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The Italians are real sticklers when it comes to mealtime.
They’re particular about what they eat, how they they eat it, and what they eat and drink with it. There are rules about the time of year and the time of day, who’s in the kitchen and who’s at the table, how a dish is prepared and how it’s served. There’s no room for compromise and heaps of scorn for rule breakers.

pasta with chicken
Image: Pasta With Chicken via Shutterstock

If you grew up in an Italian family, you absorbed these lessons at your nonna’s knee. For the rest of us, the Parma-based gastronomy institute Academia Barilla has condensed and codified centuries of traditional kitchen wisdom into the 10 Italian Commandments. The academia was chartered to defend and safeguard the nation’s culinary traditions. The faux pas of foreigners are more than shudder-inducing affronts; they are seen as all-out attacks on the integrity of their institutions.

When in Rome (or just Little Italy)…  The 10 Commandments of Italian Food

I. Don’t drink cappuccino after dinner.
Coffee, yes. Cappuccinos and lattés, no. Milky drinks are exclusively a morning thing.

II. Pasta is not a side dish.
It can be its own course or the main event, but never alongside an entrée. The same goes for risotto unless it’s served with Ossobuco Milanese.

III. No oil in the pasta water.
It doesn’t prevent the pasta from sticking. But it will coat the pasta and prevent it from properly absorbing the sauce.

IV. No ketchup on pasta.
Do we really need to be told this? What must they think of us?!

V. No Spaghetti Bolognese.
There’s art and science behind matching a particular sauce with a specific pasta shape, and certain pairings are sacrosanct. Bolognese sauce goes with tagliatelle.

VI. Chicken and pasta should not be combined.
Not in the same dish. Broth or giblet-y bits can go in the pasta sauce, but no chicken meat.

VII. Caesar’s salad? What’s that?
It’s a Mexican invention, virtually unknown in Italy.

VIII. Don’t look for red-and-white checkered tablecloths.
Unless you’re looking to dine in a tourist trap.

IX. Your fork shouldn’t be able to stand up in the Alfredo sauce.
You won’t find the familiar cream-thickened Alfredo sauce which rarely appears on authentic Italian menus. When it does, it’s a creamless version of butter and cheese.

X. Food tastes best when served with family.
Italian restaurants in America refer to something called "family-style dining." In Italy, there’s no such designation; it’s just called dining.

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