12 Essential Italian Words for Foodies!

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12 Essential Italian Words for Foodies!


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If you are reading this article, chances are you too are a lover of Italian food and you will certainly have come across lots of interesting Italian terms whilst perusing recipes, food blogs or menus in your favourite restaurants. You’ll just love our Cooking Days in Parma so here are some must have terms.

We’ve compiled a useful list of the vocabulary we think you absolutely need to know – you may be familiar with some of it already are but we are sure that not all of you know exactly how to cook your pasta ‘al dente’, what do do with your ‘acqua di cottura’ or exactly what’s in your ‘Arrabbiata’!

1) Al dente

This term indicates the level of cooking your pasta should have AT ALL TIMES. Italians eat their pasta only when its cooked to perfection and this means it must have that firm bite to it otherwise something definitely went wrong! Al dente literally translates as: To the tooth, which indicates the concept that the pasta must be not too soft but slightly chewy when biting it.

A little secret to perfect al dente pasta is to cook it at least one minute less than indicated on the packet. This will not work with every kind and brand of pasta as some have very strange cooking times that vary accordingly to a series of external factors. Nevertheless, this rule works with most of the pasta brands that are sold around the UK.

Another wise move would be to try the pasta 4 minutes before cooking time is up and then again after 2 minutes. This way you will know exactly when to drain it from the water to create a proper pasta plate!

Finally, always remember to throw the pasta in to cook only when the water is on full boil.

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2) All’Arrabbiata

This is a much-loved type of pasta sauce that you’ll find on most Italian menus. It’s so hot and spicy it’s actually angry! (the literal meaning of arrabbiata). Arrabbiata sauce is usually made with tomatoes, olive oil and peperoncino: three simple ingredients to give one amazing experience.

3) Antipasto

This is what Italians eat before their main course and literally means ‘before the meal’. It often consists of a tempting selection of cheeses with accompaniments, assorted bruschettas, vegetables in oil, small bites of fried delicacies and maybe a platter of cold cuts. Sometimes, if a restaurant has amazing antipasti, the Italians will order only those with a crisp glass of white wine.

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4) Bruschetta

Bruschetta is a favourite antipasto dish in Italy – it’s so simple but can taste incredible with the right, quality ingredients. Toast thickly sliced, traditional bread (open textured is best) and top with extra virgin olive oil and oregano, sweet sun ripened tomatoes, roasted aubergines, anchovies or olive pate. Just remember to pronounce it bru-sketta and not bru-shetta!

5) Frittata

Frittata translates as ‘fried’ and is the Italian version of the omelette. A frittata is generally started on the stove and finished in the oven and the chosen filling is mixed with the egg at the beginning rather than added later. There’s normally lots of Parmesan in the mix. Frittata is usually very large and thick and made for the whole family, sliced and often eaten cold or even in a sandwich!

6) Peperoncino

This is Italian chilli pepper, one of the most important ingredients in Italian cooking. There are around 85 varieties to choose from and the best you’ll find in Italy will be right down south in Calabria. Add it to virtually everything!

7) Al Forno

This term literally means ‘oven baked’ and it is associated with foods that are cooked in the oven rather than on the stove. Pasta al forno is a good example of the term and it indicates the typical, hearty, oven baked pasta that is so widely eaten in Italy. It can be made with lasagne, cannelloni, lumachoni, penne and rigatoni to name just a few pasta types.

8) Acqua di cottura

The literal translation of this term is ‘cooking water’ and it refers to the water you cook your pasta or rice in. Italian chefs will set aside a little of this water whilst cooking the pasta and later add a couple of spoons of it to the pasta sauce. It will gain density thanks to the starch that the pasta or rice has released in the water.

9) ‘QB’ Quanto basta

QB means just enough or ‘to taste’ in English, and you will find the abbreviation alongside various ingredients in many Italian recipes. The writer of the recipe is leaving quantities to your judgement! You’ll need to forget the traditional British way of being precise with measurements and quantities and rely on your taste buds!! This might happen with salt and pepper, garlic, herbs or even cheese. Many Italian cooks tend to use even fundamental recipe ingredients such as flour or sugar with a bit of error margin, making their dough using their eye for quantity rather that measuring everything precisely. This is characteristic of a culture that will always prefer creativity and uniqueness to standardized thinking… even if it means that a couple of times your pizza won’t come out quite right! ?

10) Crudo

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Crudo means raw. This term can refer to the crudo ham (prosciutto crudo di Parma for example), which is the uncooked but aged version of ham Italians love, or can refer to meat or fish dishes. Crudo di pesce is the typical southern Italian, raw fish platter that will amaze your taste buds! Raw meat is usually called carpaccio and that too is quite delicious especially if you try the carpaccio di Fassona or Chianina Toscana.

11) Soffritto

This is a very important and typical Italian mix of carrots, onion and celery that is usually used as the flavour base of many dishes, be they pasta sauces, risottos, broths or meat dishes. You usually chop the vegetables very finely and fry them gently in olive oil until golden, you then add the main ingredients and slow cook everything.

12) Sott’oli/Sott’aceti

These are basically veggies in jars, which have been preserved in either oil (oli) or vinegar (aceti). You can find sun-dried tomatoes, onions, carrots, peppers, garlic, artichokes, aubergines and many others. The oil preserved ones are mainly eaten as part of an antipasto platter and those in vinegar are added to a rice or pasta salad as a quick and tasty meal.

Armed with this knowledge, you can now cook Italian with confidence!

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