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Why Is Italian Cooking So Popular?

I have often wondered which cuisine is better—French or Italian. There is no question that Italian cuisine is more popular, but is it better? 

I still don’t know the answer to this question, I guess it is up to each person’s taste. However, after visiting my favorite Italian store today for umpteenth time here in southwestern Ontario, I realized why Italian cooking is the most popular in the world.

It is the unique Italian products. 

There is hardly a kitchen in the Western world that doesn’t use at least one Italian product or has an Italian menu item such as pizza, pasta, chicken Parmesan, lasagna, manicotti, ravioli, and so on. Everybody has heard about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet and most of the products that are associated with it originate in Italy. 

I can hear you saying that this is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps, perhaps! Below are some of my favorite Italian food products, so you can draw your own conclusion. 

Sun-Dried Tomato
They are among my favorite Italian ingredients. I love the sun-dried tomatoes that have been marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs. I use them for pizza, pasta, salads, and dressings. If you buy the kind of sun-dried tomatoes that are sold dry, slice them and store them in oil. 

The canned artichokes are good for pizzas, pastas, dips, antipasto platters and so on. If you want to try fresh artichokes, peel and slice them, than dip them in cold water, where you have added little lemon juice to prevent them from getting dark. Grease the fresh artichoke with oil, season and grill it over charcoal. 

Bocconcini Cheese
This is the soft, unripened mozzarella cheese. It is sold in brine, in the form of little balls, from where the name comes. Bocconcini is very good for salads, panini, and original Italian pizzas. 

Provolone Cheese
Provolone is a semi-hard flavorful table cheese, made similarly to mozzarella, but is much more tasty. Tastes can vary from Provolone Piccante to Provolone Dulce. The first one is aged longer and has harder texture and sharper taste. If you see Provolone entirely encrusted in a wax cap and wrapped around with strings, you may be sure that this is a good quality, original Provolone cheese. 

This is an Italian dry-cured salami, sometimes pressed with a weight while curing, hence the name sopressata. The pork meat is coarsely ground, flavored with spices, filled in the casings and hung to dry. Sopressata is very flavorful; I love it on pizza and in panini. 

This is an aged, salt-cured, air-dried Italian ham, which is usually sliced very thin and served as antipasto or in panini, but is also very delicious sliced and chopped in pastas or on pizzas. Can also be used for stuffing or wrapping chicken breast, wrapped around fruits such as melon or figs, or in recipes such as prosciutto-wrapped salmon fillet and so on. 

Olives are very good for your health because they have high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Eating olives benefits your heart and your cholesterol level. The same goes for the extra virgin olive oil. Not to mention that they are so tasty, as well. Olives can be enjoyed in pastas, pizzas, salads, antipasto, panini, wraps, and many other cooked dishes. 

Pesto Sauce
Pesto sauce is made from blending fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, hard table cheese such as Parmigiano Regiano, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. It is excellent sauce for cooking any kind of Mediterranean food—pizza, pasta, salads, panini, on top of fish fillets, lamb chops encrusted in pesto and so much more. 

Olive Oil
Olive oil comes in four varieties—extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, pure olive oil and pomace olive oil. The first one is the best, because it comes from the first press of the olives. The last one—the pomace oil—is chemically extracted from the stuff left over after pressing the olives, and is of lesser quality. There are, also, many kinds of infused gourmet olive oils—infused with garlic, chili flakes, onion, truffle essence and so on. 

Capicollo is a kind of cured Italian ham. It can be mild or hot. The hot variety is simply brushed with hot chili paste on the outside. Capicollo is very good for Italian panini and pizza., as well as, for antipasto. 

Parmigiano Regiano and Grana di Padano
Thsee are grainy aged cheeses with sharp flavor and hard texture. Both are excellent grating cheeses for pastas and risotti, and are very good table cheeses, as well. Freshly grated Parmesan is way better than the store bought grated product, which is a dairy product, but not a real Parmesan. 

Pecorino Crotonese
Pecorino Crotonese is a hard cheese made of sheep milk, with a very pleasant rustic flavor. It is an exceptional grating cheese, a nice substitution for Parmigiano Regiano, but can be enjoyed in a cheese platter as well. 

Asiago Cheese
This is a wonderful Italian table cheese with a hard texture and sharp taste. It is very well regarded in North America and is widely used in Italian restaurants around the world. The name of this delicious cheese comes from the alpine town of Asiago. 

Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me about your own Italian product, or you might even want to make a counter-list of your favorite French food products. I’d love to hear, too, which cuisine you prefer. As a chef, my mind tells me French … but as a person my heart tells me Italian. 

Enjoy your day—and check those chicken Parmesans in the oven. I think they might be burning. 

By George Krumov for Chef’s Blade