From a hands on cookery class with local chefs on our Sicily Food Adventure to making authentic Neapolitan pizza on the Amalfi Coast, Exodus Travels are your ultimate guide to dinner parties around the world. When you travel with us, our expert local guides will show you their country’s best regional delicacies – with our Italian Tour Leader, Vania De Paoli, being no exception.
While each region of Italy boasts its own distinctive flavours – reflecting local climate, agriculture and history – the core elements of Italian cooking are the same. There is a deep appreciation for locally sourced ingredients; simplicity when it comes to preparation, and (most importantly) every meal should be thoroughly enjoyed alongside family and friends, where you can devour every bite with gusto.
Read on to discover Vania’s 4 favourite Italian dishes; and savour the unique flavours of Italy by recreating some of her best dishes from the comfort of your own home.
Meat on the spit
Roasting Mediterranean meat on the spit is the Italian equivalent of a Texan cookout. Vania jokingly comments, “It is a really big deal. In the Veneto region, the area where I live, Italian style barbeques are very famous, and we’re especially known for perfecting meat on the spit.”
She continues, “The spit turns around for hours and hours before the meat is ready. Mainly we use chicken and pork meat and some chefs put bacon in between which helps to release the juices and makes the meat even softer. And the result after hours of this process is unbelievably soft, melt in your mouth meat. You don’t even need the knife to cut it, it simply falls off and is packed with flavour.”
Vania explains, “This is by far one of my favourite dishes. Not only because it’s delicious, but this dish is usually prepared when we have big family gatherings, birthdays, or any occasion that brings people together, so it’s special to me.”
“In a village close to where I live, there is even an annual festival that celebrates meat on a spit. People gather to try and make the biggest spit in Italy. The only meat they cook at that festival is quail, and I have to say from personal experience, it was very good!”
Fried Acacia flowers
This wild, spring Italian delicacy is a firm favourite with Vania. As she explains, “We see this dish as a dessert in Italy. It is very seasonal, which means you can only make this dish when the flowers are present. You’ve got a small window of one to two weeks every year, around springtime.”
She continues, “The main ingredient of course is the Acacia flower. We use it because it has a delicate flavour of nectar and spice, with a perfume that’s not unlike orange blossom. Where I live, we usually see the blossoms come to life at the end of April, beginning of May. The Acacia is a plant that spreads everywhere on the hills in the North East of Italy. During this time of year, the air is full of the flower’s beautiful perfume, especially in the evening before sunset.”
Vania says, “The flowers are actually very quick and easy to cook. You just dip them in a batter made with flour and eggs and you fry them up in seed oil. The perfume of the flowers reminds me of spring at home and the flavour remains trapped inside the flowers, so the taste is delicious!
Ravioli with asparagus and ricotta
Ravioli is a common staple when it comes to traditional homemade Italian cooking. With fillings differing from region to region, some of the most popular ones include; spinach, nutmeg, black pepper, lemon rind, and Vania’s personal favourite, ricotta.
Perfectly light and packed with super greens, Ravioli with asparagus and ricotta is a great springtime and summertime Italian dish that you can easily recreate at home. Vania explains, “Ravioli is one of the classic primi piatti (starter plate) in our food culture.” We’d even recommend you adding some walnuts and whip up your own flavourful butter lemon sauce to add that extra bit of zing and crunch to the meal.
Vania continues, “I’m a particular fan of this dish. I love asparagus, it is one of my favourite seasonal vegetables, so this dish is like the perfect combo of vegetables and Italian pasta. It is one of those things you make when you have time at home, because it takes a while to prepare. But to be honest, I love making it as much as enjoy eating it!”
To cook ravioli like Vania, click here.
Crostata with plum jam
Legend has it, that the Italian Crostata came into the world as a gift from the gods to the siren Parthenope, who tried to win the affection of Odysseus through her sweet music and lived in the bay of Naples. In reality, this much-loved Italian desert can actually be traced to a cookbook, the Libro de Arte Coquinaria, published in 1465. However, no matter how or when this delicious open fruit tart came into being, it’s safe to say that this desert continues to be a hit throughout every region in Italy.
And it comes in all sizes and flavours – from the fruity and creamy types in northern Italy like crostata al limone (with lemon) and crostata di marmelata (with fruit jam), to savoury versions like crostata di ricotta in southern Italy. Vania’s crostata of choice is marmellata di prugne, plum jam. She comments, “Crostata is the most popular pastry that is cooked in the area where I come from. It is easy and quick to make, and it fills the house with the most beautiful smell. My mum used to bake it when I was a kid quite often, so it’s one of my favourite homemade pastries.”
Bake a crostata like Vania, here.
If these local Italian dishes have inspired you, why not take a look at booking your own culinary trip to Italy, here.