I can still remember the first time I came across Italian food: it was a few years after the fall of communism, when my cousin made pizza and cannelloni. She has always been very adventurous in the kitchen, and she took my family by surprise when she made these two dishes, for the first time ever. We didn’t even know how to pronounce their names – I remember we called them “piza” and “chameleon,” lol
As I ventured out of my parents’ home and into the big wide world, my appreciation of Italian cuisine has gone stronger, and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since that first pizza I tried in my cousin’s kitchen. To me, Italian cuisine is very much a work in progress. I constantly try to find out more information about its history and phenomenal worldwide impact, and I’m always after new and exciting recipes to try. My husband and I are big fans of Italian food – in fact, as I’m writing this, I have cannelloni and pizza baking in the oven, both of which will be ready just in time for dinner. 🙂
Since I am so passionate about Italian cuisine, I was very happy to be invited to the opening of the Truly Italian food expo, held in Chicago earlier this week. What does true Italian food mean? What does it taste like? These are some of the challenging questions I wanted to explore at the event.
Truly Italian was organized by the Italian Chamber of Commerce, as part of a project commissioned by the Italian government. Its purpose was to showcase quality Italian products (which are known for the simplicity and substantial quality of their ingredients) and to bring various Italian culinary traditions and techniques to the general public. As the expo opened, several Italian speakers shared some of their childhood food-related memories with the guests. As I listened to them, I couldn’t help but think of the great storytelling which goes behind Italian cooking. Italians do know how to tell a food story!
The event schedule included panel discussions on various topics, from the history of olive oil and an overview of soft cheeses to the Italian tradition of making bread, a journey into the regions of pizza, and the secrets behind making quality pasta. This variety should come as no surprise: after all, Italy is home of 600 different cheeses and has been the world’s leader in pasta production for over 500 years. If you want to learn how to make pasta, then you’d better learn from the best, right? 🙂
Italy also has the largest selection of food products certified by their origin and production process. Truly Italian exhibitors offered us a glimpse of the items currently produced by some of the Italian traditional food manufacturers. These specialty products are available in a limited number of Chicagoland food stores:
No culinary event could be complete without an actual tasting, and Truly Italian made no exception. Guests had the opportunity to sample and to purchase various imported products, while classic Italian dishes were prepared and served on the spot by chefs from famous Chicago dining destinations. Bruschetta, salads or hearty pastas? And how about a panna cotta for dessert? There was plenty of choice for everyone:
I left Truly Italian with a cheerful heart and an inspired mind. I will continue to experiment with Italian ingredients and I will try to cook more dishes from the vast culinary library Italy has given the world. I don’t think I came across a clear-cut definition of Italian food at Truly Italian, but this is not what I expected to find in the first place. Like any complex and successful cuisine, Italian cuisine is always open to interpretation, always reinvented, and forever a mystery. This also means that I can make my own contribution and provide my own definition, which goes as follows: Italian food represents a combination of unadulterated simplicity, authentic ingredients, and great storytelling. 🙂
*Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated by any of the companies mentioned or shown in this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.