If you know me at all, you know that I have somewhat of a particular palate – and by “particular”, I mean “minuscule”. I’m a picky eater, always have been, always will be, and this unfortunate trait of mine is perhaps the one thing keeping me from being a food critic. For while I may not like most food, I am fiercely passionate about the foods I do like. And I definitely like Italian food the most.
There are many reasons for my bias towards this delectable category of Mediterranean cuisine – the texture of it, the flavor, the way it looks – and I could write about it for pages and pages, I’m sure. But perhaps the thing that blows me away the most whenever I sink my teeth into a slice of Pizza Margherita or twirl a forkful of spaghetti out of a bowl is this: the simplicity of it all.
I mean, look at this picture:
This is bruschetta, an Italian appetizer. It’s usually served heaped on slices of toasted, oil-soaked bread, and the main ingredients are as follows: diced tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. That’s it. And it’s just about the tastiest thing I have ever had the privilege to consume. You probably don’t believe me for a second, but it’s the truth.
Just look at it. I can almost taste it if I close my eyes. It’s positively irresistible; if you own an Italian restaurant and you’ve got great bruschetta, I’ll fork over any amount just to get a plate of 4 slices – I don’t care if the rest of your menu consists of nothing but calamari and shrimp, I will be your loyal customer for as long as I am able.
Also, there’s this stuff:
Pasta. This stuff is amazing. All it is is flour, water, and salt, but even if you scoop it right out of the boiling water and into a bowl without adding any sauce or anything, it still tastes amazing. And the Italians – the brilliant, inventive, fantastic Italians – have the power to make it fifty times better by adding just four times the toppings: vegetables, olive oil, cheese, and herbs. Even though it’s the same basic ingredients as bruschetta, it somehow manages to taste completely different when coupled with the floury, mildly salty taste of pasta. It’s astounding.
Most cultures heap loads of stuff on their pasta until it’s just a mountain of fish, leaves, potatoes, chicken, broccoli…and a teensy bit of pasta, drowning in different juices and marinations at the bottom of the plate. But not the Italians.
They manage to do so much with so very little, and it’s enough to make me feel like crying when I find that I’m on my last forkful of fettuccine.
Finally, there’s the desserts:
Tiramisu, gelato, flourless chocolate cake…ugh, it’s almost too much to handle in one group of photos.
Tiramisu is a fairly common dessert, and flourless chocolate cake is pretty self-explanatory (chocolate cake without flour, topped with powdered sugar and served typically with strawberries – it’s so rich that even a piece as small as the one pictured is difficult to finish in one sitting), so I’m gonna explain the concept of gelato to you.
Gelato is ice cream, but it’s just…not. There’s something different about it that is impossible to explain, really. It tastes fresher, creamier, and generally better than American ice cream. This is because every gelato shop in Italy makes their own supply of the dessert, so the chocolate from the shop near the Trevi Fountain tastes completely different than the chocolate from Mariotti’s outside Piazza Navona (which just so happens to taste like melted chocolate chips and fairy dust). Fruit flavors are pretty popular, and the chocolate strawberry happens to be my favorite. Also, as you can see from the pictures above, the Italians sure know how to display their desserts in such a way that you will be hungry for them even after a huge meal of pizza and pasta.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that the Italians have a knack for taking something ordinary – like a basil leaf, a tomato, or a scoop of ice cream – and turning it into something positively unforgettable. How a simple combination of herbs, olive oil, and diced tomatoes can taste so good on top of a simple slice of toasted bread is a mystery that I will ponder for the rest of my life.
Or perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps I should just stop wondering and accept Italian cuisine for what it is – divine.
One thing’s for certain, though – when I walk through the pearly gates, I’m gonna strut right up to God’s throne and thank him right there for that little boot-shaped country in the Mediterranean. And then I’m gonna ask him where I can find Heaven’s best tortellini.