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italian starter - Gustorotondo

Italian Starter

How to cook a real Italian starter

The Italian starter is an incredibly varied thing. It can range from an individual and carefully curated plate, to a shared wealth of small treats, to even a wonderful selection of simple, but carefully prepared bruschetta. Every region in Italy of course has its own starters and here we’d like to discuss a few of our favourite ideas.

However before we begin, the key one must always remember is simplicity. When you have wonderful olive oil, and artisan goods produced in the finest manner, you can often do no better than to serve such things together, on their own, with perhaps a little bread!

The aperitivo is a perfect Italian starter

In modern and cosmopolitan Italy, many decide to commence the evening’s eating with what is now widely known as the aperitivo. The aperitivo is rumoured to have begun near Turin, where a bar owner would put out snacks for all the hungry industry workers to snack on when they’d have their post-shift drink. He would put out some bruschetta, hams, cheeses, and other delights and watch us the elated workers could have a well-deserved bite to eat.

Being Italy, the land of food and wine, the phenomenon did not of course take long to spread. Soon in all the big North Italian cities, one could find this form of Italian starter. In fact today if you go anywhere in Italy, you’ll notice that in the evening there is food lining all the bars. This is complementary and comes with you drink order, so do not be afraid to dig in!
An aperitivo is best enjoyed with a glowing orange aperol spritz, and it can be easily prepared at home by visiting a top quality Italian deli and getting your hands on the finest cured meats, cheeses, focaccia and vegetables under-oil.

An Italian starter to accompany wine

When you visit Italy’s best enoteca (wine-bars), if you find a good place, you will readily have your glasses of wine accompanied by a selection of well-prepared and simple bruschetta. These bruschetta often consist of a small slice of crusty bread, topped with single ingredient. This ingredient will often be a single slice of delectable cured meat, or a little cheese. However most often it will be a vegetable kept under golden olive oil, that will sit on top the bread with a little of its oil, providing that heavenly combination of bread and olive oil that one only finds so perfectly in Italy.

This form of Italian starter has been taken to its most extreme and delectable form by the Venetians. There one can find their own form of tapas or pinchos, where they accompany small 1 euro glasses of their abundant wines with small pieces of bread all topped beautifully by small but masterfully created seafood combinations. They are called cichetti, and one can do no better than to create a range of these to start off your dinner.

Baccala, the best Italian starter on bread

Baccala is perhaps one of Venice’s best loved cichetti and Italian starters. It is remarkably simple to make and so we could not resist sharing our favourite recipe quickly.

Ingredients

  1. 500g pre-soaked salt cod
  2. 1 litre water
  3. 250ml Extra Virgin olive oil
  4. 2 garlic cloves
  5. 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  6. Capers and olives for garnish

Place your cod and water in a pan together and boil for 25 minutes. Reserving the cooking liquid, take the fish out and set aside to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, remove any bones and chuck it in the food processor with a little of the oil and a little of the poaching water. Now keep blitzing the mixture, adding a little more oil and cooking liquid each time, making sure you are maintaining a consistent texture. Crush the garlic and add it half-way through the process.

Serve it on bread or on grilled polenta!

Do not fear fruit in your Italian starter!

Italy has a huge wealth of fruit, and it should not be surprising that it makes its way into so many Italian dishes. Many of the best Italian starter play with the sweetness of fruit, and often juggle it with the musty, strong flavours of cured meat, or the tang of particularly strong cheeses.

A classic starter taking advantage of all the best things Italy has to offer on a plate is a pear, radicchio, gorgonzola and hazelnut salad. Using about 300g radicchio, a couple of tablespoons of vinegar and oil, 200g cheese and 2 large pears with handful of hazelnuts, you can simply create one an incredible array of flavours and highly refined starter. Other simple preparations are melons wrapped in parma ham, or an absolutely unforgettable starter can be made by wrapping strips of high-quality mozzarella and fig with wafer thing DOP parma ham.

Finally an Italian starter that heralds from Sicily and that never fails to excite is a fennel and blood orange salad. Here the finest sherry vinegar (or even better, black Sicilian vinegar if you can find it) is dropped onto the sliced oranges and high quality extra virgin olive oil onto the fennel, which have both been chopped into 1.5cm slices and littered elegantly across a place. A gentle sprinkling of salt finishes off an outlandish flavour sensation.

A summer Italian starter

Already you should have plenty of inspiration here for some neat and wonderful starters. You can get good focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes under oil and top mozarella. You could even go further and accompany this with some wonderful bruschetta and cuts of fine meat, perhaps all crowned by some baccala on grilled polenta. However we felt we should at least send you off with two simple extra dishes that really show off the best of our land’s ingredients and the simplicity with which we prepare them.

Fried aubergines make an exceptional Italian starter and are very simple to prepare. They should be made when the aubergines are at their height in mid-summer, and require only that you cut them into 2cm rounds and fry them in batches, and when cooked, sprinkle with the smallest garnish of finely chopped garlic and parsley, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of your best olive oil.

Similarly when Italian onions from Tropea come into season, you cannot miss making this Italian starter with them. With 5 or so of the meatiest height-of-summer cuor di bue tomatoes you can find, and two fresh Tropea onions, slice the tomatoes into big rounds, and the tropea onions and thinly as possible. Drizzle with exquisite oil, sprinkle with salt and wild oregano, and enjoy a taste of the summer like no other.

Now go wow everyone with your Italian starters
These should be plenty of ideas to get going, go forth and search aperitivo pictures, cicchetti recipes, baccala and polenta. Visit an Italian deli and be inspired not only by their range of incredible vegetables under oil, but their fruit conserves too, and wonder if you could serve them somehow with that special pecorino cheese you saw. The options are limitless, but keep it simple, and buy quality, and know that then you should never go wrong with your Italian starter!

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