Our guide to Italian cooking
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to Italian cooking

First published date January 17 2014 Amended date January 22 2014

Italian food is a firm favourite the world over, with roots dating back as far as the 4th Century BC. Over the centuries, Italian cuisine has evolved into the food we know and love today – characterised by relatively simple dishes without lots of ingredients. An Italian cookery course will teach you how to pick out the best quality ingredients to produce truly delicious fare without needing to rely on fancy or difficult techniques.


A brief history of Italian food

Italy has strong regional identities, and dishes and ingredients vary based on where they are made, so there is a lot of regional variation. Although Italian cuisine goes way back, the food we are familiar with today evolved from the 18th Century onwards. With the introduction of potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers en masse at this time, dishes based on tomato sauces in particular became popular – things like tagliatelle al pomodoro could be made without having to source hard-to-find ingredients. The 18th Century was also the time at which cookery books started to talk about Italian cuisine’s defining features – rather than grouping it together with French cuisine.

Did you know? Italy accounts for 21.5% of the world’s production of olive oil. In 1998, the USA imported 34,600,000 gallons of the oil from Italy.

In 1891, ‘The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well’ cookbook was published by Pellegrino Artusi. The book contains 790 recipes, and is considered to be the canon of classic modern Italian cuisine. It is still in print today and continues to be a perennial best seller in Italy, and has been translated into Spanish, Dutch, German, English, and Portuguese.


Popular Italian dishes

An Italian cookery course will focus on a selection of Italian dishes – some courses will teach you how to cook food from a particular Italian region, whereas others focus on particular types of food such as pasta or pizza. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most well-known options:

Antipasti (starters)

·         Bruschetta – grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper. 

·         Bresaola – air-dried, salted beef, originating in the Lombardy region of Italy.

·         Insalata caprese – salad of mozzarella, tomato and basil.

·         Salami – fermented and air-dried cured sausage.

Five popular pizzas

·         Marinara – tomato, oregano and garlic.

·         Napoletana – tomato, mozzarella and anchovy.

·         Siciliana – tomato, mozzarella, capperi, olive and anchovy.

·         Pugliese – tomato, mozzarella and onion.

·         Quattro formaggi – four cheeses.

Did you know? The World Record for the largest pizza was set in 1990 in South Africa. The massive pizza measured in at 37.4 metres in diameter.

One of the staples of Italian cooking is pasta, and some Italian cookery courses focus exclusively on pasta making. Indeed, there are many different varieties to choose from, with the main pasta types being:

·         Long pasta – made by rolling and cutting. Examples: spaghetti, fusilli.

·         Ribbon-cut pasta – made by rolling out a flat sheet of pasta before cutting. Examples: fettuccini, lasagne.

·         Short-cut pasta – made in similar way to long pasta but cut short. Examples: Cannelloni, macaroni.

·         Minute pasta – small pasta. Examples: orzo, conchigliette.

·         Stuffed pasta – pockets are made from flat pasta which are then stuffed with various fillings. Examples: tortelloni, ravioli.

Did you know? The World Record for the longest strand of pasta was set in Japan in 2010. The pasta measured 3,776 metres.

Of course, once you’ve made fresh pasta, you’ll want to find the perfect sauce to complement it...

Five popular pasta sauces

·         Ragu – large tubes of pasta stuffed with ragu (beef) sauce.

·         Carbonara – bacon, eggs, cheese and black pepper.

·         All’arrabiata – tomato, chilli, garlic.

·         Pesto – (typically) basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

·         Amatriciana – cured pork cheek, tomato and pecorino cheese.


After an Italian cookery course

An Italian cookery course will broaden your knowledge of Italian cuisine and equip you with some recipes to make Italian dishes at home, whether it’s making your own pizzas or rolling out your own pasta. If taking an Italian cookery course has whet your appetite for Mediterranean cuisine, you may enjoy courses looking at the food of nearby countries – Spanish or French cuisine, for example. Other related courses include wine tasting courses, which will teach you how to pair the right wine with Italian dishes.

If you enjoy studying cookery, and are interested in turning your hobby into a career, read more information about chef careers.


By Fiona Hughes