Italians talk about everything at the table, from the freshness of ingredients to where the produce comes from.
It was this ritual which led to the establishment of an academy dedicated to protecting and promoting authentic Italian recipes.
The Accademia Italiana della Cucina is a cultural organisation founded in Milan in 1953, by journalist and photographer, Orio Vergani, and his friends Dino Buzzati, Luigi Bertett, Marino Parenti and others.
This group of friends were chatting over dinner one evening and agreed with the idea which Vergani had long been nurturing: that of founding an academy with the task of safeguarding the traditions of Italian cuisine.
The association protects and promotes Italian cuisine through various initiatives, studies, publications, tastings and more.
It was the first Italian association of its kind, and the first to acknowledge cuisine as the root of Italian culture.
On August 18, 2003, the academy was officially recognised as a “cultural institute” by the Italian Republic.
The origins of traditional Italian recipes are varied and often based on the concept of making the most of what’s available.
You could say that Italians have succeeded in turning simple and cheap ingredients into tasty dishes that the rest of the world now adores and seeks to replicate.
However, there’s one thing Italians can’t stand: “fakeness”.
Here are two classic Italian dishes, as the academy recognises them.
Carbonara is by far the most replicated Italian dish, both within the Belpaese and beyond its borders.
Perhaps the most famous Roman dish, the real carbonara may not be what we all think.
There are many stories associated with carbonara, some which take us to Naples and others to the US.
Its etymology is uncertain, as are its origins.
Most texts don’t cite its existence until 1930, meaning it’s a relatively young dish.
The version which traces the dish’s origins back to the US is plausible, as it’s first mentioned after the liberation of Rome, in 1944.
Perhaps it was during that time that bacon and dehydrated eggs appeared, brought over by American troops.
But the nationalists and romantics out there prefer to believe that carbonara came about as an “evolution” of cacio e ova, a pasta dish from Lazio and Abruzzo, and got its name from the lumbermen who made coal, or carbone, out of wood in the Apennines.
No traditionalist would ever use bacon or pancetta in this dish: the real recipe features guanciale, or pork cheek, which consists of mostly muscle and a small amount of fat.
According to the authentic recipe, carbonara has only six ingredients.
Spaghetti or long durum wheat pasta is traditionally used, while some exceptions can be made, such as some short pasta types, or bucatini.
Then there’s the guanciale, preferably from Amatrice or elsewhere in Lazio.
As for cheese, Pecorino Romano is used.
Some dare to create a mix with parmesan to tone down the flavour.
Many non-Italians don’t know that the traditional recipe includes eggs: generally, at least one yolk per person and a white for every four people.
The final element is a pinch of salt and pepper.
That’s it, nothing more.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to add onion, garlic or cream.
And don’t even think about creating a “light” or exotic version, like vegetarian carbonara which substitutes the guanciale with zucchini.
While the method doesn’t seem too complicated, achieving the perfect texture without scrambling the eggs is a real art that requires lots of practice.
Want to give it a go?
Bring some water to the boil in a saucepan.
While the water for the pasta is boiling, toss the guanciale in a pan without oil.
Beat the eggs in a bowl while adding salt, pepper and, lastly, the cheese.
Cook the pasta in the salted boiling water.
When the water becomes starchy, add some to the eggs.
The pasta water – which shouldn’t be over 63˚C – will melt the cheese and “cook” the eggs.
Drain the pasta when it’s al dente and toss it in the pan with the guanciale.
Turn the pasta into the bowl with the egg mixture and stir well, adding more pasta water if needed.
Plate up and garnish with a sprinkle of cheese and a pinch pepper.
Ragù alla bolognese
Following years of tastings, disputes, votes, research and debates, the Accademia Italiana della Cucina announced the official recipe of ragù alla bolognese on October 17, 1982, at the Chamber of Commerce in Bologna.
The word ragù derives from the French term ragout, meaning to “reawaken the appetite”.
Originally it referred to any type of meat, fish or vegetable that was reduced to small pieces and cooked over a low heat for a long period of time.
While it’s not clear when the term was first introduced in Italy, ragù was already being served at tables of Italian aristocrats during the Renaissance, first as a meal on its own and then as a pasta sauce.
Legend has it that ragù was made for the first time in Italy, in the northern city of Bologna, around the 16th century.
It was served only in the houses of the wealthy, as meat was considered a luxury during the era.
The official recipe for ragù isn’t simple, but it’s worth trying it for a taste of the end result: a rich and mouth-watering meat sauce.
The sauce is traditionally served with tagliatelle, but you can also use it to make lasagne.
Find the official recipe for ragù alla bolognese here.