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Next time you book and embark on an Italy holiday, make sure you squeeze these must-eat Italian specialities into your agenda.
It’s a well-known fact that gelato is delicious. But even better than that, it’s also healthier than ice-cream. Yes indeed. With less milk fat, no cream and fewer calories than its non-Italian twin, Gelato’s the clear winner.
Try it: Peaks of pastel-coloured gelato tumble from their plastic tubs and an assortment of sweet sugary treats rest perfectly across the top. You’re in Florence’s renowned Gelateria La Carraia – AKA gelato heaven.
The stomach shouts yes, the hips scream no – but the belly always wins. It’s all about Italian carbonara. Like many of Italian’s most popular dishes, the ingredients are simple; eggs, cheese, bacon, a sprinkle of pepper and spaghetti – al dente of course. Originating from Rome, now you know why all the Romans wore togas: the perfect ensemble for an expanding waist line.
Try it: La Carbonara Restaurant in Rome. Said to serve the best carbonara in Italy. Well, you'd hope so with a name like that.
3. Gnocchi & pesto
Best described as soft dough dumplings made from flour, semolina or potato, among other variations, gnocchi is light and fluffy. Complimentary simple sauces are usually the best; you can’t go wrong with fresh pesto.
Try it: Anywhere in Liguria: The home of pesto, but the Pastificio Moderno Restaurant is a particularly good delicatessen where you can purchase a fine array of home-made pasta and freshly prepared pesto.
4. Risotto al nero di seppia
The original Italian risotto derives from northern Italy but you’ll want to try the speciality of the Veneto region, Risotto al nero di seppia. Particularly fun to eat because it’s black; a result of the key ingredient, cuttlefish, which are cooked with their ink-sacs intact, turning the rice into an inky greyish black.
Try it: Ristorante Tintoretto in the Veneto capital, Venice. Off the main canals and more relaxed than most Venetian pit stops, the black risotto is always a main player on the menu.
Said to be inspired by Lucrezia Borgia’s navel button (she was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI) Tortellini reigns from the region of Emilia and - if you look at it from the right angle – resembles the shape of a belly button. Fortunately the taste isn’t as disgusting as the story. To the contrary, tortellini is bursting with tasty ingredients, and finished with lashings of rich sauce.
Try it: In the gastronomic heart of Italy, Bologna. Renowned for bolognaise but also tortellini. Ignore the guidebooks that recommend all the obvious spots and seek out La Traviata instead. A family run trattoria serving all of Bologna's finest creations.
6. Pappa al Pomodoro
A thick Tuscan soup crafted from fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and bread. If you think the bread's on the side plate, think again. The name literally translates into 'mush of tomato' and the bread's what makes it mushy - but also moreish.
Try it: Baghino Restaurant in Prato. An old Italian tavern offering the best in Italian hospitality, it’s authentic, charming and bursting with enticing smells. You’ll enjoy traditional Tuscan cooking at its very best - so much so there are more locals here than visitors, so you know it's good.
7. Panna Cotta
You thought cream was creamy, but wait until you discover Italian panna cotta - it's next level. Described as Italian cooked cream, the recipe consists of little more than cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and gelatine, but the result is beyond magnificent.
Try it: All the desserts are sublime at Cinghiale Bianco Ristorante in Florence, but you'll leave raving about the panna cotta.
Oh Affogato! No Italian meal is complete without Affogato. Combining two of Italy's finest creations, a big dollop of gelato is added to a single shot of espresso. Add a crunchy side-serve of biscotti and a nip of Frangelico, a hazelnut liquor, and you're in business. The knack is to drink it before the ice-cream melts... We’re sure you’ll manage.
Try it: Rome’s Bar San Calisto. A local favourite with a cheery vibe to match. Bag yourself a seat outside and order that affogato - nothing mixes better than Italian coffee, gelato and people watching.
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