Carb-heavy and exploding with fresh flavours, Italian grub is often regarded as a comfort food lacking in strict conventions and etiquette. But, if the advice of Italian chefs and experts is anything to go by, eating and preparing the Southern European food is laden with as many rules as any other cuisine. That's if you want to do it right, anyway.
To save us all the embarrassment of sipping on a negroni while eating papparadelle or, God forbid, dipping our pizza crusts into tomato sauce, we've asked some top Italian chefs to reveal the most cringe-worthy mistakes diners and cooks make.
“One of the biggest mistakes restaurants can make when making spaghetti alla carbonara is to use cream instead of egg yolks,” says Antonio Tonelli of the La Tagliata restaurant in London. That's because cream is heavy and cloying but eggs add richness.
“Also, never cook pasta in boiling water without sea salt," he adds. "The pasta will never be seasoned enough if you add salt once it has been cooked. And never put Parmesan on the seafood or clam in spaghetti or linguine, because it overpowers the delicate flavours."
Jordan Sclare, the group executive chef at Fucina in London, similarly can't understand why cooks add double cream but also butter to pastas. "In Italy olive oil is the key ingredient,” he says.
“When it comes to food and rules, Italians are inflexible and I approve,” chimes Silvia Baldini, the Food Network Chopped winner who has trained in Michelin-starred kitchens.
“Pasta is never a side dish. You cannot have pasta and steak. And of course meatballs don’t go on spaghetti. Or chicken. In Italy there are no dishes featuring pasta and chicken,” she says. "Also, oil should not be added to pasta cooking water. Pasta dressing - and oil too - must be added only after you have drained it from its cooking water.”
As for the pasta itself she adds: “Spaghetti bolognese is a big no. Tagliatelle is the right way to go. But my kids do not agree with me on this one.
"And keep the ketchup for your French fries. I beg you."
“The worst mistake cooks make when creating the classic Italian dessert tiramisu is not using egg whites," says Tonelli. "These need to be whisked until they form soft peaks and added to the custard as they give the pudding a much lighter texture. Many chefs also add cocoa in advance but it should always be added just before serving to stop it from getting soggy.”
While drinking a flat white or frappuccino or some other inauthentic, made-up drink is acceptable to some, Italian food purists adhere to strict rules surrounding coffee. "Drinking a cappuccino any time other that for a breakfast or afternoon snack is a big no," says Baldini. “The reason is very simple. A cappuccino is made with milk. It’s basically a meal in itself and quite caloric. Instead, order an espresso or a macchiato or a corretto if you need a little boost.”
“Drinking cocktails throughout your meal isn’t the done way either," adds Sclare. "A cocktail is an aperitif, whereas wine and beer is to be had with food. And never ask for tap water. Drink still and or sparkling only," he adds.