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    Our Paesani

    "Our Paesani" is a column written by Francesca Di Meglio. Its purpose is to help bridge the gap between Italians in Italy and Italians throughout the world.

    4 Ways Italians Make Mealtime Healthier
    People identify themselves by the food that they eat. What Italians are saying with their cuisine is that they are passionate artists. For example, Margherita pizza, which was born in Italy, was created to symbolize the Italian flag (red sauce, white cheese, green basil) as a tribute to Queen Margherita. An Italian's entire day revolves around food - and mealtime still means something there. That is why Italians, although gaining on Americans in the weight wars, still tend to be healthier. Here are four mealtime tips you can glean from the Italian diet.

    Adventures in Pasta Making
    There's nothing more Italian than a table full of assorted dish towels with fresh pasta sitting on them. I have fond memories of my Nonno's sister Concettina, with flour and flakes of sticky dough on the tips of her fingers in her galley kitchen in Ischia, Italy. Knead, knead, knead. Roll, roll, roll. The table would shake. The earth would move. By the end of the afternoon, long strands of fresh pasta would be dangling from every shelf, every counter, and every table surface in the place. We knew we were in for a feast. It was Italy. It was home. It was perfection.

    Before Your Next Meal: 4 Things You Should Know about Italian Food
    The rest of the world is catching on to the simplicity and delight of the Mediterranean diet and the Italian philosophy about food. Here, four trends -- some good, some bad -- that you need to know about the food you are eating.

    Chef or Artist? It's Pretty Much the Same Thing
    The island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples, Italy, has many gifts, but none are quite as delicious as its culture of family and food. Ciro Mattera, chef and owner of Ristorante Saturnino in Forio, Ischia, embodies the old-school principles that make the island a bit like its own living time capsule. His appreciation for history and tradition are evident in not only his cuisine but his approach to life.

    Drink It Up: Italy's Delicious Obsession with Espresso
    Italians in Italy seem to have even stronger attachments to the hot drink. It is both a social drink, something to sip while chatting up a neighbor at the local bar, and a necessity, a must-have to wake up in the morning or celebrate late at night.

    Foods You Didn't Know Were Italian
    Although gourmet food traces back to the French, any Italian will tell you that down-home delicious cuisine is the Boot's domain. Yes, Italians believe their cooking is better than the French. It's a cultural war with no end in sight. Certainly, Italian food is a favorite the world over. As Italians immigrated all over the place, they brought with them dishes, such as pizza and tomato sauce, lasagna and zeppole, and they tweaked them to meet the tastes of the locals. Nowadays, imported prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and Reggiano Parmigiano have become part of the vernacular, even in parts where no Italian immigrant ever lived.

    Foraging for Mushrooms and Other Goodies
    Recently, Time featured an article about how foodies are taking to the woods to forage for ingredients, from truffles to wild leeks. Joel Stein, the writer of this article, seems to think this was an ancient custom making a comeback in the modern age. He just hasn't met my family or half the Italians I know.

    A Free Barilla Cookbook Brings Italian Cuisine to America
    Barilla pasta, one of the most famous Italian pasta makers, recently teamed up with entertaining expert David Tutera and chef Mario Batali to create an e-cookbook, The Celebrity Italian Cookbook offers delightful Italian recipes and tips for creating parties and menus inspired by some big-name celebrities.

    4 Italian Desserts to Brighten Your Holiday Table
    You already know pastiere for Easter and panettone for Christmas are a given in the Boot. But you might be missing out on the run-of-the-mill desserts that Italians make for breakfast, when guests are coming over, or for their super Sunday lunch. Some of these standards – for reasons I can't understand or explain – have not made their way to other parts of the world. That's why I feel it is my duty to inform you of their deliciousness.

    How Italians Love Their Wine
    Discover my family's devotion to wine, a fun Italian drinking game, and how today's Italians are getting as irresponsible about drinking alcohol as everyone else.

    How Professional Waiters Make Dining in Italy an Experience
    Americans, who are used to chain restaurants with waiters, who are working their way through school or aspiring to be an actor, just might want to head to Italy. Going out to eat is an entirely different experience in the Boot. Not just anyone can be a waiter in Italy. It is considered a profession, and many waiters have been to a hospitality school before catering to people's meal times.

    How to Host an Old World Feast
    Halloween is just around the corner, which means the department stores and advertisers are already starting to hock Thanksgiving and the holiday season. It seems to creep up on us faster every year. But this time around I'm going to be prepared to whip up a traditional southern Italian holiday meal in no time - and you're invited.

    Italian Antipasto
    The delectable first bites of an Italian meal are known as antipasto. Perhaps, the name is meant to warn people that these appetizers or anti pasto will kill your appetite for the rest of the meal. Still, you'll want to take your chances and indulge in antipasto. You might just make antipasto alone your next meal. Here is a roundup of some Italy's best antipasto.

    Italian Cookbooks That Keep It Real
    The point of this column is to bridge the gap between Italians in Italy and those in the rest of the world. Food has always been my tool for uniting people. Since my inner domestic goddess is yearning to break free these days, I thought I would share my picks for top-of-the-line English-language Italian cookbooks. These authors offer authentic recipes that connect readers with the motherland. And they serve up super menus that will make any amateur chef seem like a professional. Here are the books on my shelf.

    Italian Grocery Prices
    It's no secret that the world economy is suffering lately - and that prices continue to rise at grocery stores. When I was in Italy in June and early July, I experienced firsthand the rising cost of food. For an American earning dollars, the sticker shock is truly outrageous.

    Italian Holiday Desserts
    Food is the center of all Italian life - and that is even truer during the holiday season in Italy. While everyone seems to know something about the famous seven fishes dinner southern Italians enjoy on Christmas Eve, less is known about the delicious dolci (desserts) that follow the meal and often last through the new year.

    An Italian Rabbit Recipe
    There are pictures of my brother and me as children holding the most adorable, fluffy white bunny. My uncle had given it to us as a gift - or at least that's what we thought. The next day, my father told us the rabbit ran away to join the circus. That night we ate rabbit in red sauce, one of the most famous dishes from Ischia, the Neapolitan island that is the home of my ancestors.

    Italian TV Recipes
    What I looked forward to – other than my son finally getting better and playing on the beach, which did happen toward the end of our stay – were cooking shows on Italian TV. Although I was in no position to try new recipes while in Italy, I am already taking to the kitchen here in the States. Here are some of the recipes I came across on Italian television that I plan on making ASAP (and you might like to do the same).

    Italians and Their Delicate Stomachs
    What most people outside Italy do not realize is the cultural tradition of lamenting how much you ate after the meal. You probably never knew how much the possibility of indigestion (or the hysteria that you have it) weighs into the culture and habits of the people. Here are 5 facts about Italians and indigestion that will make you laugh and cry (sometimes both at the same time).

    Italians and Their Pumpkins
    Italians enjoy pumpkin dishes in the fall almost as much as Americans. They don't have the same varieties of pumpkins and squash. For instance, butternut squash has proven nearly impossible to find in southern Italy. But they do have many pumpkin recipes that will be calling your name all the same. And you can always use whatever pumpkin you find in Italy to replace in your American recipes and visa versa. I have done it for butternut squash soup many a time, and I never disappoint. So, if you want to impress friends and family with Italian pumpkin recipes, here are a few you might consider.

    Italians Are the Original Organics
    Our people were organic loving, tree hugging, naturalists long before it was trendy. People in America these days – especially parents of young children – are constantly trying to convince others to purchase organic fruits and vegetables, grow a garden, make homemade meals, and sit at the dinner table together as though these are new ideas they invented yesterday. While I applaud their efforts, Italians (not to mention others in Europe and abroad) have been carrying on this kind of lifestyle for centuries.

    Matching Game with Pasta
    While I was always aware of the variety of pastas and sauces, I didn't realize the vastness of possibilities, especially if we ventured outside the cuisine of our parts of southern Italy. Really, you have lots of options.

    Ode to Nutella
    The secret is out of the bag. Now, the world is onto the wonders of Nutella, Italy's peanut butter. You might have noticed commercials for the addictive hazelnut and chocolate spread or seen it on your supermarket shelf (not just in those fancy gourmet shops). And you might have noticed that competitors, including Jif, are beginning to offer imitations.

    Ode to Tomatoes and Bread
    During the summer, while you're listening to my father's stories and getting your new name, he will be sure to serve you tomatoes and bread with whatever else you're eating. It is that simplest of dishes that will have you coming back for more of my papa'.

    Ode to Zucchini
    Summer means that most Italians are living off the land - and eating fresh fruits and vegetables from their gardens. Part melon, part squash, zucchini is one of the easiest - and most delicious - plants to grow in hot weather. Zucchini has become my drug of choice in the last month. I might turn into one before the summer's over. If your garden is like mine, then it's full of zucchini - and you might not know what to do with it all. Here are a few of my favorite ways to prepare it.

    One Sweet Italian Kiss
    Few things in life are as sweet as a chocolate kiss. And Hershey's got nothing on Perugina's Baci, which is now owned by internationally renowned Nestlé European Chocolate. The divine dark chocolate cover stuffed with whipped chocolate and hazelnut were the invention of a love-struck confectioner, who used the sweet stuff to woo the object of her affection.

    Pastiera: A Sweet Taste of Naples at Easter
    Easter in Naples is never lacking eggs. There are those dyed red with onion skins, those gigantic chocolate eggs wrapped in foil and stuffed with a gift, and the ones used in pastiera, a centuries-old ricotta cheesecake that looks more like pie and is made with wheat and orange flower water.

    A Recipe for Love, Italian Style
    Nothing says loving like a delicious, home cooked meal. Put on an apron, pick up your wooden spoon and get to work. In this article you'll find a menu that has helped me fake culinary genius more than once. But I warn you: This is not for carb-o-phobics. My people will never give up their bread and pasta.

    A Review of Vivoli Il Gelato
    The good news for you is that now you can eat real Italian gelato at Disney World in Florida. Vivoli Il Gelato, an 85-year-old gelataria in Florence, Italy, recently opened the doors to its second storefront in WDW's Disney Springs, which was formerly known as Downtown Disney. You can also sample the gelato, minus the storefront, in a Macy's in New York City.

    Six Italian Snacks
    Italians are not big on snacking. They usually eat big meals at lunch and a light dinner and little in between. Occasionally, they might pick up a piece of fruit between meals or indulge in a gelato in the summertime. Maybe they'll meet up with friends for espresso before returning to work after the siesta. And once in a while, they might have cocktails, known as aperitivi, with some antipasto. Still, there are some Italian-style snacks that you might like to incorporate into your diet or at least have as a treat once in a while. Here are a few of my favorites.

    Sunday is Funday in Italy
    Some families in southern Italy are still clinging to tradition, especially on Sundays. They gather around a table and eat a homemade feast once a week. If the nonni are still alive, they are likely to have aunts, uncles, and cousins present with empty stomachs and hearts ready for reloading.

    3 Celebrities Tour Italy
    Nowadays you can't always tell the difference between advertisements, entertainment, or even educational materials. Rather than complain about that, I've been finding myself embracing this new world. One of the best examples for me has been Into the Heart of Italy, a Bertolli-sponsored Web show that has celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and actors Dan Cortese and Marisa Tomei traveling through Tuscany to learn about Italian cuisine.

    Tips for Navigating an Italian Market
    A trip to a supermarket in Italy is a journey into Grand Chaos. No matter what time of day you arrive, there are always crowds of people circulating through every aisle. You usually have to carry a basket - often a heavy metal one - and load it with all your purchases. At the end of your journey, you will think that you're in line to pay for your goods, but that's not really the case. Trust me! I had to learn the hard way about getting household shopping done in Italy. Here, I share the secrets to successful grocery shopping.

    What Do Italian Babies Eat?
    Italian babies have to be the best fed in the world. I'm not sure how healthy the food is but it sure is tasty – and it usually sets baby up for a healthy, not to mention somewhat gourmet (at least by American standards) palette for life. Of course, Italian mothers, who are among the world's hardest working women, also rely on jarred baby food. While there are a couple of brands on the market, Plasmon is the Gerber of Italy.

    Will 2003 Be a Vintage Year for Italian Wine?
    A fine glass of wine and a good piece of bread are symbols of happiness or so goes the song "Felicita?" by Al Bano and Romina Power. At my house, that certainly is the case, but we don't put just any wine on the table. My family's preference is "the vintage" that ferments in our own garage, "the vintage" that my father, grandfather and cousins make with their own hands every October.

    La Zingara: Another Italian Panini For You to Enjoy
    Because my family usually eats a big Italian lunch on Sundays, we nosh on something light for dinner. Tonight, I made my family La Zingara, a special panino or sandwich that is often served in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples. My husband's family taught me a unique recipe for this delicious sandwich, and now I'm going to share it with you.

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