Some of the most popular and well-known dishes come from this country near the Mediterranean Sea. Italian cuisine is exceptionally varied: the country of Italy was only unified in 1861, and its distinct dishes reflect the cultural variety of its different regions and its diverse history. It has many culinary influences from Greek, Roman, Norman and Arab civilizations. Italian food is regarded as a prime example of the Mediterranean diet, and is imitated and enjoyed all over the world.
An appetizer that originated in central Italy, it consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of spicy red pepper, tomato, vegetables and/or cheese. In Tuscany, bruschetta is called fettunta, meaning "oiled slice".
Risotto is a traditional Italian dish made with rice that originated in Northwestern Italy, where rice paddies are plentiful. Its considered one of the noblest and most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. When risotto is cooked, the dry rice is always fried briefly in oil before the broth or soup is added. Other similar dishes exist, but they should not be called "risotto" if the rice is not toasted. Recipes include "Risotto alla Milanese," made with beef stock and saffron, which is traditionally served with osso buco (a stew made from veal bones) and "Risotto al Barolo," made with fine red wine, but thousands of variations exist, both with vegetables and meat, as well as risottos made with various other wines, cheeses, or even fruits. Risotto Negro is a specialty of the Veneto region, made with cuttlefish cooked with their ink-sacs.
In its original form, a pizza (occasionally, pizza pie) is an oven-baked, flat, usually circular bread covered with tomato sauce and cheese with optional toppings. The cheese is usually mozzarella (the traditional italian pizza uses buffalo mozzarella) or sometimes a mixture of several specialty cheeses such as parmesan, romano, ricotta and feta. Various other toppings may be added, most typically: herbs and seasonings such as basil, oregano, and garlic, vegetables such as bell peppers, green peppers, asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, spinach, olives, onions and meat or fish products such as sausage, (especially pepperoni or salami), ham, bacon, ground beef, anchovies, chicken, and shrimp. Other common toppings include mushrooms and pineapple. The crust is traditionally plain, but may also be seasoned with butter, garlic, or herbs, or stuffed with cheese. In some pizza recipes (so-called "white pizzas") the tomato sauce is omitted, or replaced with another sauce (usually garlic butter but can be sauces made with spinach or onions). Pizza is normally eaten hot (typically at lunch or dinner), but leftovers are often eaten cold. A restaurant that serves pizza is called a pizzeria (from Italian); in the United States, the phrase pizza parlor is also used. Pizza can also be purchased in grocery stores or supermarkets (usually, but not always, frozen); in many countries, pizza can also be ordered by phone (or, increasingly, via the Web) to be delivered, hot and ready to eat, to almost any address within range of the restaurant.
Lasagna, also lasagne, is both a form of pasta in sheets (often rippled in North America, though seldom so in Italy) and also a dish, sometimes named Lasagne al forno (meaning "Lasagne in the oven") made with alternate layers of pasta, cheese, and ragω (a meat sauce). While it is traditionally believed to have originated in Italy, evidence has come to light suggesting that a very similar meal known as "loseyns" (pronounced 'lasan') was eaten in the court of King Richard II in the 14th Century. The recipe was also featured in the first cookbook ever written in England. However, the claim is far from universally accepted, the Italian Embassy in London particularly speaking out against it for Italy. Many recipes call for several kinds of cheese, most often ricotta and parmesan. The classic Lasagne alla Bolognese uses only Parmigiano Reggiano. Many recipes also add bechamel sauce (besciamella). A variant is Lasagne verde (green lasagne) which is the normal egg pasta with spinach added. Lasagne was first recorded in the 13th century when it was used in a layered dish. This early version did not include tomatoes, which had not yet been discovered by Europeans.
Spaghetti is a long, thin form of pasta. It is versatile, popular, and available throughout the Western world. Spaghetti is the plural form of the Italian word spaghetto, which is a diminutive of spago, meaning "string" or "twine." The word "spaghetti" can be literally translated as "little strings." While legend has it that Marco Polo brought the recipe for spaghetti back from China, prior evidence showed that pasta has been made in Italy at least since the 4th century BC. An emblem of Italian cuisine, spaghetti is frequently served in tomato sauce, which may contain various herbs (especially oregano and basil), olive oil, meat, or vegetables. Other toppings include any of several hard cheeses, such as Pecorino Romano, Parmesan or Asiago. Outside Italy it is often served with meatballs, although that is not a typical Italian recipe.