Mangia! (Let’s eat!)
Say a heartfelt “Ciao!” to authentic Italian cuisine.
By Adrienne Dy, M.D.
Photos by Raneil Ibay
When it comes to good food, the Italians know their stuff. As the Filipinos of Europe in terms of strong family ties and huge appetites, they’re the masters of hearty cuisine. The boot-shaped country—with all its iconic, movie-scene landmarks—may be oceans away, but you can still get a slice of Italy right at home, starting from your kitchen.
Italian cuisine is surprisingly simple, despite its complex flavors. Most dishes have only four to eight ingredients and shun elaborate preparation. For all the gastronomical gusto it packs, it’s incredibly healthy and falls under Mediterranean cuisine—reputed to ensure longevity among those who partake of it.
What makes this cuisine distinct? Italian-Filipino chef John Joseph “JJ” Viel, head chef of Cucina Rusticana, answers: “It’s the ingredients and cooking methods.” He counts garlic, onions, tomatoes, basil, and that all-important olive oil as key ingredients for many dishes from the region. “Italian cuisine is all about simplicity. Yet with simple ingredients … you bring out maximum flavor.”
He also highlights how the cooking methods define the cuisine—and its health benefits. “Most Italian dishes are composed of either boiling [for pasta], braising [for sauces], or baking. Rarely do we have anything deep-fried. If ever something has to be cooked in oil, it’s either baked or sautéed.”
“[T]he trick to watching your diet when eating Italian is simply eating a decent portion size,” says the chef. “Normally, pasta is served at 180 to 200 grams a portion, so don’t go over that. Know the food you’re eating, so if you know you can’t eat red meat, don’t go eat[ing] osso bucco or bistecca Fiorentina.” Moderation is key; so is knowing your health status.
That said, it’s off to the cucina! Chef JJ serves up oven-baked fish swimming in infused olive oil—a main entrée your heart will love. Buon appetito!