Italian barbecue, not to be confused with American barbecue, is a culinary tradition that has evolved over centuries. This barbecue tradition takes advantage of incorporating vegetables, herbs, filling proteins, bursts of citrus, and plenty of olive oil into mouth-watering summer dishes cooked over an open fire. Because of its prime location in central Europe where several seas converge, the Italian Peninsula is no stranger to warm summer weather, pleasant coastal breezes, and, of course, a unique style of outdoor cooking traditions.
Italian barbecue recipes are perfect for summer as they forego the traditionally heavier dishes found in Italian cuisine, giving preference to lighter, yet filling food-fare. What’s more, Italians typically prepare their barbecues as multiple-course meals. This pace of eating allows for plenty of time to digest appetizers and side dishes and sip on some tasty wines before arriving to your main course. If traveling to Italy during the summer months, do not leave without sampling the diverse array of summertime recipes unique to barbecue cooking in Italy. Of course, everything is seasonal from meat, fish, veggies and fruit.
Different from American barbecue cuisine, barbecue cooking in Italy originates from a summer style of Mediterranean cooking traditions. If you had in mind hot dogs, baby back ribs, and meats smothered in barbecue sauce, you may be disappointed to know that barbecue in Italy does not simply mean an Italian interpretation of these American barbecue staples. Instead, the tradition originates from one of the oldest cooking styles anthropologically known, cooking over an open fire.
In Italian tradition, this style of cooking is called “grigliata”, which simply translates to a grill-out. In grigliata cooking, Italians focus on simple, rustic, grilled foods that effectively use fire to enhance the flavor of each dish. Contrary to the hearty sauces, starchy pasta dishes, and layers of cheese associated with stereotypical Italian dishes, these meals are lighter and seasoned with herbs, salt, and pepper, and often prepared with olive oil marinades. Common dishes include grilled salads, spiedini, different types of burgers, open-fire pizzas, and fresh fruit.
When searching for secrets for the staples and secrets of Italy’s barbecue tradition, the main recommendation would be to keep it simple, fresh, and local in terms of ingredients used. Again, the core components of grigliata are vegetable, herbs, proteins, olive oil, and judicious squeezes of lemon. Swordfish and salmon are popular seafood for main dish proteins. Salmon, in addition to ground buffalo beef, are also common ingredients in Italy’s summer burgers. A lot of main dishes do use chicken and swordfish, however. Once cooked over an open fire, these proteins are prepare with lemon or garlic sauces and can even be found accompanied by a fresh, herbal bruschetta. Pizzas can also be prepared over an open fire using a flatter dough, vegetable or grilled prosciutto toppings, and lighter sprinkles of cheese and sauce.
As Italians find eating a leisurely experience to pass time with family and friends, you will find plenty of options for grilled appetizers, summer wines and delectable desserts also on the menu. Try to start light with a grilled romaine salad, stuffed mushrooms, or some spiedini, which are finely cut beef and vegetable skewers similar to kebabs. In terms of wine selections, lighter whites are often more popular including Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Gavi, Soave, and Arneis. These wines have brighter, fruitier tasting notes that enhance the natural flavors used in grigliata cooking. After your appetizers and main course, grilled fruit is a popular and refreshing dessert option. Stone fruits like peaches make for an excellent grilling choice. Their empty pits can be filled with mascarpone cheese after grilling and caramelizing the fruits. These scrumptious peaches can be further complemented with a light drizzle of sweet balsamic syrup.
Although it is very common to find summer foods prepared over an open fire throughout the globe, Italian grigliata-style cuisine offers its own unique interpretation of summer cooking. Italian barbecue is popular throughout the country during the summer months with each region placing its own local stamp on these traditional recipes. When visiting Italy and the weather is warm, don’t fail to take advantage of this delicious cuisine choice. You will certainly savor these flavors while leisurely basking under the Mediterranean sun and hopefully find some inspiration for your own cooking techniques upon your arrival home.