Why Italian Food Is Popular

Comfort food, yes, but it’s healthy, too!

From osso bucco to pizza, Italians foods from both the northern and southern regions continue to attract and appeal to the California diner. In 2013, Zagat published a study about Americans’ love for pasta, a staple of Italian cuisine. The study found 44 percent of those surveyed said they would eat pasta two times a week. Twenty-three percent said they would eat pasta three to four times a week and another 21 percent eat pasta at least a few times a week.

And we’re not just talking any pasta here. The pasta that topped the list of favorites were pappardelle, linguine, and ravioli. Eighteen percent of those surveyed said pizza was their number one comfort food of choice.

There’s no doubt that carbohydrates satisfy and comfort. But there’s more to our love of Italian food than that.

Appreciation of fresh ingredients. What Italian grandmother, mother, or daughter didn’t have her own garden of tomatoes and other ingredients to make her signature sauce or gravy (different terminology depending on your home region)? Think, too, of eggplant and zucchini, peppers. Even if not grown in the home garden, the Italian chef would use fresh celery, onions, escarole, fennel, radicchio, citrus fruits, and olives.

Olive oil. No Italian dish would be complete without it.

Herbs and spices. Lots of fragrant garlic, oregano, basil, and cilantro.

Breads and pastas. While it may seem like a carbohydrate overload, you’ll always see bread on the Italian table, even if the main course is pasta. Freshly-baked Italian bread dipped in olive oil or pesto is simply delicious.

Appetizers. Start off your meal with a light bruschetta, toasted slices of bread topped with tomatoes, or an insalata caprese, made with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes.

Cheeses. From soft cheeses like mozzarella, ricotta, and mascarpone to hard cheeses like parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano. Between these two ends of the spectrum are cheeses such as provolone and gorgonzola.

Soups and sauces. From escarole and bean soup to a classic minestrone to Italian wedding soup, Italian cuisine combines fresh vegetables with protein and pasta for a flavorful experience. Sauces can be red (from the south) or white (from the north). Save chunks of your bread to soak up the extra sauce.

Proteins. Grilling, smoking, braising seafood, meats, and poultry. What would a Sunday dinner be without chopped meat for meatballs, flank steak for braciole, and sausage. Legumes, a combination of protein and carb, and nuts are also favored, including chick peas and pine nuts.