At 22 years old, I graduated from college and packed a very large backpack to explore Europe for three months. Like many young people, my palate was undeveloped. I was a real frozen pizza and pb&j kind of gal back then. I tell you this because my culinary expectations for Europe were low, and it showed.
There was a night in Spain where I enjoyed a bag of Cheetos in a park, and a day on the train to Berlin with just me, a baguette, and a jar of Nutella. But then there was also the nicest cheese plate of my life in Paris, that seafood paella, my first street-side gyro, the endless supply of tapas, and that pasta dish in Italy that I did not recognize.
It was my time in Italy that really changed my perspective on food.
I was surprised to see the fresh fish and produce cart on the street in Cinque Terre every morning, something I learned was related to cucina povera—or peasant cooking, which means you cook with what is in-season and locally available, which presumably would make it more affordable.
I didn’t understand why I was the only person in the restaurant at 1:30 pm on a Sunday in a touristy part of Rome or why the waitstaff was so eager to get me out the door. The concept of riposo (or siesta) was new to me.
Then there was the time I ordered a pasta dish from a menu that I could not read that showed up before me without red sauce or even white sauce. It was al burro—it only had butter.
That was life-changing.
According to Mashed, most Italian cooks minimize ingredients so you can savor each one of those ingredients. Unlike the Italian food we are used to eating in the USA, you will find little garlic and little cheese in an authentic Italian dish. That’s not to say it’s not there. It’s just not overpowering.
I quickly came to see that Italians look more to simplicity and savored meals (except maybe not so savored at lunchtime before riposo), which is not that different from our French friends. Butter naturally embraces those qualities as well. Instead of an eight-ingredient sauce, you can simply use butter with a few herbs.
With a little research, I’ve learned that red sauce has traditionally been used in southern Italian dishes and that you could define a region’s cooking by its preferred cooking fat: the north preferred butter, central preferred pork fat, and south preferred olive oil. Over time these lines have blurred, but a few things appear to have remained the same in Italian cuisine:
Bread and wine are served at every meal. However, bread is strictly used to sop up whatever sauce is left on your plate. You won’t find butter on the table as a condiment.
Speaking of wine, a butter or oil-based pasta sauce pairs wonderfully with an Italian Pinot Grigio.
Homemade red sauce is always better than store-bought sauce, especially if you put butter in the recipe.
Epicurean Butter’s compound butter flavors are not typically inspired by geography except for one: Tuscan Herb Butter. In it, you’ll find Garlic, Parsley, Thyme, Basil, and Rosemary, a combination of flavors that will undoubtedly remind you of Italy.
This article was written by Sara Lancaster who works in marketing at Epicurean Butter.