BookCulinaryVacations.com interviewed Laura Niccolai of Casa Laura School of Cooking as we set to uncover the truth about authentic Italian cuisine, once and for all.
1. Italian food is one of the world's most renowned cuisines. In your opinion, what makes it so popular?
It is delicious! Italian cuisine as it is cooked and served in Italy - and particularly at Casa Laura – is in a class of its own. Fresh, seasonal, and delicious, Italian dishes have a huge depth of flavor, which means that simple dishes made with just a few ingredients can be unforgettably tasty. At Casa Laura for example, we always focus on what is in season, want to know where it has come from and how it’s grown, and we only use it when it’s at its best. I was a student of Gualtiero Marchesi, Italy’s first three-Michelin starred chef. From him, I learned to "lighten" traditional Italian cuisine, reducing fat and sugar and eliminating long cooking times, to produce wonderful, flavorful dishes that are also low in calories. I thereby adapt “la grande cucina” to the modern requirements of a light and healthy diet, maintaining flavor and quality. I continue to pass this knowledge to my guests, so they too can create elegant, delicious dishes that are full of nutrients. High-quality ingredients that are elegantly combined and beautifully presented make for a wonderful meal.
Laura teaching guests how to filet a fish in her kitchen
2. Thanks to staple Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza, most people associate Italian food with a cuisine that is heavily focused on carbohydrates. Is this actually true?
Not at all - this is definitely a myth. Authentic Italian meals cover an enormous variety of dishes using fresh, natural ingredients. We start with “antipasti”, usually a selection of hot and cold appetizers. This is followed by “primi”, the pasta course, served in far smaller portions than you often see outside of Italy, and prepared differently so it is lighter and more nutritious. Then comes the “secondo”, the main course, of fish, seafood or meat, with a “contorno” (side dish) of vegetables or salad, and then “dolce” (dessert), caffe (espresso) and digestivi (a digestive, like limoncello).
In our region (S.Agata sui Due Golfi, Amalfi Coast, Italy), we are very lucky to have a beautiful range of fresh produce, and this is important, because to get the very best results, you have to pay maximum attention to the ingredients - using only the highest quality, freshest vegetables in season, freshly caught fish, carefully sourced meats, poultry and eggs, finest quality olive oils, and so on.
Sant'Agata's fishmonger offers fresh fish every morning
3. With twenty different regions with distinct characteristics in Italy, how does the food found in the Amalfi Coast differ from dishes from other regions such as Tuscany?
Italian cuisine is incredibly diverse. We enjoy bountiful fresh produce here and in my cooking classes, these ingredients play the starring role: from springtime vegetables to those of summer and autumn. There are so many choices. Tomatoes are particularly delicious in our area. And then there’s the fish! Fresh seafood is in abundance, and features wonderfully in many local dishes, far more than the meat dishes that you would find in other parts of Italy. Our wonderful local extra virgin olive oil is the basis of so many of our dishes, and we use it in place of other fats like butter, which makes our cuisine lighter and healthier.
Our area’s famous mozzarella cheese is another important ingredient in many traditional dishes. It’s perfect for a Caprese salad. Another of our world-renowned products is Amalfi lemons, appreciated not only in their own right but also because they create delicious desserts and " Limoncello", a light, fragrant and delicious after-dinner liqueur that it leaves a lasting impression.
In the Amalfi Coast, delicious seafood is always in abundance!
4. What dishes would you recommend for those who lead a healthy lifestyle but also would like to enjoy Italian food on a regular basis?
If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, we recommend eating Italian food every day! A traditional Mediterranean diet has been proven to promote good health and longevity. We would recommend eating fresh food, while avoiding processed foods and “bad fats”, and seeking out locally grown seasonal ingredients, grown without pesticides or chemicals. Of course, regular physical activity and moderate portion sizes are important.
Above all, focus on enjoying your meals with friends and family, linger over the delicious food you have prepared, and take the time to enjoy not only the food but also the company you share it with. Also, why not enjoy your meal with a glass of red wine? It’s good for the heart AND the soul!
Seasonal vegetables are important components of the local cuisine
5. Generally, people often end up gaining weight when they go on a holiday. Is it possible for one to go on an Italian cooking vacation and stay fit or even lose weight?
Absolutely, Casa Laura's guests often leave feeling far healthier than when they arrive for their cooking vacation. This actually makes perfect sense, because, during their stay with us, they eat the freshest, highest quality, nutritious meals, they soak up the Mediterranean sunshine, fresh sea air, and inspiring beauty of the area, relaxing into the local village lifestyle. Many find that wandering the streets of Positano, the Amalfi Coast or Sorrento for shopping and sightseeing is a great way to work off a meal! But there are also many spectacular hiking paths with views over Capri, the Sorrento Peninsula, and the Amalfi Coast, and the Mediterranean Sea is ideal for a swim.
The local area's sights include the spectacular village of Positano
Our Italian cooking holidays are the perfect healthy breaks and we invite all of you to come to the Amalfi Coast to enjoy a life-changing experience for yourselves! In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram to catch a glimpse of what is in store for you when you book a culinary vacation with us!
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