9 Things Canadians Get Wrong About Italian Food & Drink

A cappuccino after 11 a.m.? Italians would never.

Ali enjoying gelato and a panino in Italy.

Ali enjoying gelato and a panino in Italy.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

Working from home is great and all, but the real benefit of remote working isn't having the option to roll out of bed and straight to your desk — it's being able to wander a beautiful city, visit a museum and dig into an epic pasta lunch before your workday has even started.

I discovered this last fall when I decided to work from Florence, Italy, for a month.

I've been lucky enough to visit Italy, one of the most incredible countries in the world, a few times before, and Italian food is easily my favourite.

However, being there for a full month meant living like a local (albeit knowing limited Italian), and grocery shopping, chatting with cafe owners and spending time with the true Florentines lead me to a few harsh realities about all of the things Canadians — myself included — have been getting wrong when it comes to Italian food and cooking.

1. Using extra-virgin olive oil to fry or cook

How many of us have a giant bottle of extra-virgin olive oil that sits beside our stove, ready to splash into a frying pan almost every time we cook?

According to a number of foodie locals I spoke to while in Florence, this is a major faux pas.

Extra-virgin is the highest-quality olive oil you can buy and contains all of the fatty goodness and flavour that comes from the olives — so cooking with it instead of with a cheaper oil is actually a waste.

The people over at The Kitchn explain: "While you can cook with extra-virgin olive oil, it does have a lower smoke point than many other oils, which means it burns at a lower temperature. Save the pricey good quality stuff for dipping bread, dressing, dips, cold dishes, and use the less expensive stuff for cooking and baking."

2. Thinking bruschetta has to involve tomatoes

Bruschetta with olive oil and wine in Tuscany, Italy.Bruschetta with olive oil and wine in Tuscany, Italy.Ali Millington | Narcity

The commonly known "bruschetta" comes from the Italian bruscare, which means "to roast over coals." In other words, bruschetta is basically just toast, as one tour guide told me — and it doesn't have to be topped with tomatoes, onions and the like.

A simple piece of toasted bread with olive oil is still bruschetta, and that's often how you'll find it in Tuscany — and if the bread and oil are high quality, it's still delicious.

Oh, and it's pronounced "broo-sketta," not "broo-shetta."

3. Drinking a cappuccino after 11 a.m.

A morning cappuccino and croissant in Florence, Italy.A morning cappuccino and croissant in Florence, Italy.Ali Millington | Narcity

With hours to kill each morning in Florence before I started my 7-3 ET workday, I got pretty into sipping my mid-morning cappuccino and watching the world go by.

However, when I ordered one as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, it was pointed out to me that any real Italian wouldn't drink a cappuccino after 12 p.m.

The cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink, usually enjoyed in the morning alongside a croissant or other pastry. As Eataly says, if you want to fit in, "Don't order these drinks after 11 a.m. Italians only enjoy milky coffee in the morning — never in the afternoon, and especially not after a meal!"

4. Serving prosecco in a Champagne flute

You may think it's simply fact at this point that prosecco — or any sparkling wine — should be served in a flute, or a coupe if you're feeling fancy.

However, every time I ordered a glass in Florence (which was pretty regularly), it was always served a tulip-shaped white wine glass.

According to Metro, "The Italians believe to taste the prosecco properly, you need to be able to smell the delicious drink. And you can’t do that if your glass is as narrow as a flute.

"While many believe a flute glass keeps the bubbles in a drink as there is [less] surface area for them to escape, more importance is put on the fact that a flute traps the aromatics of prosecco inside the glass, meaning you're not getting the desired experience when you take a sip."

5. Cutting long pasta noodles

It's likely that in Canada, when you sit down to enjoy a big plate of long pasta, whether at home or at a restaurant, it's served with both a knife and a fork. However, in Italy, don't even think about cutting those noodles.

According to Slate, you're supposed to wrap the noodles around your fork, not break them — and if the pasta is cooked right (perfectly al dente), it won't slip off.

6. Thinking panini have to be grilled

Enjoying a panino (grilled) and glass of red wine in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.Enjoying a panino (grilled) and glass of red wine in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.Ali Millington | Narcity

Similar to the bruschetta, "panini" actually just means "sandwiches" in Italian. You can grill them, but they don't have to be grilled.

North Americans have adapted the concept of the panino to mean a toasted sandwich — we even have panini presses. However, if you see panini on a menu in Italy, don't assume they'll arrive grilled with cheese oozing out unless that's clearly stated, or you've asked for it.

7. Only drinking red wine in the evening

The Airbnb I stayed at was down the street from a small cafe, and each morning when I passed by around 10 a.m., there were people sitting outside enjoying glasses of red wine alongside their coffees.

At first, this morning red wine felt a little punchy to me. However, I quickly realized that in Italy, and particularly among the older generations, it's still pretty common to enjoy it earlier in the day — and it's even more common over a leisurely lunch.

8. Skipping aperitivo

Aperitivo in Florence, Italy.Aperitivo in Florence, Italy.Ali Millington | Narcity

Aperitivo — or the pre-meal drink — is one of my favourite Italian traditions that Canada could certainly benefit from.

The "happy hour" of sorts is a cultural ritual that takes place from 6 or 7 p.m. until 8 or 9 p.m. every night, giving Italians the chance to unwind over a drink and a snack after work before they continue on to the rest of their evening.

During this time, bars and restaurants serve up a free snack of some sort along with your drink, which is typically a spritz (made with either Aperol or Campari), or something else on the lighter side like prosecco, white wine or beer.

Why launch straight into your dinner plans if you can have pre-dinner plans?

9. Thinking there's a correct way to make Bolognese

Bolognese in Florence, Italy.Bolognese in Florence, Italy.Ali Millington | Narcity

Bolognese simply means local meat sauce, so the "proper" way to make it is different depending on where you are and who you ask.

It can be made with any kind of meat and almost always includes the mirepoix of carrot, onion and celery, but it typically doesn't involve a lot of (or any) tomato.

Ultimately, true Italian Bolognese, no matter where in Italy you get it, is pretty different from what you'll find in North America.

Alison Millington
Ali Millington is the Editor-In-Chief for Narcity Media Group and is based in London, UK.