What’s not to love about Italian food?

Italian pasta salad at the Stanley Hotel, Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italian is comfort food; pizza, pasta, a glass of wine or vino and maybe risotto.

Paolo Marro, the general manager of Sarova Stanley, says there is more to Italian cuisine than just pizza and pasta. 

‘‘Italian meals are made from wholesome fresh vegetables and sea food with slight differences in the cooking between the south and north. North prefers to use more cream and butter,” he says.

Ironically, while Italians might have pizza once in a while, pasta can feature almost five to six days a week.
“But you won’t find me with a whole bowl of pasta for my lunch or dinner, just some small portions,” he chuckles.

One thing he promises you will never find on the same plate in Italy is pasta with either some meat, or chicken.

“Modern restaurants might try to serve this for tourists, but an Italian will never look at it, let alone touch it,” he says.

The reason is simple. Pasta is a staple food like ugali is to Kenyans and is served as a course of its own during a meal, as a primo (second course) depending on individual preferences.

“For me, the pasta would be my starter after which I would have either fish or meat with vegetables for the main course,” Paolo says.

He adds that he prefers cooking the time-consuming pasta al forno over the weekends, which involves baking some pasta with cream, cheese, salami, meat sauce, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables.

Wine has a cultural element to Italians and using it to cook meals is common in the country which is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world.

Favourite meals

“Some of the meals are cooked with wine, but also you can pair a good meal with wine whether white or red. Of course it is not acceptable to get drunk at a social setting. A glass or two with lunch then go back to work is fine,” he says.

Paolo, whose favourite meals are either meat or fish, says he does not get to eat fish dishes when he is outside southern Italy because the others taste different and a bit bland from what’s found in the saline concentrated Mediterranean Sea.

A typical formal Italian meal has several courses which basically get heavier as you progress. It starts with a small appetiser antipasto which has cheese sandwiches, cold salmon or prawn salads.

One then moves on to the first course (primo) which is a hot dish, either of the different kinds of pasta, lasagne, risotto and polenta.