Giada De Laurentiis is one of the most famous Italian food experts in the United States. She was born in Italy, her family lives there, and she gets to go to Italy a lot. She goes to all the big cities and famous places, of course. She says she loves pizza bianco in Rome and the gelato in Florence.
But there's a lot more to Italy than just the world-famous sights and popular tourist areas, and Giada is passionate on the subject of Sicily and the outskirts of Naples, which she says are the most underrated regions of Italy.
"Sicily is the undiscovered part of Italy that people don't go to very often, and then the outskirts of Naples," she said in a recent interview with the New York Times. "The government doesn't spend as much money in tourism there, but it honestly has some of the best food, the best farmers markets."
I'm with Giada. Anyone who goes to Italy for the food would do well to include Sicily on their itinerary. Or just head straight there and spend the whole time eating different flavors of granitas and marveling about how different the almonds and lemons taste in Sicily. All Italian food is good, but Sicily's is probably my favorite.
"What distinguishes Sicilian cooking from other regions is the North African influence," Giada explained at the San Diego Sicilian Festival a few years ago. "They use different spices and lots of cinnamon. And in Sicily they do a lot of frying."
The outskirts of Naples are a particular favorite for Giada, who says her grandfather's family had a pasta factory outside of Naples — but it wasn't the kind of "factory" most people think of when they hear the word.
"That whole area was all pasta factories, but when I say that, you can't think of the factory the way you think of a factory in Detroit," she explained. "Think of a building, and part of the building they make pasta all day. They hang it on the roof, OK? Like on clothes lines. And then they live in that same building. There's blocks and blocks of that."
That sort of craftsmanship is tough to come by these days, but Giada told the Times that the Setaro pasta factory is still operated that way, in the same building, and it still sells the kind of pasta her grandfather and his siblings used to sell door-to-door in Italy.
"It's phenomenal. They don't have modern machines — it's cut with bronze cutters — so they can't make as much; the texture, the flavor, the size, the shapes, they're all very unique," she said.
What's your favorite Italian food?