Pasta, pizza, gelato: Italy would seem to be among the more challenging destinations for the lowncarb traveler. Who among us is disciplined enough to turn down a perfect pizza in the very city where it was invented? A risotto alla Milanese in Milan? A creamy scoop of straciatella after a long hot day exploring the ruins of Pompei?
Your correspondent just passed through this gauntlet of temptation on a vacation to the Bel Paese, and learned that low carb eating in the ancient homeland of pasta is easier – and more delicious – than you might expect.
Carciofi alla giudia is a specialty of the old Jewish ghetto in Rome. In the spring, ripe artichokes are carefully cleaned of their hard outer leaves and opened up, then deep-fried in olive oil (!), where they bloom into crispy, edible, and deeply delicious flowers.
Prosciutto di Parma
The king of hams. No melon necessary. While you can probably find some sort of prosciutto in your home grocery store, this is the legit, A+ stuff, and it’s everywhere. The groceries and markets of Italy are festooned with salted haunches hanging from the rafters, just waiting for hungry picnickers to step up to the counter.
All Those Other Cured Meats
Italy has so much cured pork it’ll make your head spin. I found myself muttering incoherently at the country’s voluminous salumi counters, staggered at the beauty and variety spread out in front of me. What should I ask for? How could I even begin to choose?
Italy is a heaven for fresh seafood, from Liguria down to Sicily and back up past Venice. Most of the nation is within a short drive of the coast, and wherever you go you can find the fresh fish and shellfish, simply prepared.
Are you familiar with burrata, mozzarella’s sexier cousin? Like mozz, burrata is made with buffalo milk, and it’s spun in a similar way, but the comparisons fall apart when you slice into a ball and watch the cream ooze right out of it. The finer markets will tell you exactly how many daysold each dollop of heaven is, and restaurants will serve burrata as an appetizer, seasoned only with olive oil, salt and pepper. Maybe a little anchovy.
It doesn’t get a lot meatier than this: many different cuts of meat and sausages are all boiled together in a rich broth. The meat is fished out of the sauce and eaten with naturally low-carb condiments such as horseradish and herby salsa verde.
This gourmet summer starter pairs cold and thinly sliced poached veal with a punchy mayonnaise of olive oil, lemon juice, anchovies, capers and preserved tuna. An elegant surf & turf to kick off a gourmet meal.
Across the Alps they may dip bread in cheese, but here in Piemonte they use a similar setup to dip veggies like asparagus, cauliflower and radishes into a hot bath of rich sauce made with garlic, anchovies & olive oil.
It’s easy to find this air-dried beef on menus all throughout Northern Italy, where it is usually served in a kind of high-protein “salad,” with a smattering of arugula and other essential Italian flavors, such as olive oil, lemon juice and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Long before some keto pioneer began experimenting with the chicken breast pizza crust, families in Naples would take the leftover pizza ingredients and add them to their steaks.
It’s easy to find Parmigiano-Romano and Pecorino Romano just about anywhere in the world. Here’s a special cheese that doesn’t travel so well: Robiola. There are many varieties, most of them small, tangy and pungent, perfect for any Italian picnic.
In this land of superb meats and cheeses, it’s a good thing there are some veggie options too. Melanzane sott’olio is just one of the many, many pickly & oily veggies that show up on antipasto platters and in markets, ready for nibbling.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
This Tuscan classic – basically an ultra-thick porterhouse steak – is flavored simply with rosemary and sage, and roasted over a very hot charcoal fire. The real stuff is from a local special breed of cattle, the Chianina, which is fairly lean but hugely flavorful.
Heart-healthy anchovies show up in many dishes in this list – a blast of briny umami that is an essential Italian flavoring. Simply marinated in oil, anchovies complete any antipasti spread.
The zest for carne cruda, Italian beef tartare, is such that local grocery stores have packs of perfectly minced beef ready for use at home. Take raw beef, season with olive oil and salt, maybe an add egg yolk, or, as in the link below, shaved white truffles.