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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Italian Herbs: What Makes That Pizza Sauce So Good?

July 27, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
“Spices distinguishes the tangy tomatoes in a luscious marinara sauce and makes them uniquely Italian”

The ingredients in southern Italian food are straightforward; you won’t find many things in the Neapolitan kitchen that you couldn’t pronounce. Many of them are so universally beloved that you’ll find them in Mexican, Indian and Greek dishes too. What distinguishes the tangy tomatoes in a luscious marinara sauce and makes them uniquely Italian? The secret’s in the spices.


Mediterranean basil finds its way into everything from pizza sauce to pesto. Slightly sweet with overtones of anise and pepper, the plant’s fresh leaves can also enliven a salad or top a pizza. In its dried state, basil’s perfect for adding to soups and sauces. Basil takes its name from an old word for “king.” It’s certainly the king of the kitchen for Italian chefs, and you’ll find it gracing much of Carlino’s menu.


If basil is the king of the kitchen, then oregano is its queen. Its spicy scent and hint of bitterness is the perfect foil for basil’s sweetness. Oregano also complements creamy mozzarella cheese beautifully, so it’s a primary component in a good pizza sauce. You’ll also note its distinctive warm flavor in our house-made Italian sausage and in our lasagna.


If green had a flavor, it might taste just like parsley. The bright green herb is so pretty that you’ll often see it garnishing a plate, but it’s far more than just a garnish to Italian chefs. Flat-leaf parsley has a more robust flavor than the curly kind that’s become synonymous with garnishes. Chopped parsley imparts a fresh, bright flavor to tomato-based sauces where it balances basil and oregano in a three-part harmony.


The subtlety of marjoram sometimes gets lost behind the big flavors of basil and oregano, but in more delicate dishes, you’ll definitely notice its almost flowery flavor. It’s a southern Italian staple in vegetable dishes and with broiled fish. Marjoram thrives in a warm Mediterranean climate; when it grows in cooler climates, it loses much of its flavor, but in southern Italy, it’s deliciously bold.


Italian sausage just wouldn’t be the same without these aromatic seeds. Somewhere between anise and celery in taste, fennel is the predominant flavor in sweet Italian sausage. Fennel root tastes faintly of the seeds, but it’s eaten as a vegetable rather than used as a spice. Its popularity in Italian cooking dates back to the early Renaissance when dishes with sweet and savory overtones were popular among the Italian nobility. The fennel-laden Italian sausage you enjoy today hasn’t changed much from what the Medici family might have served.

Herbs and spices transform the simple, fresh ingredients of southern Italy into the magnificent cuisine it’s become. Taste a plate of sausage and peppers or a slice of pizza and see how many Italian herbs your palate can find.


Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s

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