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Finding authentic Italian cuisine can be tough, so cook your own

Around the table

POSTED: January 3, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Everybody likes Italian cuisine, whether it’s pizza, veal scallopini, chicken parmesan or spaghetti Bolognese. Maybe that’s because there’s a little Italian in all of us.

Italian recipes are among my favorite to try, but pizza is one of those food items I leave to the experts. I don’t have a brick oven, which, I think, is a prerequisite for good pizza. Domino’s Brooklyn-style pizza and Papa John’s thin-crust pizza are pretty good. That’s Italian’s pizza is good too, and they have a great lunch special.

The best pizza is New York-style pizza, and the best place I’ve found to get it is at Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria on St. Simon Island. Sal “Rocky” Cenicola is a former boxer from New Jersey. His pizzeria on Frederica Road cooks up the best pizza, pasta dishes and Italian sandwiches in Georgia. It’s a small family restaurant, much like the trattorias I learned to love when I was stationed in Italy.

From a food perspective, the 32 months I was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, were the best years I spent in the Army, and that includes my tours in Alaska and Hawaii.

Pizza in Italy is not the same as the pizza we know here in this country. Although most of the pizza I tried there was baked in a brick oven, it didn’t have the same sauce, cheeses or toppings. The pizza we enjoy in America is Italian only because it was adapted to American tastes by Italian-American immigrants.

What I remember most about genuine Italian food is the variety of grilled meats that were marinated in something like Italian dressing, meat and cheese-filled tortellini with cream sauce, lasagna and of course spaghetti with meat sauce, which was served more as a side dish than as a main meal.

Each region in Italy has its own flavor. Most Italian restaurants in this country feature a Naples flavor, which tends to be heavy on the tomato sauce. The region’s flavor I love most is Northern Italian, which is known for its meat and cheeses. My wife, kids and I became spoiled on this heavenly combination. When we returned to the United States, we had a difficult time finding a restaurant that could satisfy our discriminating palates.

Years passed before I discovered a Northern Italian restaurant in Morehead City, N.C. I had a long conversation with the owner, a woman from a town near Venice. From that conversation, I was able to discern at least the vegetables, meats and cheeses used in her Bolognese sauce. While confirming my guess at the individual ingredients, she would not tell me the proportions of each. Over time and with much trial and error, I got it right.

For those who really love Italian, I’ve included a spaghetti Bolognese recipe you can enjoy.

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