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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Jul 2019 > La Grigliata

La Grigliata


The start of summer means one thing – it’s barbecue time! This month Mario Matassa shares some classic Italian recipes for la grigliata.

Nothing stirs the appetite quite like the aroma of a good barbecue on a summer’s evening. Italians first take to their grills from late June and the charcoal keeps smoking through to mid- September. It’s the one time of year when Italian men take to the kitchen – in a manner of speaking – donning a bottle of lighter fluid in one hand and an oversized pair of tongs in the other. They take to their grills like captains at the helm, towering over a mound of ribs, salamelle (thick Italian sausages), and peppers.

The barbecue in Italy comes in all shapes and sizes. Huge industrial versions are brought in to service the thousands of people who converge on the countless feste and sagre (food festivals) held throughout the country in the summer. Closer to home, grills range from the more modest aluminium affairs to the DIY stone versions, often with a chimney, that have become the centre piece of many an Italian garden (mine included). Few Italians cook directly over the fire. The one exception that comes to mind is the traditional bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine T-bone steak) which has to be cooked for five minutes on each side directly over smoking charcoal.

T-bones aside, usually a large piece of cast iron or stone (known as a piastra), seasoned with years of use, is sandwiched between flame and food to serve as a cooking platform. The piastra is sacred. It takes years to season it to optimum condition and so prized are they that they are handed down from one generation to the next, like a family heirloom.

As with all things culinary, what goes on the barbecue will very much depend on where in the country you happen to be. However, a couple of generalisations can safely be made. For the most part, Italians like to keep things simple. Meat tends to be cooked on the grill in very much the same way it is cooked over the hob – that is, with little fuss. Reliance is placed on the flavour of the piastra and the quality of the ingredients. Sticky or complicated barbecue sauces are notable by their absence. At most, meat is marinated in a mix of white wine, garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs, such as rosemary and sage.

The undisputed king of the grill in Italy is the spiedino (essentially a shish kebab). It’s the one dish that is only ever made on the grill or barbecue.

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About Italia!

This month we embark on our travels to Verona, the beautiful Veneto city immortalised by Shakespeare in his tale of star-crossed lovers. Whether the story of Juliet’s balcony is fact or fiction matters little, as we travel deeper to the city’s heart and its noble Roman heritage. Traditions of another kind are on our mind in Puglia; this time, the culinary variety. It’s a captivating land with its roots firmly in the soil, as you’ll discover. The restful public gardens of Florence are in the spotlight too, while this month’s Fast Culture tells a tale of mistaken identity or Renaissance ‘spin’ that’s not to be missed.