Italians are passionate about their food culture, but the ingredients we eat and how we eat them are constantly evolving and changing over time.
I pride myself on having a profound understanding of what Italian food is and what makes it authentic. I know the difference between carciofi alla giudea, twice-fried artichokes in the style of the Roman ghetto, and carciofi alla romana, braised artichokes with garlic and mint in the style of Rome. I know that acqua cotta, one of the classics of Tuscan cooking, comes in at least three radically different versions depending on what part of Tuscany you are in. I know that even if an Italian would never sprinkle grated Parmigiano over his shellfish pasta, he would happily eat crostini with melted mozzarella and anchovies. I know that asparagus and tomatoes are not cooked together, because wherever you are on the boot they are not in season together. I know that long cooking of vegetables is a hallmark of Italian food wherever you are: no barely blanched green beans or asparagus for Italians, please!
I believe that my understanding of the flavor combination of fresh mozzarella, sun-ripened tomatoes, basil, and olive oil is a foundation that can steer me to many plates beyond the simple classic insalata Caprese I first ate, still sticky with salt from a morning in the water, at a beach-side restaurant in Capri. I laugh to myself at the many ridiculous combinations I come across outside of Italy, knowing that nobody with any understanding of Italian food would ever combine nettle-ricotta ravioli with puttanesca sauce.