The Secret Ingredient Italians Love, But Brits Often Ignore

It might be what's missing from your almost-perfect pasta recipe.
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We’ve written before at HuffPost UK about how some Italians balance out the acidity of tomato sauces with more than just sugar.

We’ve even shared the secrets to a perfect Bolognese sauce.

But whether you adore oregano in your sauces, swear by some sage, or think basil is brilliant, chances are you’re missing a spice some Italians see as crucial ― nutmeg.

What’s it used for?

Maria Chiara Passini of My Italian Cooking told HuffPost UK, “There is a reason behind the fact that nutmeg is the most used spice in typical Parma recipes... it combines well with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, our number one ingredient!”

“30-months-aged Parmigiano Reggiano (the ageing we use the most when cooking) is characterised by [hints of] nutmeg, so it is natural for us to boost it [by] adding some nutmeg as well. You just don’t need to overuse it or its taste will be too predominant,” she added.

Chiara says the spice just belongs with anolini, passatelli, and the filling of punta al forno.

“I think of bechamel, I think of nutmeg,” New York-based Italian chef Silvia Barban of LaRina Pastificio also shared with HuffPost UK. “In autumn [it’s] that flavour that I always want to taste either on squash or with Parmigiano.”

“In Italy, we use nutmeg for filled pasta or bechamel or squash,” Silvia added.

Food publication Racette Magazine says that after being introduced to the country in the 12th century, the spice has cemented itself in Italian cooking ― for both sweet and savoury recipes.

Its warm, peppery sweet flavour has endless delicious applications, they say; “Tortellini and cannelloni recipes utilise nutmeg for its earthy sweetness in their rich meat filings... Malfatti, an Italian dumpling from Lombardy is made with wild greens, flour, eggs, and a hearty pinch of nutmeg.”

Why don’t we use it in savoury cooking so much?

It’s a good question.

Italian food site Italiana says “Italians’ love affair with caffeine have brought the virtues of nutmeg and cinnamon to a new audience” for sweet coffee and desserts, but that “both of these spices have as much, if not more, to contribute to the savoury side of Italian dishes.”

The post goes on to explain that it balances the acidity of plum tomatoes, makes spinach and ricotta tortellini sing, and pairs perfectly with pumpkin and Parmigiano Reggiano.

So, the next time your veggies taste a little bland, your tomatoes run a little tart, or you’re making a back-to-basics bechamel; please, consider the nutmeg in your cooking.