Hard times can give way to some pretty creative — and tasty — thinking. Case in point? The majority of your favorite Italian foods. The delicious simplicity of many Italian dishes stems from lack of money, and historical periods when Italians simply had to make the most of whatever ingredients they had.

Many of these dishes have since become more sophisticated in terms of ingredients and preparation, but to celebrity chef Salvatore Cuomo, that just means more potential to lose the heart of Italian cuisine. “The most distinctive thing about Italian food is the limited number of ingredients used,” Cuomo says. “Many chefs around the world just get it wrong — by using very little, you get it right. That is the secret of Italian cuisine.”

For National Italian Food Day — celebrated on Feb. 13th — Cuomo offered us some of his favorite Italian dishes. We’ve sprinkled in some history about them for good measure:

Lasagne
Pizza Margherita
Gnocchi
Risotto Alla Milanese
The Mouthwatering History Behind Your Favorite Italian Foods
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Want more food and drink goodness? Check out how macarons and tiramisu are made.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox is the Managing Editor of All That Is Interesting. She holds a Master's Degree in International Relations, and works as a reporter/producer for DNAinfo.
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