Italian cooking like most of the world's great cooking traditions starts with the fire. I know what you are thinking, pasta boiling away on the stove, rich tomato sauces and lots of cheese. While these are fine, if you really want to get to the heart of Italian food you are going to need to start out on the grill with some great cuts of meat, poultry and of course sausage. The thing about pasta and tomato sauces is that those where things imported to Italy and not at the root of its traditions.
When I think about Italian food I think of steaks. The Italians have been raising some of the best beef in the world for generations. Chianina cattle are an ancient breed raised in Tuscany and from which we get the legendary Tuscan Steaks. This beef is full of flavor and generally considered some of the best in the world. You probably can't find it, but that should stop you from grilling up a traditional Italian steak. The secret is to keep it very simple and to season the steak with a little lemon juice before you grill it. Then serve the steak with a little drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. The lemon juice will add a little flavor but also help keep the meat tender.
Now I know that the one Italian dish people think of most often is Pizza. I also know that the pizza served in Italy isn't anything like what you find in most any other part of the world. For one thing, Italian pizza is a toasted flatbread without a lot of toppings.
While you will find them served with olive oil drizzled over the top they are not dripping in grease the way most fast food pizzas are. The secret to a great pizza is intense direct heat. The kind of heat you get from your grill, not your oven. Make pizzas small and with a thin crust. Top them with whatever you like and grill them long enough for the crust to get brown and crunch and for the cheese (if you have any) to melt.
No more than that. I promise these will be the best pizzas you have ever had.
Now for these plentiful dishes served up in a thick tomato sauce. The real secret is to get the great grill flavor into the ingredients before you put them all together. Whether you are making a simple spaghetti dish or one of my favorite sandwiches, panini, get it on the grill first. With many Italian dishes, you grill the meat first and then mix it all together in a great sauce and serve it over pasta. If you really research many great Italian recipes you'll find that the meat gets taken from the grill, topped with the sauce and then served. Italians don't stew meats in sauces nearly as much as you might think.