Olive Oil with Bread
Do Italian Restaurants in Italy ever serve dipping oil or olive oil with bread for dipping? I am just curious because there is a discussion on the general chowhounding topics that say this rarely, if ever, is done in Italy only in the U.S.
Ive not seen it that I can recall. More likely to use bread to sop up oil from oil-marinated appetizers, soup, sauces, etc.
Olive oil is certainly eaten with bread, but the preprandial dipping dish is American. At most, in Italy, in order to taste a specific oil to see whether you like it, you might pour some onto a plate and sop it up. Or you would pour it directly onto the bread, but only just enough to taste.
Just think about it. Pouring a whole little bowlful of olive oil and eating oil-saturated bread is wasteful and fills you up before even the pasta arrives. My unconfirmed theory is that when the demographics of Italian restaurants in the US began to shift from Italian-American to Italian, which was about the same time these little dipping dishes began to appear, the American clients were not ready for the Italian practice of eating bread without butter. In order to provide some grease for the bread without conceding the butter, the restaurants devised this compromise. Entirely my theory. If anyone has specific knowledge, I would love to know. But just the other night I asked my friend Oretta Zanini De Vita, food historian and walking encyclopedia of Italian food, and she said no, it is not an Italian practice.
You do pour little bowls of oil for pinzimonio, i.e., crudités, but there it is serving as a sort of salad dressing, which is a legitimate use of oil.
When I have been in restaurants in Italy and there has been olive oil and bread on the table at the same time (not unusual) I have often poured a little oil onto a plate and dipped the bread.
No one has ever objected!
From my extensive time spent in Venice and limited travels to other areas in Italy, I've rarely encountered olive oil served for bread dipping. As for the United States, I first encountered this around the mid 80's. Before then, butter was traditionally served with bread. By then, butter, being a saturated fat, has acquired a label of being unhealthy, while monounsaturated fats, especially olive oil was touted as having health benefits. Jumping on this and with the help of savvy Italian import food promotions, mid priced Italian restaurants such as Il Fornaio in San Francisco began placing a small bowl of olive oil instead of butter on the tables.
I've come across it in about 3 restaurants in Sicily, all of which are involved in the production of the olive oil they serve. I don't know if this is a traditional thing or whether it has started following US influence. The implication in one of the places is that they had been doing this for ages.