Italy is home to some of the finest food in the world, from divine linguines and moreish pizzas to heavenly cheeses and a seemingly endless array of fine wines and ice-creams. It's also the birthplace of unfairly beautiful women, including screen icons Sophia Loren and Monica Bellucci. So what's the secret to enjoying la dolce vita - or having your Italian cake and eating it?
We take a look at tips on eating Italian from the ladies who know best...
Picture credit: Rex Features
Linger over lunch
"People eat for hours (in Italy) because it’s so much more than just eating," this week's cover star Monica Bellucci tells Stylist. "How a person eats tells you so much about them; the way someone eats, or doesn’t eat, or eats less. It’s a private moment and in that convivial moment of exchange, you learn so much more about them."
Cook with love
"I love to cook for the people I love," explains Italy's beloved movie icon Sophia Loren. "Cooking is an act of love, no? You want to look after the people you care for. And I do all my own cooking - new recipes, old recipes, everything."
Keep it simple
"The best things - when I really feel that I’m communicating, and when I really feel that people are getting - are simple, straightforward recipes. I think simple is the hardest to achieve, because you don’t have all those elements to hide behind," says American-Italian TV chef Lidia Bastianich.
She recommends "spaghetti al’olio—garlic and oil, which is hard to do because you can burn the garlic."
Learn from your mother
"My mother was an excellent cook – any dish she tasted, she was able to recreate at home. She also used to take me to the butcher and taught me how to choose the right piece of meat," says fashion matriarch Rosita Missoni (pictured here with granddaughter Margherita).
She adds, "The most important man in your life, after your husband, is your butcher."
Use lots of olive oil
"In France, the kitchen is rich in cheese or butter fat, but in Italy it's olive oil. We are more aware of what is fat," says Treviso-based nutritionist Maria Rosa D 'Isanta.
Make it a family affair
"My earliest memories are of us all in the kitchen, shaping pasta dough or making pizzas," says Welsh-Italian chef Michela Chiappa. "At special occasions, you’d get all the generations in the same kitchen, working together.
"Even when we left home to go to university, we would all come home in the middle of November to make the anolini – the filled pasta we traditionally have on Christmas Day."
Big up the bread
"Bread is like life to an Italian," says food writer Anna del Conte. "Like life. I cannot imagine life without bread. Not one single meal goes by when I don't have bread. I must have bread. Italians must have bread. Italians have bread with everything."
Buy local and seasonal
"It's not just about buying local fresh food, which then, translates into healthy things for your body and skin," says Amerian-Italian actress Marisa Tomei. "It's also about being part of the community and looking the people in the eye who have grown that food. All of these connections add to the vibrancy of life."
Home is where the heart is
"Ask any Italian where’s the best restaurant. The majority will tell you that the best restaurant is home. And they are right!" says blogger and cooking school owner Letizia Mattiacci.
Size your portions
"The problem that people have is that they eat too large portion sizes. Italians have been eating pasta for hundreds and hundreds of years, and we’ve never been an obese nation," says Italian chef and TV presenter Gino D’Acampo.
"We do the pasta, the pizza, all the cheeses, but it all has to do with how much you eat. The average portion of pasta is between 75 -80 grams, and people will often eat around 150 to 200 grams. My tip would be to always weigh the pasta before you actually cook it."
"Kitchens are about invention and the bubble and squeak of reinvention. That is the alchemy of cooking” says Laura Santtini, author of Easy Tasty Italian.
It's all in the quality
"For me, it’s about the way you eat. You can eat a lot of things, but eat good things,” George Clooney's ex Elisabetta Canalis explains. “I can’t accept the fact that I would have to be starving all day long… it would put me in a bad mood and I wouldn’t advise it to anyone."
Her favourite dish is shrimp pasta with garlic and spicy oil.
Use healthy pasta sauces
From Sophia Loren (again): "I love to eat, and I love to eat healthily. I love pasta. I love starch. Everything I am, I owe to spaghetti! Of course, you can't expect to add rich cream sauces and still enjoy its good effects.
"But if you stick to a healthy sauce, pasta is fine. I have lots of energy, and that is because I cook my own food, I go for walks in the woods, and I enjoy myself."
Treat food with passion
"Cook with passion, a clear head, humility, perseverance and respect for your guests," advises Michelin chef Luisa Marelli Valazza.
"When I go to a restaurant and they give me a very complicated, very beautifully arranged dish, I don't think it's food. I would like to ask the waiter to give me a camera to take a picture and afterwards tell him, 'Now give me food, please,'" says food writer Marcella Hazan.
"I don't want to impress. I want to do something that is good. Try to make straightforward food and get it to the table."
Seafood rules supreme
"Go anywhere near the sea in Italy and fish soup will be a staple. It unites Italians but also divides us, because there is so much variation in recipes between the regions," says Giorgio Locatelli, Italian chef and owner of Locanda Locatelli.
"They each depend on the type of fish available and other local ingredients: maybe potatoes or saffron; onions, tomatoes and chilli; garlic and white wine."
Pepper your pasta with veg
"I love vegetable pasta dishes. I never get tired of pasta especially in summer with eggplant," says author Mary Taylor Simeti.
"I also love freshly-made hot ricotta straight out of the famer’s pot and what we Sicilians call Tenerumi. They are the tender, trailing, shoots of the yard-long zucchini you've seen in the markets of Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo."
It's all about natural produce
"At Dal Pescatore, our cuisine focuses on the essentials and aims to make the most of the finest natural produce," says Michelin-starred chef, Nadia Santini. "In short, our cuisine is a constant search for the truth: a truth that balances simplicity and the enhancement of natural produce."
Go easy on seasoning
"I'd muddle Italian dishes with too much garlic, onion, and spices," says actress Debi Mazar, who is married to Italian musician Gabriele Corcos. "He (Gabriele) does everything simply and uses less - not too much oil, a little garlic but sliced perfectly."
Embrace the group vibe
"Growing up, family dinners were a big thing for my family," says Italian-American chef Giada De Laurentiis. "You don’t even always have to cook dinner yourself. All that matters is that you’re all sitting down together and making memories… "