Southern, Central and Northern Italian Cuisine
Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia make up Italy’s South, home to robust cucina povera (peasant cooking) and a wonderful cuisine created from whatever was available in the regions such as sun-ripened vegetable and fruit, wheat for dried pasta and local cheeses.
Surrounding Rome, Lazio is influenced by the unique food of its capital. Roman cuisine is not considered as a delicate cuisine and makes use mostly of pasta, beans, artichokes, meat and its spaghetti al carbonara (ham, bacon, cheese and eggs) and bucatini all’amatriciana (pancetta, tomatoes, and parmigian cheese) both include the local guanciale (cured peg’s cheek). In rural Lazio, lamb is used often in dishes like abbacchio (milk fed baby lamb).
Abruzzo and Molise are mountainous areas with strong rural cooking traditions. Molise produces fine lentils, pasta and olive oils, while saffron is grown in Abruzzi, along with the divolilli (tiny red chillies) that go into so many dishes.
The cuisine of Campania and Naples is famous throughout the world with pasta dish varieties such as spaghetti with tomatoes and basil, spaghetti all vongole (clam sauce), pizza topped with fresh mozzarella and eggplant parmigiana. As well as fresh mozzarella made from buffalo or cows milk, there is good ricotta, goat cheeses and caciocavallo. Lemons are used in granita and limoncello.
Puglia has had many foreign invaders, but the food remains Italian. Orecchette is a delicious ear shaped past, served locally with cime di rapa (turnip greens) and good cheeses include caciocavallo, scamorza and pecorino.
Basilicata is one of the poorest regions of Italy, but it’s cucina povera (peasant cooking), dominated by pasta and vegetables, is delicious. Dishes and meats are spiced with peperoncino (hot varieties of chili peppers).
At the tip of Italy, Calabria has two coastlines, giving it plenty of seafood, particularly swordfish and tuna. Citrus fruit grow well in that region, as do figs and olives. Peperoncino adds fire to the cooking and there is excellent provolone and caciocavallo.
Sicilian food has long been influenced by invaders, particularly the Arabs who brought sugar. The island’s dolci (sweets), granite and gelati are still considered Italy’s best. There is also an abundance of seafood, citrus fruit and capers for making caponata (caponata is an eggplant dish, a cooked vegetable salad made from chopped fried eggplant and celery seasoned with sweetened vinegar, and capers in a sweet and sour sauce). The Sardinians have traditionally looked more to their inhospitable interior for food than to their once mosquito infested coast. The food is based on suckling pig and lamb, percorino, pane carsu (flat bread) and honey.
Emilia Romagna, Le Marche, Tuscany, and Umbria’s make up the center of Italy. This is an area of fresh pasta, great cheeses and robust wines. Emilia Romagna known as the Italy’s greatest region for food. Emilia Romagna is the mother land of homemade pasta. In Bologna, tagliatelle, lasagne, and tortellini are favorites. In Emilia, preparing pasta is a work of art.
Pork is a tradition of Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine. Prosciutto, the most famous of Italy’s pork products, is made in Parma. Coppa and pancetta are specialties of Piacenza in the north. The delicate meat that is often passed off in other countries as bologna is in fact the famed Mortadella of Bologna.
Romagna has a tradition of fish dishes, brodetto, the most flavorful of fish soups. Parmigiano Reggiano, the unrivaled king of cheese.
Another of Emilia-Romagna’s great culinary contributions is balsamic vinegar, which has been made in Modena for centuries.
Prosciutto di Parma is produced south of Parma and often served very thin with bread. Parmiggiano Reggiano is eaten in chunks or grated over a wonderful fresh egg pasta.
Le Marche is a self sufficient area. It is known for its Adriatic seafood, used to produce local versions of the rich fish stew, brodetto. The local cuisine also makes use of its white and black truffles, wild mushrooms and fennel. Ramed dishes include porchetta (roast pig) & vincigrassi which is lasagna made with chicken livers and prosciutto. Pasta, notably maccheroncini and tagliatelle, has an important tradition in Marche. Pastificio Latini produces some of the best artisanal pasta in the Marche tradition. Mushrooms grow in abundance in this area. Three kinds of truffles are also found in Marche; the white ones rival those from Alba. Cauliflowers from the Marches are famous throughout Italy. And the fruit such as the apples, peaches, figs and cherries-are rich and luscious, a testament to the fertility of the soil.
Tuscan cooking is renowned as some of the simplest in Italy. The finest extra virgin oils are made there. Meals are centered around meat, especially beef. Tuscany’s wines are exceptional with Chianti being Italy’s most famous red. Tuscans keep fat at a distance and the spit or the grill close by. The meats such as beef, chicken, and rabbit are usually roasted with rosemary or fennel or grilled. Most are accompanied by a lemon wedge, the Tuscan idea of a sauce. Along the coast, dishes are based on fish, with baby eel, caught at the mouth of the Arno, a specialty found only in Tuscany. Olive oil is so pervasive in Tuscan cooking that it’s even used in sweets, such as the local favorite, castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, fennel, raisins, and pine nuts. Generally, desserts are as simple as Tuscans’ other foods. A common after-dinner treat is biscotti dipped into a glass of amber-colored Vin Santo. Siena is home to panforte (“strong bread”), a rich, flat cake invented during the Crusades to sustain the troops.
Tuscan wines are dominated by the local sangiovese grape, the backbone of the classic Chianti and full, deep Brunello.
Umbria’s food is hearty and simple. It is most famous for its use of pork. It is home also of the great pecorino cheeses. Umbrian dishes rarely contain more than four or five ingredients, and meats and vegetables are often served plain or sauceless. Meat is important to this region, and it is here that salami is at its best. Pork products, salami, sausages, cured and smoked meat appear on every restaurant’s antipasto cart. Beef is also good, especially when it comes from cattle bred near the Tuscan border. As Umbria is landlocked, fresh-water fish carp, pike and eel are an important part of the region’s cuisine.
Olive oil is the region’s condiment of choice. Pasta tends to be long and thick and is often flavoured with a grating of its world-famous black truffles, which are used liberally on everything from polenta to potatoes. Perugia, the region’s capital, is renowned around the world for its chocolate. Perugina, makers of Baci, is based here. Desserts are often flavored with honey, chestnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds.
Although not a large wine-growing region, Umbria produces the light, dry Orvieto, a favorite among princes and popes, and the wine for which the region is famous. This plentiful region also produces a fine red, Montefalco Rosso.
Piemonte, Val d’Aosta, Lombardia, Ligurian, Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Fruili Venezia Giulia make up Northern Italy. Piemonte, Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Liguria in the norhwest and Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the northeast. Formed by the influence of its northern neighbors and mountainous terrain. Polenta and rice are staples and its dairy products and wines are among Italy’s best. Piemonte is home to highly prized white Alba truffle sprinkled over melted fontina on pasta or eggs. This region also produces Italy’s greatest wines, Barolo and Barbaresco.
Val d’Aosta most famous for its alpine cheeses, fontina, toma and robiola which are central to the region’s cuisine.
Lombardia is characterized by its rich agricultural areas and has a very diverse cuisine. Many of Italy’s finest cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Bel Paese and gran padano are produced here and fresh pasta, polenta and rice are all enoyed.
Ligurian cuisine uses plenty of herbs in which the mountains provide plentiful herbs for cooking. Specialties are focaccia and walnut sauce.
Trentino Alto Adige can be gastronomically divided into two. Alto Adige to the north is Austrian Italy and the cuisine includes speck (cured ham), canederli (dumplings) and gulasch (gulash is primarily a soup, also existing as stew, usually made of beef, onions, vegetables, spices and ground paprika powder). Trentino is more Italian, though canedirli (bread dumplings) are popular and the excellent apples of this region are made into a local strudel. Polenta and breads accompany meals.
Veneto Is known for its simple preparation of seafood such as moleche (soft shelled crabs).
Fruili Venezia Giulia is known for its proscuitto di San Daniele a fine sweet ham.