Italian Cooking Regions
Many Americans think Italian food is pasta, tomato sauce and cheese, and are not aware of the split between northern and southern Italy. I never knew there was such a variety of Italian food until I learned of the different regional cuisines in chef school. In general, the terrain of northern Italy is comprised of mountains and fertile land which produce wonderful wines and dairy products. The northern cuisine is similar to its bordering country of France with its rich, creamy sauces.
The southern land, by contrast, is much rockier and the weather sunnier and warmer. This area produces olive groves, eggplant and tomatoes as well as many culinary herbs. The cuisine of these regions are similar to what we think of as Italian food today. Along with these two general differences, each of the twenty regions of Italy has its own distinct culinary flair. The following is a brief overview of each region.
1. Abruzzo = This area is predominantly mountains with some small valleys, and sheepherding, farming and livestock were all traditional ways of living. As such, pork, sheep, and goat are the main meats eaten in Abruzzo. Abruzzese cuisine is one of the few in Italy which uses hot peppers to any degree, and the Abruzzese call their red chili peppers diavolino or "little devils."
2. Aosta Valley = is a mountainous Region in north-western Italy. It is bordered by France to the west, Switzerland to the north and the region of Piedmont to the south and east. The Alpine climate cultivates berries and fruit, especially apples and pears. Cusisine is based on dairy and and meat, rye bread, potatoes, polenta, gnocchi, risotto and soups.
3. Apulia (Puglia) – Bari = The rocky terrain of this region is excellent for the production of olives, vegetables, herbs and mushrooms. Seafood is plentiful particularly oyster, mussels and octopus. This region is known for excellent pasta dishes.
4. Basilicata – Ptenza = Primarily a mountainous, sheep-farming area which produces some strong wines to accompany their intensely flavorful cuisine. This region is known for its chili peppers (not extremely hot), thick minestrone soups, salamis, cured meats, excellent cheeses and large loaves of bread.
5. Calabria – Cattanzaro = Calabria's cuisine uses a lot of hot pepper for its distinctive salami (that are common, in several varieties, throughout the country) and uses capsicum. Pork is the dominant meat, and there is often a striking balance between meat and vegetables in many Calabrese dishes. Orange and lemon groves flourish, and eggplant is used extensively in Calabrese cuisine.
6. Campania – Naples = Naples (Napoli)
is the home of pizza, mozzarella and pasta dishes with excellent tomato sauces. Fresh fish stews and shellfish pasta, meat sauces include garlic, tomatoes and herbs. Dessert dishes include pasty with ricotta cheese and fruits with liquors.
7. Emilia-Romagna - Bologna = This region has an excellent, rich cuisine which includes tortellini, lasagna and saltimbocca – a veal dish topped with prosciutto and sage. This region includes Parma, famous for its prosciutto di Parma, and Modena, famous for its balsamic vinegar. This region also produces the world famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, named after the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia.
8. Friuli-Vamezoa Giulia – Trieste = Northern region where grilled beef, lamb, poultry and sausages are common. Polenta is served often with cheese, meat stews, blood puddings and game and fowl.
9. Lazio – Rome = Roman cuisine uses a lot of pecorino (sheep milk cheese) and offal (organ meats). Although the cooking in this region is fairly simple to prepare, the flavors are intense and includes rich sauces and a variety of meats, beans, pasta dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables.
10. Liguria – Genoa = This region along the Italian Riveria includes many excellent trattorias serving wonderful fish dishes. Flavorings include local olive oil, pestos and fresh herbs.
11. Lombardy – Milano = Specialties of Milan include veal dishes (osso buco, vitello tonnato) and a variety of excellent meat dishes, particularly pot roasts. Along with pasta, rice, polenta and risotto are popular in this region as well as the famous holiday cake ` c- panettone.
12. Marche – Ancona = This region has an excellent cuisine and many restaurants noted for their excellence. Pasta is common as well as excellent seafood, sausages and cured pork.
13. Molise – Campobasso = This mountainous region includes a traditional cuisine of local hams, cheeses, sausages with garlic, lamb dishes, cured meats and excellent seafood.
14. Piedmont – Turino = The cuisine of this region is based on traditional, peasant dishes which include wild mushrooms and a variety of game. Polenta, gnocchi and rice are more popular than pasta but garlic is included in many recipes. The expensive, strong truffle oil comes from the truffles that grow in this region. It is used to add flavor to many sophisticated dishes.
15. Sardinia – Cagliari = This island is beautiful in the spring, but the summers are hot and dry. This region has has excellent fish including sea bass, labsters, tuna, mullet, eels and mussles. The smell of the local herb myrtle permeates the island and is used to flavor just about everything.
16. Sicily - The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is the home of gelato (ice cream)and granita, and desserts with Marsala wine. Its cuisine also has many influences from Arab cuisine who brought citris fruits, almonds and pistachios. The region is known for its fish stews and vegetables.
17. Trentino-South Tyrol – Trento = Northern region bordered by Austria to the north, by Switzerland to the north-west and by the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto to the west and south, respectively. Desserts and sweets are consumed in large quantities in a variety of different ways using apples, sweet chestnuts, prunes, poppy seeds, dried fruits, aniseed, sultanas, apricots, bilberries, ricotta cheese, cherries, pine nuts, cinnamon, carrots, and chocolate. Cuisine is influenced by both Germany and Hungary in the use of spices, meats and foods such as pork, potatoes, rye and barley, and the use of cabbage for sauerkraut. Germans also influence the wine and liqueurs of this region.
18. Tuscany – Florence = Tuscans are known for having hardy appetites and pride in their cooking.
This region is comprised of coastal areas, fertile planes and a variety of game which provide a varied and wonderful cuisine comprised of white beans, meats, seafood, thick tomato sauces, hearty soups and unsalted bread. Florence is famous for its T-bone steak dish “bistecca alla Fiorentina. Siena is famous for “panforte di Siena, which is a candied, spiced fruit cake.
19. Umbria – Perugia = The cuisine of this region is not considered as excellent as others, it is known for its pork, lamb and freshwater fish. Spit roasting is popular and olives, olive oil, truffles and herbs flavor many of their dishes.
20. Veneto – Venice = The many farms of this region produce a vereity of cereals and wine. Pasta is not as popular as polenta, gnocchi and rice (risottos). Excellent soups, seafood and sausages are produced, and of course Venice is famous for its canals - a favorite for tourists.
Return from Italian regions to Italian cooking history.