thing to be understood is that northern Italy differs in an enormous
way from southern Italy in terms of culinary distinction.
Let's begin with the north. It's filled with an
unbelievable variety of dishes, all as diverse as the people themselves.
To get your taste buds flowing, imagine this: Visitors to Trieste
will be offered goulash as the local food, in Venice it will be
Austrian pastries filled with Oriental spices and in Turin peasant
style dishes will be covered with sophisticated French sauces. If
you want the best risotto, then you must head for Veneto and Piedmont;
for pasta, go to Emilia; and for rice and polenta, go to
Lombardy. Sauerkraut and dumplings will be found in the alpine Trentino-Al;
to Adige, and somewhat surprisingly you will be given delicious
vegetable based cuisine in Liguria (by the sea) rather than serving
fish as one would expect.
A typical meal for northern Italians will mostly
be made up of local foods. For instance, they would eat pasta from
Bologna, salad from Cremona, pizza yeast from Pavia, eggs from Vicenza,
veal and milk from Lombardy, basil from Liguria, flour from the
Po Valley, parmesan from Parma, and sugar and peaches from Ferrara.
It's said that the further south you go, the better
the gelato (ice cream), but it is also said that the further
north you go the better the café. Turin, Trieste, Venice,
Milan and Padua offer grand historic cafés of great warmth
The north of Italy abounds in distinctive cured
meats. Salama da sigo from Ferrara is a succulent sausage
made from minced pork, liver and tongue. Neighbouring Modena produces
ravioli stuffed with minced meats or bollito misto (mixed
boiled meats), including beef, veal, tongue, and pig's trotters.
Brodo is a velvety meat broth and stracotta is
a slowly simmered stew flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg.
When the mists close in on Venice, comfort food
suitable for sustaining marooned travellers is required and thick
soup or creamy risotto is just perfect. But the cuisine here in
the Veneto can be also sophisticated and light, serving dishes such
as risotto sprinkled with shrimps, or carpaccio, wafer
thin raw beef dressed with olive oil, rocket and parmesan. And for
seafood lovers, soft shelled crabs from Murano, plump red mullet
and pasta heaped with lobster. As well as being a rice growing region,
the Veneto is Italy's chief area for poultry production from chicken
and goose to guinea fowl and duck. Offal, spicy black pudding, horsemeat
and capretto (kid) are also local delicacies, matched by
whole-wheat spaghetti (bigoli), subtle cheeses and honey.
Austrian influence prevails in Alto Adige and
in Trentino. Typical dishes will include smoked meats, sauerkraut
cooked in lard, roast venison with polent, red cabbage
goulash and other filling stews. Dumplings are preferred to pasta,
and bread dumplings are confusingly known as canederli
in Italian but knodel in German. The best known dish is
strangolapreti – gnocchi made with potatoes, bread
or spinach and coated with butter or cheese. Desserts are Austrian
inspired pastries such as strawberry cake (erdbeertorte) or strudel
stuffed with apples, nuts and raisins.
Gorgonzola, the greenish blue veined
cows milk cheese originated in the foothills of the Alps near Milan.
It's ideally served runny or as a sauce for pasta, polenta or risotto.
The mild climate of Liguria is ideal for growing
vegetables and fruit such as tomatoes, artichokes, peaches, apricots
and lemons. There is little meat and dairy produce in this region,
which is sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, but they
do grow a large array of fruit and vegetables. Pesto sauce is Liguria's
signature dish, made from basil, olives and pine nuts or walnuts,
all ground to a pulp with parmesan and garlic. According to the
purists it should only be made when basil is in flower. Liguria
also produces the only olive oil to rival the finest Tuscan varieties.
Southern Italy is a Mediterranean land dominated
by the sea and specialising in hearty, spicy food in their pasta,
fish, pork and lamb.
Campania is the area in which you will be offered
an unforgettable meal of macaroni or pasta with tomato sauce or
meat sauce, two of the specialities of the region.
In the mountainous region of Calabria, where life
is simple and frugal, where ancestors passed down their dietary
traditions, you will be given dishes that are evidence of time recaptured:
Pancotto (broth, stale bread, garlic, bay leaves, celery
and parsley); lagane (handmade fettuccine cooked in milk
and sprinkled with pecorino, a hard cheese) and also ragu
(beef larded with pancetta and cooked in wine with carrots, leeks,
dried mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, nutmeg and cloves). They eat
simply here using produce of the season, from the sea and from the
Another mountainous region is Basilica, where
isolated villages cling to the tips of the hills. Basileus
is the Greek word for king and the name Basilicata meant
a province of the Byzantine Empire. It is here the hunter tradition
mingles with an Eastern influence to produce interesting dishes
of lamb (being the principal meat) and pork. A typical example is
hare marinated in wine and flavoured with garlic and bay leaves,
or partridge cooked with olives. And a dish with Eastern influence
might be tagliolini, made with milk and saffron or almond
milk flavoured with cinnamon. Two of the most popular dishes are
boned lamb with celery, onions and rosemary and gnumariddi,
lamb offal and sweetbreads cooked with garlic, onions and cheese.
In Apulia, vegetables and pasta predominate. Peppers,
aubergines, tomatoes, peas, broccoli, spinach, artichokes, broad
beans and other produce make up the diet in his region. The vegetables
are used in soups, notably the maritata, for which chicory,
fennel, celery and escarole are boiled, layered alternately
with pecorino and pepper and covered with broth; in calzoni
and panzerotti, pastry rolls with various fillings that
are baked in the oven or fried, or in the impressive pies made with
kid meat, chicken, beef, potatoes, onions, courgettes, tomatoes
and cheese, which are either served as a first or second course.
This region is known for pollution free waters containing large
quantities fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Italy's oyster beds are
located in Taranto.
As the old dictum runs: "Dimmi come mangi
e ti diro chi sei (tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who
The famous wine names tend to come from northern
Italy. Marsala is the only southern Italian wine that most people
know (and rather sadly used mostly for cooking). It is the fortified
wine from western Sicily. But this is all about to change. Since
the 1990's local wine producers are increasingly turning from high
volume production to making quality wines. Equally investors (international
as well as national) are now beginning to take an interest in the
south. So, it's a matter of "watch this space"!
Valpolicella, Soave, Barolo and Barberesco are
some of Italy's best known wines, all of which come from northern
Italy. The Veneto, covering the area from Venice to Lake Garda,
is a significant wine producing region, and plays host to VinItaly
in Verona, the country's largest wine fair. Prosecco, Bardolino,
Valpolicella and Soave are all from this region, as well as the
famous firewater known as grappa. Franciacorta comes from
Lombardy. Pinot Grigot and Reisling Italicoare from the Collio district
of Friuli, and Lambrusco is from Emilia Romagna.
Search of the Perfect Pizza
Search of the Perfect Pasta
an Italian Feast
Edge Italian Cuisine
to your Diet in Italy
- The Good, the bad and the pizza!