Although pizza and pasta are generally the pervasive face of Italian cuisine, the country’s culinary history is varied and diverse. This diversity is apparent in the array of regional cuisines in the country. Some of these have stemmed from the ancient Etruscan and Roman civilizations, while others came with merchants and conquerors from distant lands, but they have all merged to create one of the world’s most delicious and revered cuisines.
The richness of Italian cuisine lies in its diversity. From delicate tortelli in Lombardy to spaghetti tossed with salted gray mullet roe in Sardinia, food preferences and cooking methods vary across this boot shaped country, depending upon the region; each one producing its own tantalizing, culinary treasures.
There are about twenty regions within the country each with it's own way of living the Italian life, but this article will endeavor to address the famous foods of the main regions.
Located in the northern part of Italy, rice and corn are the staples in this region resulting in a rich collection of risottos and polentas. It is the birthplace of famous cheeses including the creamy Robiola and the tangy Provolone. Meat, butter and lard are eaten extensively and the regions many lakes offer sweet water fish to round out the diet.
Four Cheese Baked Polenta
Sometimes referred to as “Italy’s Food Basket,” Emilia-Romagna is responsible for producing some of the country’s most renowned foods. It is an area rich in meats and eggy pasta and the cooks of the region hold the craft of meat curing in high esteem. They also possess the skills of making different kinds of pasta by hand and are inclined towards rich flavors. This region is the birthplace of the most appetizing of vinegars: aceto balsamico, or balsamic vinegar.
Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil with lemon and garlic
Located just off the “toe” of Italy’s boot, this region is the home to Mount Etna and hence, rich volcanic soil which produces a plethora of citrus fruits including blood oranges and lemons, almonds and olives and a number of other fruits. Veal, lamb, pork and rabbit meat are common and locals claim that the meatball was first invented here. Specialties of the island include Bottarga (a salty, tuna roe shaved over pasta), Caponata (eggplants fried and seasoned with vinegar and sugar) and almond paste cookies.
Escalope of Veal Saltimbocca with Green Beans
San Marzano tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, lemons and salad greens grown in the fertile soil of this region. The region is best known for its pizza, a descendant of the world’s first pizzeria in Naples. Elaborate dishes of the 17th and 18th century French monzù tradition such as the Sartù di Riso are cooked for feasts and the pasta is among the best and most distinctive in all of Italy.
Situated on Italy’s west coast, this region is home to the city of Rome and famous for dried and fresh pastas, artichokes, zucchini, and tender porchett, (which is whole roasted pig). Pork and lamb are common meats and cheese made from sheep’s milk is abundantly available. Spaghetti all'Amatriciana (Spaghetti in Spicy Amatriciana Sauce) and spaghetti carbonara are two of the region’s specialties.
Roasted Globe Artichokes with Aubergine, Peppers, and Olives
Tuscany has attracted tourists and visitors since the golden age of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and the de' Medicis. It is the source of some of the country’s finest olive oils and meat dishes. Masters of the art of subtle seasoning, the Tuscans’ favorite aromatics include thyme, rosemary and fennel. Bread is considered royalty in the region and used in a number of salads and soups. Ravioli and tortellini are examples of classic stuffed pastas from the region.
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