Insider’s Guide to Italian Regional Cuisine

Pimsleur Approach • March 1, 2013 • Food & WineComments (0)

It may seem as though the different elements of Italian cuisine – from pizza to polenta, panna cotta to tiramisu – coexist throughout the whole of Italy. After all, they often do so on Italian restaurant menus. But upon visiting Italy, you’ll swiftly learn that while you can get pizza in Venice and risotto in Naples, you’re much better off sticking to these regional specialties…

Tiramisu

Veneto

Pasta is nowhere to be found in the traditional cuisine of Venice and the surrounding Veneto. Instead, creamy risotto or cornmeal polenta – often served with rabbit or poultry stew – are the principal starches. Perhaps Venice’s most popular export is tiramisu – “pull me up” – made with ladyfinger biscuits, coffee, liquor and creamy mascarpone.

South Tyrol

South Tyrolean cuisine is a far cry from “typical” Italian food. Strong German, Austrian and Slavic influences have created a cuisine that includes speck ( a juniper-flavored ham), goulash, strudel, spaetzle and sauerkraut.

 

Panettone

Lombardy

Lombardy’s cuisine relies heavily on rice, butter and lard for local dishes like saffron risotto alla milanese, frequently served with osso buco (braised veal shanks) or cotoletta (a breaded and fried cutlet.) The typical pasta of the region is made out of buckwheat, which seems like an odd choice of flour to most. Lombardy is home to taleggio, Gorgonzola and grana padano cheeses, as well as the famous panettone Christmas cake: brioche studded with candied citrus peel and raisins.

Piedmont

Piedmont’s location, between the Alps and the Po valley, produces some delicious ingredients, including mushrooms and truffles. Beef carpaccio hails from this region, though the recipe was made famous in Venice. The high quality of Piedmont’s Carru beef spurred the popularization of raw meat with garlic oil, lemon and salt.

Liguria

Nearby Liguria offers one of Italy’s most popular exports: pesto. However, because Liguria’s land is not suitable for wheat, pasta is made with chickpea farinata, chestnut flour, or potatoes. Trofie (spiral-shaped potato gnocchi) re the most common accompaniment for homemade pesto sauce.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna is home to Bolognese sauce, but don’t expect tomatoey spaghetti bolognese. Traditional Bolognese is a wine-based meat sauce, with only a small amount of tomato. As for the pasta, Bologna is famous for tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle, while Romagna is home to cappelletti, garganelli and strozzapreti, which translates to “strangled priests.” Some of the region’s notable exports include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham and Modena’s balsamic vinegar.

Tuscany

The heart of Italy is home to the standard Italian language, and it’s also home to some common Italian dishes. The peasant cuisine is simple and nourishing, including soups like ribollita – which means reboiled – and minestrone. Wealthier Tuscans eat white San Miniato truffles and high-quality Florentine steaks, coming from the Chiana Valley and the Maremma region. Rich game stews, featuring wild boar and pheasant, are often served atop pappardelle.

Lazio

Home of Italy’s capital, Lazio’s pasta alla carbonara and all’amatriciana feature the use of guanciale, unsmoked bacon made from pig cheeks. Much of the region’s cuisine features offal. Cheeses from this region are frequently made from sheep’s milk, such as Pecorino Romano.

Tomate San Marzano

Campania

As the region housing the city of Naples, Campania is perhaps the region most emblematic of “typical” Italian cuisine. Campania is one of Italy’s largest consumers of pasta, especially spaghetti, often paired with local seafood and delicious San Marzano tomatoes, which grow in the volcanic soil. Local mozzarella is used in layered dishes like parmigiana. Desserts include struffoli, sfogliatelle and baba. And of course, we can’t forget Naples’ most popular export: pizza.

Sicily

Historically, Sicily has played host to many different cultures: Italian cuisine is influenced by Spain’s chocolate, corn and tomatoes, and the citrus and sugar of Arab countries. Byzantine influences lent Sicilian cuisine its penchant for sweet-and-sour combinations, like caponata. Because of its island locale, fish and seafood is very popular here – and extremely delicious.

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