Cuisine of Italy by region

TUSCANY

This is a region where “La Dolce Vita” springs to mind as you look around at the wonderful landscape of olive groves, rolling hillsides blanketed in grape vines, lazy sheep idylly lolling about and smell the fragrant herbs that feature in many of the regions fantastic dishes. Tuscan cuisine is simple and uses products dictated by the seasons. Olive oil is highly prized and is used generously in cooking, salads and even just to dip chunks of crusty bread into. Many dishes are based around the profusion of vegetables grown in the area such as asparagus, fennel peas, artickoes and wild mushrooms. White truffles are found in late autumn and can be found in risottos, pasta dishes and meat dishes. Meats include duck, rabbit, venison, pheasant, pork, wild boar and beef. From Florence we get “Bistece all Fiorentina” a simple , thick beef steak cooked over coals. Tuscany produces many home-made sausages including those made with wild boar. Roast suckling pig or “Porchetta” flavoured with rosemary and sage and having a crispy crackling served with pane Toscana is a simple yet gastronomic delight. Other dishes include pappardelle flat noodles served with a richsauce and game, Fritto Misto, small bites of meats and vegetables dusted with flour and lightly fried, and Ribollita. Ribollita is a traditionally a Tuscan peasant dish and is a thick soup made from left overs, vegetables, beans and even bread go into this soup and then it is reheated as the name translates. The simple way of grilling over hot coals is also reflected in the regions “Bruschetta” the bread is drizzled with olive oil, rubbed with garlic, grilled and topped with a variety of simple but tasty toppings such as tomatoes, mushrooms or a sprinkle of cheese. Desserts of the region include “Panforte“, a chewy, rich, Christmas cake from Sienna containing fruits, nuts and spices,”Ricciarelli“, almond biscuits and “Cavallucci” rustic, little, round cookies often given as gifts on special occasions, they contain honey, almonds, candied lemon and orange and spices……

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UMBRIA

The cuisine of Umbria is simple, rustic food once known as “Cucina Povera“, prepared and cooked to retain the wholesome goodness and flavour of the food. The dishes of the region rely heavily on the seasonal food available that is produced in it’s lush, rich landscape, and one can see why it is called the “green heart of Italy”. Vegetables, grains and fresh herbs from it’s farms and gardens, fresh water fish from it’s lakes and game, black truffles and wild mushrooms from the forests that cover much of the region. Fish include Lasca, Trout, Perch, Grayling and Tench, while meats include Wild Boar, Pheasants, Goose, Pigeons and Snails. Being a landlocked region it relies heavily on pork, and butchers here are said to be the best in Italy and use every scrap of the pig. The pigs often roam freely through the woodlands eating acorns and this gives the meat it’s wonderful flavour. From Norcia you you can get “Prosciutto di Norcia” and a selection of good pork sausages. The aromatic black truffles from the region flavour Risottos and Polentas, meat dishes and even breads. Local specialities include “Strascinati” and “Umbrici” long, thick pastas. Umbrian soups are hearty and crammed full of vegetables, dried beans, lentils and chick peas served with a good drizzle of olive oil over the top. Cheeses from the region are produced from both cow’s and sheep’s milk and include Pecorino, Ricotta, Raviglio, Caciotta and some cheeses flavoured with truffle. A wonderfully rich dessert is “Rocciata di Assisi” normally made in the winter months because of the inclusion of walnuts. Umbria also has a long standing bond with chocolate, in Perugia the chocolate factory produces the famous Baci chocolates, the city of Perugia hosts a chocolate fair each years that, not surprisingly!, draws thousands of people from all over the world……

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MARCHE

With a long coast on the Adriatic sea, Marche cuisine includes Fish and Seafood dishes in it’s regional specialities. Brodetta is the most famous of the fish stews. Other favourites include Ancona‘s “Stoccafisso”, dried codfish and fish such as Sole, Bream, Clams and Mussels. Pasta features very strongly and home-made pasta is still an art undertaken by many housewives of the region. “Vincisgrassi” is a form of lasagne with layers of thin pasta with a rich sauce of chicken livers and mushrooms, topped off with grated cheese and a white sauce. Pigs are bred for for sausages and hams which, unlike the thinly sliced Parma hams, are cut into chunks. Regional cheeses include “Pecorino di San Leo” a sheep’s milk cheese, “Ricotta” from Urbino and “Bazzott” from Fano. Pecorino and Ricotta are often used in sweet dishes……

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LAZIO

The fertile volcanic hills surrounding Rome produce vegetables that can not be equalled for flavour and with ingredients as good as this there is no need to hide them in strong sauces. Romans have always demanded that their produce is fresh, and as in all Italian cooking, this is the key to the wonderful meals produced in the region. The region is an agricultural area and one of the many vegetables grown here is the artichoke which is popular in many Roman dishes, other types of vegetables grown in the area are Asparagus, Peas, Fava beans and Zucchine, and mint and rosemary are the main herbs used in local cooking. The favourite meat is Lamb, which is usually baked in the oven and served with simple, seasonal vegetables. Milk from the sheep produces Ricotta and Pecorino. There are vineyards and olive groves, and from Frosinone comes hams, olive oil, cured meats, Prosciutto, mushrooms and white and black truffles. Besides tender young lamb, pork, veal and oxtail are widely used. The offal was, traditionally, used in much of the Roman cooking but has lost popularity in recent years, although tripe is still a typical Roman dish, cooked in tomato sauce and sprinkled with Pecorino. Also found in the area are “Saltimboca” (veal with sage and prosciutto), “Spaghetti all Amatriciana” (Spaghetti with tomato and bacon), thick hearty bean soups and stuffed peppers, courgettes,squashes and tomatoes. Fresh fruit would be the normal dessert after a meal but there are a few sweet delicacies to sample “Maritozzi” soft,sweet buns with candied fruits and raisins, sometimes filled with fresh cream and “Crostata di Ricotta” A type of cheesecake made with candied fruit…….

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ABRUZZO AND MOLISE

The traditional dishes from Abruzzo are an undiscovered delight, simple ingredients are turned into glorious feast with the inclusion of locally grown saffron, hot chilli peppers (diavolino-little devils) and the gloriously fruity olive oil. “Maccheroni alla chitarra” (literally guitar pasta) is pasta rolled over a wooden frame over which are stretched wires which cut the ribbons of pasta into fine, light strands and is undoubtedly the best known dish of the region. Pancakes or “Scrippelle” are layered with savoury cheeses, meats or vegetables and baked .Many of the dishes are spiced with the hot chillies such as “Agnello all’arrabbiata” a spicy lamb dish, these chillies are also used in the tomato based sauces that go with pasta. Lamb is the dominate meat of the region and there still are many sheep farmers in the mountains providing lamb, kid, sheep and mountain goat. Many families still rear their own pigs and produce cured meats. Along the coast there are fish soups and stews such as the “Brodetto” and fish sauces served with pasta. Cheeses produced in the region are often flavoured with herbs. The sugared almonds “Confetti di Sulmona” are the best known of the confections of Abruzzo, “Croccante“-lemon scented nougat with almonds and caramel,”Amaretti” from Prezza and “Ferratelle” aniseed wafer biscuits….

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CAMPANIA

The beautiful Amalfi coast has been described as the most beautiful coast in the world and to be there and seeing it one would have to agree. Alongside the wonderful scenery the variety of foods in this region are also truly stunning. Fresh seafood and fish from the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean give rise to tasty yet simple dishes, that sprinkled with the juice of freshly picked Amalfi lemons bring the dishes to life. Clams are used a lot in dishes such as “Zuppa di Vongole” or “Spaghetti con le Vongole in Salsa Bianca” dishes not to be overlooked when visiting this area, also used in many guises are mussels, squid, octopus, prawns and anchovies. Pasta has long been the basic food in this area and there are producers of pasta using techniques passed down through generations, exporting pasta all over the world. Naples is of course the home of the Pizza, although it has world-wide renown and is found in cities all over the globe. Pizza started out as a peasant food, flat bread sold in the streets, nowadays there are numerous toppings and you can have whatever takes your fancy but the most famous remains the simple “Margherita Pizza“, named after the wife of King Umberto 1,the baker who made the Queen’s pizza topped it with tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese -red,white and green to represent the Italian flag- it has remained a favourite ever since. Water buffalo roam the marshlands around Capua and Salerno and they yield the milk to produce the wonderful Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Ricotta and Mascarpone are also made with the buffalo milk. The area also makes some mouth-watering pastries and sweets, “Struffoli” (a dish of deep fried balls of dough,crusty outside and light in the centre served with honey,cinnamon and orange rind), “Zeppole” (sugar coated doughnuts) and “Sfogliatelle riccia” (a puff pastry filled with orange flavoured ricotta,almond paste or candied lemon) among some of the best. “Gelato” (ice cream) flavoured with fresh fruits and nuts and icy Granita, flavoured with coffee or lemon…..

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PUGLIA

Puglia is the heel of Italy and is a flat region with no mountains so the region is uniform in it’s temperature which is the ideal climate for growing food. Puglia produces the most grapes, both for eating and for wine making, in Italy and is also the largest producer of olive oil. Other crops grown in profusion in the region are wheat, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, fennel, endive chickpeas, lentils and beans. With it’s extensive coastline, fish and seafood feature greatly in regional cuisine and turtles, oysters, mussels, cuttlefish and octopus will be found on most menus.February is the time for eating sea anemones which are served raw with a splash of lemon or cooked into pasta dishes. The traditional pasta shape of the region is “Orecchiette” (little ears) and made from the durum wheat grown in the area, baked pasta dishes are also popular but you will find that beef is used mainly in sauces and meatballs, as in the past when times were tough, cattle were only slaughtered once it was old and therefore the meat had become tough. Now there are vast flocks of sheep which produce not only beautifully tender lamb but also sheep’s milk for the production of fresh Ricotta cheese and Pecorino and a cheese of the region “Burrata di Andria” a cheese which must be consumed on the day it is made. Desserts from Puglia are mainly almond based, as the region produces vast quantities of almonds, ricotta pastries sweetened with honey or marzipan or a delicious selection of regional fresh fruits……

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BASILICATA

Once a very poor region, Basilicata is the least populated of all the Italian regions. Pork is an integral part of the local cuisine and is spit roasted, grilled or made into wonderfully tasty sausages. Lamb, kid and rabbit will also be found in many of the regions dishes. Many of the foods of Basilicata are spiced with the local Senise pepper which contains very little water and so lends itself very well to being ground into a powder, this is then found in local cheeses, cured meats, soups and dishes. “Salsicce lucane” (lucanica sausages) made with top quality pork and seasoned with fennel seeds are some of the finest sausages in the country……

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CALABRIA

Calabria is at the very southernmost tip of Italy and filled with magnificent, rugged mountains. Chestnuts, olives, lemon and orange trees, almonds and figs all thrive in this climate. Among the vegetables the eggplant is the most profusely grown and it features in many ways in the regional cuisine, either stuffed, breaded and fried or sautéed in olive oil with garlic, there are also peppers, artichokes, zucchini,and onions. Simple pasta dishes using tomatoes and vegetables are popular and these can be spiced up with dried or smoked sausages. A combination of all of these will often be found in one of the regions many soups or stews. Having the longest coastline in Italy and breathtakingly beautiful white, sandy beaches, the waters around Calabria give fishermen the perfect place to bring Tuna, Swordfish, Sardines and Anchovies to the table, which are simply cooked or preserved in the wonderful olive oil of the region. Every pretty fishing village in the region has it’s own recipe for dried cod, “Baccala” or “Pesce Stocco“. Frittatas are made to use up any left overs and can include anything that is to hand, all bound together with eggs. Pork reigns supreme in this region and there are many varieties of sausages, salamis and hams. There are four different types of Calabrian preserved meats that qualify for DOP:-Pancetta, Capocollo, Soppressata and Salsiccia. Lamb and goats are reared for both their meat and cheeses. Citrus fruits grow here in profusion and are candied and used in sweet dishes and baking. A regional delight are stuffed dried figs…..

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SICILY

The cuisine of Sicily has been influenced heavily by other cultures such as the Greeks, the Arabs and the Spanish, who introduced many items from all over the world thus making the cuisine of Sicily what it is today. The island’s dishes use fresh ingredients cooked quite simply so as not to overpower any of the flavours, they have just the right balance in their use of herbs and spices to enhance a meal. Being an island there is an ample supply of seafood which includes sardines, Swordfish,Squid,Sea Bream, Sea Bass, Tuna and Cuttlefish. Eggplant, Peppers and Tomatoes are the main vegetables of Sicily and are used in most dishes,a signature dish of Sicily is “Caponata” using eggplant. North African influences show in the western corner of the island where there are a variety of couscous based dishes. A delicious specialty of Sicily is the “Arancini“, balls of rice filled with tomato and meat sauce or cheese, bread and deep fried, these can be found all over the island and are fantastically moreish. Many of Sicily’s meat dishes are prepared from either lamb or goat, but “Vitello alla Marsala” (Veal Marsala) is one of the better known dishes. Grapes and olives are grown all over the island and other crops include fava beans, lentils, almonds, apricots, pomegranates, water melon and pistachio nuts. Sicilian cuisine often uses raisins and pine nuts with fish and vegetable dishes. The Sicilians love their sweets and desserts and one of the most famous is “Cassata” made with ricotta, marzipan and citrus fruits moulded into beautiful and decorated cakes,”Cannoli” tubes of pastry filled with sweet, creamy ricotta make your mouth water at the thought of them, the range of flavours of “Gelato” are mind blowing, fruits of every description, nuts, rum and even jasmine, the hard part is where to start! Ice creams are served in tubs, wafers and even in sweet buns which are wonderful. Granita is made from crushed ice and flavoured with lemons or strawberries, it is the perfect way to cool down in the hot sunshine…….

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SARDINIA

The island of Sardinia has a cuisine all of it’s own and bears little resemblance to the tomato sauces of mainland Italy. Although being an island and therefore seafood playing an important part in the cuisine, it is also an island of shepherds, and lamb features strongly in most of the island dishes. Sardinia is a food lovers paradise and exploring market stalls and local shops and restaurants is a delight. Antipasti dishes will include Proscuitto, Salami, cheese, octopus, clams, mussels,and olives. The Sardinians will follow with a pasta course and then with the meat course, which often will be the favourite suckling pig “Porceddu“, spit roasted over a log fire, baby goat or lamb are also popular, lamb served with wild fennel being an excellent dish. Lobsters are delicious and the recipe will vary depending on which town you are in, they all have their own particular way of preparing this dish. Cheese-making has been perfected over many, many years and the island produces 80% of Italy’s Pecorino Romano, there is a great variety of cheeses to choose from, spicy or sweet depending on the maturity. Desserts and pastries in Sardinia will often include honey, almonds and fresh cheese. The “Sa Sead” a disc of dough with a lemon flavoured cheese filling which is fried and covered with melted honey.” “Copulettas” similar to meringues and “Amaretti” macaroons……

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