Traditional Italian Cuisine by Region

Discover the many traditional foods which come from the regions of Italy, from the mountains of the north through to the coastal regions as we travel down the length of this beautiful country. Here you will also discover the best wines to look out for from each of the regions.

Abruzzo. 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.

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Basilicata. Once a very poor region, Basilicata is the least populated of all the Italian regions. Pig farming plays an important role in the cuisine of Basilicata as Pork is an integral part of the local cuisine and is spit roasted, grilled or made into wonderfully tasty sausages. Pork tends to have less fat here as the pigs wander around with the sheep and goats on the mountains and therefore have more muscle.

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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. Farming land is sparse in Calabria and therefore every plot is is used to its best advantage. 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, beans, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes and onions.

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Campania. The Stunning 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.

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Emilia-Romagna. The rich soil of the Po Valley produces great amounts of wheat also the animals that graze on the green pastures produce quality veal, pork and ham as well as dairy products, butter, cheese and cream, all of which feature in the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. The region also has a wonderful reputation for cherries, pears and peaches. This is a gastronomical region which offers a vast array of wonderful foods to be sampled and delighted in

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Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Situated in the north-east of Italy, it’s cuisine is strongly influenced by Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. The region is well known for it’s San Daniele del Friuli ham which is considered to be the best in the world, Prosciutto is a seasoned and salt cured ham and the designation “di San Daniele” assures the consumer that the ham has met government mandated regulations for its production, Montasio cheese and Frico cheese. Smoked meats and game, accompanied by Gnocchi or Polenta, are typical of the region, as are stews, bean soups, goulash, sauerkraut and bacon.

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Situated in the north-east of Italy, it’s cuisine is strongly influenced by Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. The region is well known for it’s San Daniele del Friuli ham which is considered to be the best in the world, Prosciutto is a seasoned and salt cured ham and the designation “di San Daniele” assures the consumer that the ham has met government mandated regulations for its production, Montasio cheese and Frico cheese. Smoked meats and game, accompanied by Gnocchi or Polenta, are typical of the region, as are stews, bean soups, goulash, sauerkraut and bacon

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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

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Known as the Italian riviera, Liguria is bordered to the south by the sea and the mountains to the north which influences it’s cuisine. Seafood and fish are used extensively, with sardines, swordfish, tuna, white bream, sea bass and anchovies featuring in many dishes. A typical fish soup is “ciuppin” which is served in two bowls, one for the broth and the other filled with fish, prawns and octopus fresh from the sea. Most of the fish and sea foods are cooked very simply using only oil, parsley and white wine. Liguria is also well known for it’s wonderful pesto, as basil grows here in profusion and is mixed with pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese and the Region’s own olive oil” Riviera Ligure“, made from olives grown from trees that cling to hills which drop down to the sea.

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West of Trentino and Veneto is Lombardy. Cattle are reared on the plains in the central and southern parts of the region and so meat features more in the dishes here, especially veal, a good example being “Ossobuco alla Milanese” veal shanks braised in white wine and “Cotoletta alla Milanese” similar to the Wiener schnitzel , these are served with “Risotto alla Milanese” the well known creamy risotto flavoured with saffron.

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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.

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Between the Alps and the Po valley lies Piedmont which offers a refined and varied cuisine. Piedmont grows fields of risotto rice and supplies 55% of the risotto rice used in Europe, most of it being Carnaroli rice. Risotto with a shaving of truffle is an excellent regional speciality. Truffles are available in early winter, when the mists hang over the landscape giving it a surreal and beautiful quality, deals worth thousands of Euros will be done in the local market place in the early mornings. This region has the largest number of cheeses,“Castelmagno” being the most prized, the wide variety of cheeses come mainly from cow’s milk, although sheep’s and goat’s are also used, to add different flavours and textures, some of the regions cheeses include Seirras which is a type of creamy ricotta , and Salignum a spicy ricotta which contains pepper, and caraway or fennel seeds.

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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 and it is predominately an agricultural region. Puglia produces the most grapes, both for eating and for wine making, in Italy and is also the largest producer of olive oil, producing around 40% of Italy’s 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.

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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 plays 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. There is a plentiful choice of meats to choose from in Sardinia with wild boar, lamb, suckling pigs, and goat and they have a great variety of dishes which include these.

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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 Arabs introduced spices from the East and also cane sugar and the use of raisins and nuts in sweet and sour dishes. 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, snapper. tuna, anchovies and cuttlefish, and in the lakes and streams there are fresh-water trout.

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In the far north of Italy, near the border with Austria, this region has a very strong Austrian influence in it’s cuisine, especially in the South Tyrol section. The Speck Alto Adige is a wonderful juniper-flavoured ham and is well worth looking out for. The Austrian influence brings Goulash, Knödel, Apfel Strudel, Kaiserschmarrn, Krapfen, Rösti, Spätzle as typical dishes to the region. In the Trentino section of this region you will find a selection of locally made sausages, polenta and cheeses. Trento can also boast it’s very own variety of dwarf green bean named “Nano anellino di Trento”, green with black markings, these grow in abundance in the area.

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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

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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 such as spelt,wheat, barley and lentils, 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 which are caught in the River Tiber and the Transimeno Lake, while meats include Deer, Wild Boar, Pheasants, Goose, Pigeons and Snails providing rich game and Venison for Umbria‘s hearty dishes which are so loved in the region.

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This small region at the tip of the north-west of Italy may be small but can boast some stunning foods. Smoked bacons and game from the forests and mountains go perfectly with Polenta or with local rye bread as do the smoked pork and sausages.

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The cuisine of the Veneto region of Italy can be divided into three main parts, the coastal areas, the plains and the mountains each of which produce their own specialties. The Veneto is essentially an agricultural region which produces wheat, maize, olive trees, vines and mulberry bushes.

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