Cucina Italiano — 25/06/2008
It is essential to understand the huge importance of pairing Food & Wine in Italy. In the same way as every shape and size of pasta has a different sauce selected to match it, so all Italians will make sure that the wine is chosen with due care to bring out the best of a particular dish. This admirable art, which seems second nature to Italians, is called “abbinamento”.
The other dominating factor of Italian Cuisine is regionality. Each region has its own proud tradition of special dishes, which thankfully resist the globalisation of food today. It would need far more space than available here to list the wonders of each region, but here is a round up:
Piedmont: Fare devised to withstand the cold winters, Piedmont is home to the sublime white truffle and garlic laced bagna cauda sauce. All meals start with a wide variety of antipasti, then proceed perhaps with a creamy risotto with castelmagno cheese, then maybe a bollito misto (12 types of boiled meat), before a Gianduja, (a chocolate and hazelnut pudding) and cheese. Lunch here can last for hours.
Emilia Romagna: Italy’s gastronomic heartland – Bologna, Parma and Modena. Parma ham, parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, mortadella and zampone all hail from here. Food in this region is very rich. Pasta is delicious of course.
Trentino / Alto Adige: Divides into the Italian and Germanic food traditions. Polenta or canederli as a starter. Trentino enjoys fish from the lakes and a speciality of wild mushrooms. Alto Adige enjoys great variety of game and a delightful Wein suppe, soup made from white wine.
Veneto: This area is home to most of Italy’s rice fields, and is famed for risotto. Locally there is a huge number of risotto recipes, those made with Amarone wine are delicious, as are Quail and Zuccini flower risottos. Abrrorio is the very good ‘basic’ grade rice. Canaroli and Vailone Nano are the superb ‘crus’. The famous recipe of Venice is Fegato Venezia, a liver and onion stew. Also try the many fish dishes from Lake Garda too.
Umbria: The only landlocked region of Italy and so meat rather than fish prevails. Lots of pork dishes, including roast suckling pig and sausages cooked with grapes. Also Norcia truffles.
Tuscany: All meals begin with crostini – toasts spread with coarse liver pate or fennel scented salami. Soups are king in this region as this is real peasant fare – try the ribolita. Tuscans are great hunters, so wild hare apears on menus and wild boar pasta (Pappedelle alla Cingalle) is a must. Also try the famous Florentine steak.
Lazio: Traditionally sheep is the main staple here, so try suckling roast lamb. Also saltimbocca – veal cutlets with sage & parma ham. Lots of dishes feature artichokes and pecorino cheese.
Puglia: A myriad of antipasto often make up the whole meal. A poor region whose cuisine features many vegetables, chicory, broad beans and of course tomatoes. The regional pasta is wholemeal orrechetti served with vegetables. Tiedda is a good choice as is it is whatever is around, literally just baked. Avoid ricotta forte – aged ricotta which is not to most peoples taste.
Campania: Sun ripened tomatoes, delicate buffalo mozzarella drizzled with pungent olive oil and basil. Fish is central to the diet, ice cream and almond cakes are pretty important too. Home in to pizza in Naples and followed this with refreshing lemon water ice.
Basilicata: Cucina povera – meat is kept for special occasions and likely to be kid, goat or the locals speciality of snails.
Sardinia: Despite being an island, the sea was ignored and fish on menus is a recent innovation. Over a third of Italian sheep live on the island, so lots of lamb and divine pecorino cheese. Try carta da musica, the impossibly thin bread.
Sicily: Given the history of Sicily, it is not surprising that the cuisine is made up of many foreign influences. There is a local version of Cous Cous and vegetables are often slow cooked in olive oil à la greque. Aubergines and Capers are ubiquitous. Pasta con le Sard, (with Sardines, pinenuts and fennel) is a speciality. Swordfish, Tuna, Red Mullet and Sea Bream are great here. It is definitely the one place in Italy if you are looking for indulgent desserts!
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