Discovering Italian Cuisine - Italian Pasta And Other Exciting Local Dishes

Italian cooking is very simple with basically 4 to 8 ingredients in most recipes. Different types of cheeses and wine are always present in every Italian meal. Coffee, especially the espresso type is indispensable.

Italian cuisine, as we know and prepare it today, is predominantly prepared with tomatoes, potatoes, bell pepper and different forms of corn, ingredients which were introduced only by the 18th century.

Prior to this period, italian cuisine had strong cultural influences from the ancient Roman, ancient Greek, Byzantine, Jewish and Etruscan culinary practices.

Archestratus, the first Italian who wrote about food, said that food's natural taste should not be altered by adding some kind of seasoning, herbs or spices. This is very true although some of us use a lot of dressing, sauces, dips to enhance the flavor of food.

CHARACTERISTICS OF ITALIAN CUISINE

  • Italian cooking can best be identified by regional area because each individual region in Italy has its own distinct culinary practices.
  • Italian cooking makes use of a lot of pasta where a wide selection of pasta noodles are used in every pasta recipe. The pasta is usually cooked by boiling it "al dente" which literally means firm to the teeth.
  • It makes use of ingredients like fresh vegetables, a variety of meats, fruits in season and a mixture of different kinds of sauces.

Pasta refers to a type of noodles that comes in various shapes, sizes and lengths. Some of the more common ones are spaghetti and spaghettini which look like thin rods, rigatoni that look like cylinders, fussili or swirls and lasagne that look like flat sheets.

Pasta is also used to refer to pasta recipes where the pasta is used as main ingredient and served with accompanying sauce.

Pasta can be classified into dried and fresh pasta. Dried pasta does not contain eggs giving it a longer shelf life of two years under normal conditions, while fresh pasta contains eggs giving it a very short shelf life of only 2 days in the refrigerator.

In Italy, there is a law that requires that pasta seca or dried pasta should be produced only from the flour of durum wheat or from semolina of durum wheat to ensure the high quality of pasta made in Italy.

Dry pasta is more often used by Southern Italians but their Northern counterparts prefer fresh pasta.

Outside Italy, pasta is sometimes made from other varieties of flour like wheat flour but this type cannot be cooked al dente because they tend to get soggy and tender when cooked.

NORTHERN, CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKING

Potatoes, corn, rice fish especially the cod or baccala, various sausages, pork and a wide variety of cheeses are among the favorite ingredients used by the Northern Italians in their recipes.

REGIONAL CUISINE

The best way to introduce and identify Italian cooking is through its individual regional cuisines. Each region has its own distinct food specialties that each one is proud of which we will feature here for your information and enjoyment.

Regional foods are classified according to an area's proximity to a border country--in this case Austria or France--proximity to a mountainous area or a sea; and the economic status of the region.


Venice and The Veneto Region
Venice and The Veneto Region

Venice and the Veneto Region

Capital: Venice

Food coming from Venice and the Veneto region is classified into three main types based on the geographical location of origin. There are foods coming from the

  • Mountainous areas. Food coming from the mountainous area are usually pork dishes served with mushrooms and cheese, and polenta, some strudel and canederli, a kind of Austrian dish.
  • the coastal areas and
  • The plains area. People who live in the plains area love to cook grilled meat, pork or chicken barbecue style. They serve this together with potatoes, an assortment of veggies and polenta.

    Another favorite dish of the plains people is risotto, a rice dish mixed with pork, chicken liver, mushrooms, veggies, and pumpkin.

    Bigoli, a pasta dish which uses a thicker kind of spaghetti noodle is a favorite in this region together with gnocchi which is pasta made from potatoes and are prepared by hand , fetuccine, ravioli, and tortelli (also stuffed with meat, veggies, pumpkin and cheese).

A typical food prepared by people in the Veneto region is polenta, a local fare made of finely ground corn. Polenta is typically mixed into stir-fried and baked dishes and popularly mixed with meat, cheese and fish. Rapini and porcini are two popular local polenta dishes.

Venetians love to prepare the pasta called casonsei or caconcelli, consumed mostly by people who live in the mountainous side of the region. Casonsei is a home-made pasta that is stuffed with delicious filling then sealed between two flat sheets of pasta.

Polenta
Polenta
Casoncelli
Casoncelli
Region of Piedmont
Region of Piedmont

The Piedmont Region

Capital: Turin

Piedmont is considered Italy's food capital which is famous for serving exquisite food like truffles and dishes with rich sauces.

In the Piedmont region, the people love to cook agnolotti, the most commonly prepared pasta. Agnolotti is a stuffed pasta created by putting together two flat sheets of dough stuffed with roast beef and vegetables then served with a dressing of melted butter and beef broth or just simply melted butter and freshly chopped sage. They also prepare taglierini which is a thinner type of tagliatelle.

Piedmont cooks suggest that the dressing be prepared as simply as possible so as not to overpower the taste of the pasta filling.

The Piedmont region is where the finest Italian cuisine is found among all the other regions of Italy.

They are also proud of their famous red wines, Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco.

Lombardy Region

Capital: Milan

The Lombardy region is considered the richest region in Italy and one of the richest in the whole of Europe.

Rice is a popular soup ingredient and also used in preparing risotto the most popular of which is risotto a la Milanese spiced with saffron and served together with other favorite local dishes.

The people of Lombardy love to cook pizzoccheri, a flat pasta shaped like ribbons mixed with cubed potatoes, green veggies, then topped with a generous amount of sliced Valtellina Cacera cheese.

They also love to prepare tortelli di zucca, which is simply ravioli with a generous stuffing of pumpkin then served with rich melted butter with a serving of turkey stuffed with a variety of stewed meat and chicken.

Risotto alla Milanese
Risotto alla Milanese
Pizzocheri
Pizzocheri

Liguria Region

Capital: Genoa

Liguria is the home of pesto.

Pesto came from the Liguria region where it first originated. It is made of pounded basil leaves, various nuts, olive oil, garlic and grated parmesan cheese.

An assortment of pasta dishes is prepared in the Liguria region which include pansoti, a ravioli shaped like a triangle, trenette which are long strips of pasta made from whole wheat flour served with potatoes and boiled beans in pesto sauce, piccage which are ribbon-shaped pasta made of eggs served in pesto and artichoke sauce.

Street foods are also famous such as focaccia bread, farinata and paniccia.

Pansotti
Pansotti
Focaccia bread
Focaccia bread
Pesto genovese
Pesto genovese

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