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Italian Food Regional Cooking Central Italy

Updated on December 31, 2016

Coliseum in Rome

Incredible picture of the Coliseum in Rome
Incredible picture of the Coliseum in Rome | Source
Central Italy
Central Italy | Source
Chitarra at Amazon
Chitarra at Amazon
Chitarra in use at Amazon
Chitarra in use at Amazon
Spaghetti Carbonara, named for the wives of Abruzzi charcoal makers
Spaghetti Carbonara, named for the wives of Abruzzi charcoal makers | Source

Abruzzo, Mountains and Sea

In Central Italy on the Adriatic coast lies the Abruzzo region, little visited by tourists, they have their own wonderful traditions for food. The local word for the peperoncino chili pepper is diavolicchio or diavolillo and it seasons many Abruzzesi dishes. It is in the local pasta dish maccheroni alla chitarra ( egg pasta that is made with a chitarra , a rectangular beech-wood frame, over which fine metal strings, like those on a guitar, are stretched. The thinly rolled pasta dough is laid over the strings and pushed through with a rolling pin, cutting the dough into uniformly fine, long strands) and in the incredible 'ndocca 'ndocca , This is a dish for hard working people, lots of calories, protein and fat, for farmers and mountaineers during the winter. 'Ndocca 'ndocca" was always made when the pigs were slaughtered, during the coldest part of winter in January. And this dish called for the use of every single part of the pig that couldn't be made into else like lonza stagionata (cured pork tenderloin), sausage, prosciutto, lard etc. spaghetti alla carbonara (named after the wives of the charcoal makers from Abruzzo

Order dinner in the regional capital of L'Aquila and the first course may be maccheroni alla chitarra with aglio, olio, and diavolillo (garlic, olive oil and hot red pepper). Abruzzi pasta is made with locally grown durum wheat and the pasta industry here competes with pasta from Naples.

Abruzzo is a mountainous area, ideal for grazing sheep and mountain goats, which have their place on the menu of course. If your palate is not yet burned out you might ask for "agnello all'arrabbiata, " (angry lamb) is a fiery braised lamb dish.

Saffron, is extensively cultivated near Aquila yet, in fact saffron appears in only one local dish, scapece L’Aquila - pickled fish, which is fried and then preserved under saffron- flavored white vinegar in wooden barrels. This is an ancient dish with roots going back all the way to when Greeks colonized parts of Italy. As to the saffron in you scapece, L’Aquila saffron is only propagated by cloning, so the saffron you get today has the same flavor and characteristics as the saffron from 600 years ago.

To finish dinner you might like to try parrozzo , one of the iconic sweets of the region. Parrozzo originated as simple fare, a bread for shepherds made with ground corn but in 1920 a baker named Luigi D’Amico elevated this to a sublime dessert. Luigi added lots of almonds from local almond groves and topped it off with a rich coating of chocolate.

If you’re having a celebration here, don’t forget the confetti. No, we’re not talking about little slivers of colored paper, Italian confetti is what we would call Jordan almonds. Just sugar coated almonds but in Italy they get creative with them and make fanciful shapes and colors. Jordan almonds get their name from France. What started as “jardin” (garden), almonds has devolved into Jordan almonds. Confetti almonds are a metaphor for the bittersweet nature of marriage represented by the bittersweet nature of almonds and sugar.

Centerbe is an Italian light green liqueur originating in Abruzzo. Centerbe translates as "one hundred herbs", and has a very high alcoholic content, usually 60 to 150 proof. This is both consumed as a digestive and as antiseptic. Centerbe has an ancient history and started as a home made liquer made by collecting wild herbs in the mountains of the Central Apennines around Monte Amaro.

Garlic Press & Pepper Mills Are Essential Tools for Italian Cooking

Saltimbocca | Source
Porchetta | Source
Pecorino Romano
Pecorino Romano | Source
Gnocchi, ready to be cooked,
Gnocchi, ready to be cooked, | Source

Lazio / Rome The Eternal City

Rome, The Eternal City is in Lazio, many of the restaurants in Rome have been “internationalized” (For an explanation see Italian Regional cooking and scroll down to Naples Campania). This is not to say that Lazio and Rome do not have a cuisine of their own, it’s just a result of the homogenization of culture around the world. As they say, all roads lead to Rome so this has been a cultural crossroads since ancient times. Every part of Italian cuisine shows up in Rome. As in much of Italy, lamb plays a big role in truly local cuisine. Abbacchio al forno (roast young lamb) and abbacchio scottodito (literally "scorched fingers," which are fried strips of lamb) are emblematic of local cuisine. We in the States tend not to think of lamb being Italian food, lamb, goat and pork are all common Italian meats but in Lazio beef, and veal are “what’s for dinner.” No description of Roman cuisine could exclude saltimbocca ("jump in mouth”), thinly sliced veal with sage and prosciutto). Porchetta ( whole roast pig), and is common as street food and during festivals in Central Italy; take some home to feed the family or enjoy a sandwich on the spot. Compare that to our culture of fast food hamburgers, and you wish you were in Rome! The most important of Lazio's cheeses is Pecorino Romano, (Hard, salty Italian grating cheese made from Ewe’s milk) but all of Italy’s cheeses are available in Rome.

The food of Lazio is based on freshest local ingredients. The extra virgin olive oil from Canino and Sabina, for example, are used in many of the traditional dishes but butter and pork fat are both part of the cuisine. Fresh fish has never been a major part of the local cuisine even though Rome is a mere 15 miles from the sea. In ancient times, those 15 miles were a hurdle, overcome by the wealthy with slaves, but not the peasantry. Caesar may have had fresh fish from the Tyrrhenian Sea but until modern times the locals made do with dried cod, anchovies and other preserved fish. Pasta is always on the menu but Northern Italy is a major rice producing region so pasta may be replaced by risotto, . Gnocchi alla Romana (Italian dumplings) is an iconic dish named for Rome but this one is made from semolina flour instead of potatoes. Fettuccine alla Romana (Fettuccine with Chicken and Ham) is another iconic dish named for Rome.

Polenta is another replacement for pasta in Rome. Polenta has ancient roots, in Imperial Rome, pulmentum was the staple food for Roman Legions, and this was ground millet or spelt. Legionnaires would roast the grains on hot rocks, crush them and carry the roasted grains as a daily ration. Then all they had to do was boil the grains into a kind of mush for the daily meal. Millet gave way to barley and finally corn from the America’s males today’s polents.

Chili peppers do not dominate the flavors here as they do in Southern Italy but like everything else in Italy they have their place in dishes like penne all'arrabbiata ("angry" penne), made with garlic, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Rome has a heavy influence from Jewish culture. With an ancient Jewish ghetto ever present much of Italian food lends itself well to keeping Kosher and much more fits into a Jewish style of cooking. Kosher Italian Food

For dessert you might like Maritozzi , a type of cream-filled bun , doughnuts, fried rice treats and ricotta tarts are all popular and we must mention Gelato the iconic Italian ice cream. Pastries and desserts are wonderful in Rome with many varieties like Torrones and marzipan made with Italian almonds. Again, all of Italy will show up in Roman pastries, cannoli, pandoro, ( Sweet yeast bread, {Veronan}) struffoli ( Deep fried balls of dough drenched in honey {Neapolitan}) and anything you can imagine to put on the pounds.

Tartufo Crostini.jpg    Muy Yum does some great food photography at
Tartufo Crostini.jpg Muy Yum does some great food photography at | Source
Lentilswith strangozzi
Lentilswith strangozzi | Source
Castel_del_Piano-Minestra_di_farro. Soup with Farro
Castel_del_Piano-Minestra_di_farro. Soup with Farro | Source
Black.summer.truffle. | Source

Umbria, Medieval Cities and Assisi

Many travelers claim Umbrian cuisine is the best in Italy. Flocks of sheep grazing rolling hills covered with olive trees define this area. Black truffles are the sublime product of Umbria, celebrated in local festivals and they show off in dishes like crostini al tartufo – (toast with black truffles) , crostini alla Norcina – (toast with anchovies, truffles and chicken liver) and the famous, and expensive, spaghetti alla Norcina (Spaghetti with black truffles ). In Umbria, truffles are not some exotic haute cuisine, but a native tradition; you'll never see them served so generously and so fresh anywhere else.

Umbrian cuisine is country cooking, built on traditional dishes created with minimal ingredients and methods of preparation that have been handed down as traditions dating back to Etruscan times. The sophistication of Roman cuisine is replaced by the reliance on local foods taken from the farms, forests and lakes. Strangozzi ("strangled priests,") is typical Umbrian hand-cut pasta. This pasta dates back to the 14th century when the region rebelled against papal domination. In Spoleto, they often serve strangozzi with Spoletina sauce; a peppery tomato sauce made from southern Italian peppers and parsley but Strangozzi is just as likely to be served alla Norcina with the local black truffles. Strangozzi may be typical in Umbria, but tagliatelle, penne, gnocchi and pappardelle are all served, as well as quadrucci - small, flat squares of pasta that accompany chickpeas in ceci e quadrucci soup.

Farro is a variety of emmer wheat, having very large grains that is grown and consumed here. The Umbrians prepare hearty zuppa di farro , a hearty winter soup with many variations.
Meat is abundant in Umbria, And Norcia has been renowned for the production of hams, sausages and all kinds of preserved meats. Lamb, veal and game all have their place on the menu but pork butchers in Norcia are so accomplished, that since Roman times, a butcher trained there is called a Norcino and can open a norcineria anywhere in Italy.

Sweet desserts are generally reserved for special annual festivities or religious ceremonies not a traditional end to Umbrian meals, but in modern times, they have been added to the local menu. Try making some Brutti ma Buoni (Ugly but Good) cookies for a taste of local sweets. Among the best known Umbrian desserts are the Torcolo di San Costanzo – a Perugian sweet bread with nuts and fruit, prepared on January 29th, the feast day of St Costanzo. The Umbrian town of Perugia is also home to a chocolate industry with the Perugina company having an international reputation.

Vincigrassi lasagna
Vincigrassi lasagna | Source
Piadina | Source

Le Marche

Is pronounced "lay markay," hills and coastline on the Adriatic with an abundance of vegetables, grains and meats. Get away from the coast here and you find a land where time really has stood still. Cooking in the Marche is deeply rooted in peasant tradition; this is not a place to visit for a fast food burger. Le Marche marks the marriage of Southern Italian cuisine to their neighbors to the north. The beef and veal of the north exist side by side with the rabbit and lamb of the south in Le Marche.
Marchigiano food means using fresh, top quality ingredients with the minimum of intervention. Dishes are based on tradition and local produce. Wild foods can be important here with wild mushrooms, game, nuts, field herbs and once again, truffles. Peasants seem to eat better than we do in industrialized countries. A traditional cooking method in the mountains here has been roasting over wet hay. The smoke flavors the meat while it cooks more quickly than just smoking.

A few of the signature dishes from le Marche:

Vincisgrassi, is a local favorite that reflects the Marchigiani attitude on life. Vincisgrassi is a major production effort, unlike many simpler dishes that hallmark Italian food. It is incredibly rich lasagna without the usual tomatoes. This dish was created at a time before tomatoes were widely accepted so you will find béchamel, chicken giblets, mushrooms, veal brains and sweetbreads, ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and, in season, truffles layered in the pasta. Modern recipes have been adding some tomatoes.
Passatelli, is a type of pasta made from breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and egg cooked in broth.
alle brace signifies the meat was grilled, on embers, delicious
Piccione ripieno stuffed pigeons
Coniglio in porchetta rabbit cooked with fennel are all Marche specialties.
Brodetto, the famousfish stew with a different recipe in every coastal community. In some places this may be made with as few as 8 varieties of fish but to be authentic in Le Marches brodetto has to be made with 13 species of fish.
Casciotta d’Urbino, is a local cheese made from ewe’s and cow’s milk. This is a historic cheese with a pedigree. Michelangelo is said to have purchased land in the area so that he might have a continuous supply of “Casciotte”. The cheese is straw white, soft and crumbly, with small holes. Taste “sweet yet full, pleasantly acidic, agreeable.”
Formaggio di fossa – is a sharp cheese aged by being walled up in limestone holes in the ground.
Piadina, is a flat, unleavened bread made with lard is the local answer to pita.
Olive Ascolana is a culinary signature of Le Marche fried until golden in a crispy robe of egg and bread crumbs. Olives may be stuffed with a number of different fillings. Some cooks pit the olive by cutting the olive off the pit in a single spiral, to fill them. This is a time consuming dish usually reserved for celebratory events.
Stocco all'anconetana Braised dried cod with tomatoes, olive oil and white wine and milk, thyme and garlic.
Prosciutto di Carpegna productionis a strictly regulated ham. Pigs destined for the this prosciutto must be raised Marche, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy region of Italy. Curing and ageing of this prosciutto must be done in the the Carpegna municipality, in the province of Pesaro-Urbino, in the Marche region. Flavor is said to be delicate, sweet and fragrant.

Pastas here in Le Marche are often made with eggs unlike the plain pastas made in Southern Italy but pasta is not mandatory and may be replaced with polenta or rice. A wide variety of seafood from the Adriatic is available on the coast but until modern times, fish was relatively uncommon away from the coast due to the terrain.

Products of Tuscany

Leonardo Da Vinci, self portrait
Leonardo Da Vinci, self portrait | Source
Cellini salt cellar
Cellini salt cellar | Source
Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo's David | Source
Michelangelo's_Pieta | Source
Davinci Baptism of Christ
Davinci Baptism of Christ | Source
Cacciucco Tuscan fish stew
Cacciucco Tuscan fish stew | Source
White truffle
White truffle | Source

Tuscan Cooking

Tuscany Florence and Pisa

Visit Tuscany and step back in history to the Renaissance. Michelangelo was born in Caprese, a village in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany, and Leonardo da Vinci was born near the Tuscan town of Vinci. These two men will secure the place of Tuscany in history but this article is about cuisine. Tuscany is home to the city of Florence and Pisa with its leaning tower, as well as the Chianti region, famous for its wine and Siena with its medieval festivals.

Florence may be the birthplace of modern French cuisine because Catherine, wife of France’s King Henry II came from Milan with a retinue of Florentine chefs. Among the dishes credited to Catherine’s influence are Frangipane tarts, created for Catherine by Count Cesare Frangipini for her journey to France, ice cream, a different flavor was made for the wedding every day, zabaglione and many others.

Tuscan cooking is simple food without heavy sauces. Olive oil is the predominant fat and is used in every course of the meal. Beans are a staple. Sage, fennel, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram are popular herbs. Tuscan farms produce olive oil, wine, wheat, and fruits. Chickens, ducks, rabbits, cows, and pigs are raised on small farms and beef is a bit more prevalent here than elsewhere in Italy. Local vegetables include artichokes, asparagus, spinach, beans, and peas. There are also a great number of wild mushrooms, and occasionally even wild asparagus. The white truffle is found in Tuscan earth, another jewel to place in the crown and to compete with Umbra’s black truffles although Alba, in the Piedmont is said to be the place for white truffles. In Alba a 1.6-pound white truffle sold to "The Cody" of southern California for $150,000 on November 8, 2009.

Olive oil from Tuscany is fruitier with more assertive flavor compared to other oils from Italy. This is due to climate, which is harsher than other parts of Italy but the reward is some intensely flavored and very superior estate bottled olive oils.

Tuscan hills are good grazing land and there are several producers of artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses in the area. Tuscans claim that their sheep produce sweeter and more delicately flavored milk and therein lies the secret to the cheeses of Tuscany.Italian Cheeses Italy’s most closely guarded culinary secret, a rare cheese made from pig’s milk called Porcorino is produced in small amounts and people are actually sworn to keep the exact location a secret. Sows have 14 teats so you can imagine what a chore it must be to milk them

Acquacotta (literally means cooked water) has to be the iconic soup of Tuscan shepherds. Vegetables, herbs, often salt pork, mushrooms, greens and other ingredients, depending on the season. This was usually served as a one-course meal, eaten in the field by workers.
Risotto (rice) is on the menu here more than in Southern Italy, perhaps because they are closer to the Piedmont area where rice is grown.
Fagioli – (beans) Beans are popular in Tuscan cuisine Fagioli all’ucceletto (Tuscan style beans) is simple direct and delicious, using only cannellini beans, garlic, tomatoes, fresh sage and olive oil. Pasta Fagioli (pasta and bean soup) will have a place on many tables. There are those in Italy that refer to Tuscans as “bean eaters” and it’s not meant as a compliment but Tuscans have been eating beans for millennia. Beans may be peasant food but they are nutritious, and in the hands of a Tuscan cook they are likely to be delicious.
Pasta, is important in Tuscany, it’s just not mandatory as it is in some areas. Local favorites are filled pastas like ravioli and tortellini with ricotta and pancetta, and then dressed with butter and fresh sage, tomato or meat sauce. In Tuscany, "maccheroni", are rectangles of egg pasta rather than the tube shape we might expect. In Italy, all shapes of pasta may be referred to as maccheroni. They are used in a traditional dish called Pasta Tordellata which is something like ravioli with the filling on the outside.
Seafood is always welcome and there is lots of Tyrrhenian coastline to fill the pot with variety.
Cacciucco (Italian fish stew) consisting of several different types of fish and shellfish cooked in wine, tomatoes, and chili pepper from the Tuscan port city of Livorno.
Castagnaccio is a typical cake made with chestnut flour is common to the mountains around Tuscany. Traditional during autumn and winter but it is supposed to be wonderful anytime of the year. This “cake” is made without baking powder, yeast, sugar or eggs but it has raisins, pine nuts, olive oil and rosemary and is somewhere in between savory and sweet. Chestnut flour, that is very fresh is supposed to be sweet on its own, thus no sugar, if the flour is old it will lose its sweetness, thus this cake is made by locals only during late fall and early winter when the chestnuts are fresh, Castagnaccio has ancient roots with simpler versions being carried by Roman soldiers on campaign.


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Leighsue

      Yeah, Italian food is the best

    • Leighsue profile image


      8 years ago

      This hub definitely makes me hungry. Everything sounds delicious.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Handi

      Yeah, I get hungry writing these. I want to go just to try the truffles

      Thanx for stopping by


    • Handicapped Chef profile image

      Handicapped Chef 

      8 years ago from Radcliff Ky

      I'm in heaven loving all that I see the fish stew look great I wish it was a more detailed recipe for it but I'm going to research it and make it .....thanks for a great hub.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Imogen

      Well, you're going at the right time for vegetarian. Artichokes and asparagus should be available, eggplant should be good right now along with wild foraged foods. I just finished a hub on Central Italian food, including Le Marche so check it out

      Le Marche, being so close to Tuscany, I would expect to have a lot of bean dishes and Farro wheat is served.

      Please come back and tell me about your experiences! And the food of course!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 

      8 years ago from Southwest England

      This is a very interesting hub, and particularly relevant to me as I am off to Le Marche in a couple of weeks. As a vegetarian it is quite difficult to eat abroad, and I wondered if you have any advice or information about regional food that is suitable for vegetarians? (The olives and mushrooms sound good!)


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