Italian Food Regional Cooking NorthEast Italy
Church of Santa Maria del Quartiere, Parma,
Italy The Northeast
Northern Italy has a rich diet, varied with grain, corn, rice, fruit, vegetables, livestock and dairy products all in abundance. Northern Italy enjoys a higher standard of living than the south due to the proximity to the major European trade routes and their prosperity shows up in the food. The University of Modena, founded in 1175 is one of the oldest universities in Europe. The vineyards in Northern Italy are Italy's prime source of premium wine. Pasta is supplemented with risotto, gnocchi and polenta and the variety of vegetables is unsurpassed anywhere in Italy. Local fresh pastas are often made with eggs. Many of the best cheeses are produced here while beef and veal take a larger place on the menu next to the lamb and goat that dominate further south. Seafood is important in areas with coastlines on the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas. Butter and lard are used more than olive oil but modern cooks are gradually replacing butter and animal fats with more healthful olive oil.
Emilia-Romagna, called the gastronomic capital of Italy is home to cities Bologna, Parma and Modena. For those with lots of cash, world famous car companies like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are all here to provide you with wheels to get around. When Napoleon was defeated, the victors gave his wife with a Duchy in Parma as a way of getting her out of the way. Parma's Duchess Marie Louise (wife of Napoleon) tastes have inspired generations of dishes
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced in Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna. From Modena, we get Balsamic vinegar . True Balsamic vinegar, the “billionaire’s vinegar” is just as highly regarded as fine vintage wines. The 3-dollar bottle of Balsamic vinegar in your closet is a pale and distant cousin to the real product which is syrupy and rich, aged in wooden barrels until it acquires the depth and complexity of a fine wine. Made mostly in Spilamberto and throughout the province of Bologna and Reggio nell'Emilia, this is costly and wonderful stuff. The best is sold in tiny bottles and there are vintages that have been aging for fifty years with price tags to match. The aging lasts a minimum of 12 years with the vinegar being transferred into ever-smaller casks made of different kinds of wood (oak, chestnut, cherry, ash, and mulberry), each of which imparts a particular aroma and color to the final product. A good Balsamic is enjoyable even as a topping for ice cream.
Meats, beef, veal, and pork are the meats of choice, with lamb and other animals playing a lesser role. Emilia-Romagnan cooks use much less tomato than in the South, here you will find wine and meat broth with herbs for flavor in braised dishes. Some of the best cured meats in Italy start out here with culatello (a type of Prosciutto) being one of the most prestigious salumi (Italian cured meats, most made from pork) made in Parma. The word culatello means "little backside" and it is is different from Prosciutto - its flavor is more intense, its texture creamier, its coloring more beautiful and varied. culatello con melone: paper-thin slices of this ham with fresh cantaloupe (or figs) is a local favorite. Cotechino di Modena, another local product, is a fresh sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind, and comes from Modena, Italy, where it has PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication).
We all are familiar with the travesty of American sausage named for Bologna but true bologna sausage is Mortadella . Mortadella may have inspired our baloney but the similarity ends with the inspiration. Mortadella must meet certain guidelines to be considered a “Mortadella di Bologna ” such as the meat blend must be a seven to three ratio of pork to fat. Mortadella is traditionally sliced very thin and it graces all sorts of meals from appetizers to main courses. This is not just some cheap lunchmeat; this is enjoyed by everyone, from gourmand to gourmet. Prosciutto di Parma PDO (protected designation of origin) isfrom Parma, in Emilia-Romagna, in Italy there is a distinction between prosciutto crudo, literally "raw ham", which is what we refer to as "prosciutto " and prosciutto cotto , "cooked ham", which is similar to what English speakers call "ham".
Bolognese sauce is a famous and delicious meat sauce from the region, flavored with a bouquet of minced vegetables, tomatoes and a variety of meats depending on the whim of the cook and a bit of milk or cream, this is Italian cooking at its best.
Romagnola Sauce is a traditional rich brown sauce, which is the way they eat it in Bologna, made with chicken livers, veal or beef, prosciutto or sometimes salami, tomatoes, and herbs.
Note that in Italy, tomato sauce is served with spaghetti, but meat sauces are always served with tagliatelle, pappardelle, or other ribbon pasta. If you see a recipe for a “quick” Bolognese sauce, run the other way, both of these sauces are cooked slowly and with care. Italy is not the place to go for fast food
Pasticcio di Tortellini all'Emiliana (tortellini pie)is a classic recipe, which follows the Renaissance tradition of combining sweet (the crust) and salty (the filling) and this is about as rich a dish as food can get. Imagine a thick pie with two short pastry crusts, filled with tortellini (pasta stuffed often with pork or ricotta) smothered in Bolognese sauce. Finish off a slice of this and you’re ready to plow the south forty.
Polenta , was once a staple here but in more modern times pasta is becoming the starch of choice with rice and gnocchi each playing a part on the menu.
Fritelle or frictelle are crisp fritters, made through Emilia, originally fried in lard but now more often in oil, there is a wide variety of fritelle made here and they are often sold from street vendors. These have been made here since medieval times but they have evolved from sweets to a kind of passatempo , a small cocktail snack had before any formal dining begins. Burtleina at Piacenza, torta fritta at Parma, gnocco fritto at Gonzaga, Crescenta at Modena and chizza at Reggio are all fritelle. All are variations of fried dough, some with and some without yeast and seasoned with various ingredients such as pork cracklings, herbs and cheeses. Bologna's renowned fritto misto combines pastry fritters with fried meats and vegetables. Cassoni Fritti (fried cases) is another fried bread dish found across Emilia-Romagna. Cassoni is flat bread dough stuffed with spinach herbs and raisins
Sweet desserts are not the usual fare but fruit, especially peaches, cherries, strawberries, pears and muskmelons, as well as nuts, are prominent in the diet. The cherries of Vignola and the pears, peaches and nectarines are protected as IGP in Romagna. Chestnuts thrive in the Apennines, where the Marrone del Castel Rio rates an IGP. They do make sweets here for religious holidays; Pan di Natale is a Christmas cake from Modena. Also worth mentioning, is the ring shaped cake made around the province called Brazadela .
Vialone Nano Risotto
Veneto, Venice and Verona
Veneto has been known as the place for the exotic and the foreign since medieval times. Venice was a major maritime power and trading port during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades, so all of the products of Asia and the Middle East passed through this city. When you add the port of Venice to the mountains, hills and the Adriatic, you have one of the most sophisticated cuisines in Italy.
Polenta is still the most widely eaten starch here but modern cooks are turning more towards pasta than in the past. Risotto is still more popular here than pasta, with local dishes like risi e bisi (rice with peas) and risotto nero alle seppie, (rice blackened with cuttlefish ink). Vialone Nano rice is grown in the Veneto and is said to have smaller grains to cook more quickly and absorb flavors better than Arborio, It is the only European rice with its own IGP quality designation. Rice dishes, often include meat, fish, game, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and odd combinations such as riso con i bruscàndoli (wild hop shoots)
Pastas are often made with egg and are ribbon shaped, unlike the tubular pastas of the South. Some of the local handmade pastas are the bigoli ( spaghetti-like), cassunziei ( ravioli-like) and paparele (like tagliatelle ).
The fat of choice has always been butter with some lard but health concerns are making some cooks switch to olive oil.
Radicchio, locally grown Radicchio Rosso di Treviso and Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco have IGP status reserved, and they are used in many ways, not only salads but added to risotto, grilled and baked in pasta sauces. Other popular vegetables are artichokes in Castraure (Artichoke Buds) these are immature artichokes which are breaded and fried or stewed and the white asparagus of Bassano del Grappa.
Many kinds of meat such beef, pork, chicken, lamb, horse, donkey, rabbit, pheasant, duck and goose are popular but you won’t see much horse or donkey on a restaurant menu.
Seafood, Venice takes a wealth of seafood from the Adriatic.
Risotto nero (rice blackened with cuttlefish ink is a specialty of Venice), scampi (prawns) and spider crabs called granseole , or moleche (soft shelled spider crabs). Cannolicchi or cape longhe (razor-shell clams), peoci (mussels), garusoli (spiky murex sea snails), cape sante and the smaller canestrelli (scallops), folpetti (curled octopus), schile (tiny shrimp) and sardele (sardines) are all local names for the products from the sea available here.
Carpaccio . This dish of paper thin slices of raw beef dish originated in Venice,
Desserts in Venice are not what you might expect from a world-class city, here the sweets are usually simple country fare, wonderful but don’t expect sophisticated Austrian pastry, this is Venice not Vienna.
Tiramisù, this elegant Venetian dessert has spread around the world with versions running from sublime to horrible making an appearance even in downscale eateries. Other desserts include things like Baicoli (golden oval) biscuits shaped to resemble a sea bass. These are hard and dry little toasts, slightly sweet, which used to serve historically as ship’s biscuits. Now they are sweet and served with coffee and or zabaglione for dipping. Pincia (dessert made from dry bread, fruits and Grappa) Zaleti (Venetian Corn Cookies) and Creme Frite ( Fried Cream) are local favorites
Prosciutto San Daniel
This is a secluded region where the Alps almost touch the Adriatic. The food here is a little more “country” than that of their cousins in Venice. The landscape varies from the Alps Mountains in the north to hills and finally coastal plains near the Adriatic. Central Europe views this area and especially Trieste as their port on the Adriatic so the cuisine blends dishes from Austria, Hungary and the Slavic countries with traditional Italian fare.
The region is known for its vast cornfields, which feed the areas demand for polenta . Dishes such as canderli , (dumplings or gnocchi made with bread and flour), risotto and especially polenta are frequent replacements for pasta. Pastas include flakes called flics , tubes called sivilots and cjalçons , (sweet dumplings), pasta packages with various sweet-sour fillings. A typical recipe for cjalçons calls for the dumplings to be filled with “well mixed amalgam of: cocoa, jam, grated pear, chopped pine nuts, raisins, grated lemon peel, salt and pepper” and served hot with melted butter, sprinkle with grated Montasio, pepper and cinnamon
Meats in Friuli-Venezia Giulia are as varied as anywhere in Italy. Beef, lamb, kid, poultry, sausages and salume, blood puddings and game, wild boar, pheasant hare and venison, often cooked in salmì (highly seasoned wine sauce) and wildfowl, including woodcock, duck and little birds called uite all have a place on the menus here. Porcina is a mix of boiled pork with sauerkraut, mustard and horseradish. Slavic goulash and dumplings are also local favorites.
Prosciutto The most renowned and expensive prosciutti come from northern Italy such as, from San Daniele, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia comes Prosciutto di San Daniele PDO , and Prosciutto di Parma PDO from Parma, in Emilia-Romagna, both are tattooed to ensure the protected geographical status system in the EU
Along the Adriatic coast, the local seafood includes: turbot, sardines, prawns, cuttlefish, squid, scallops, clams, crabs and eels. Many cooks have their version of the salt cod baccalà (recipe) and many serve risotto with fish or frogs.
Soups are an important part of the diet here, ingredients for Friuli’s medley of soups include pork, tripe, turnips, cabbage, corn, barley, mushrooms and fasûj , (small reddish beans, locally grown). The fish and white polenta chowder from Grado is called boreto alla graisana . The influence of central Europe is displayed with a love of cabbage soup, in many varieties. Iota is a local soup made of beans, potatoes and white cabbage.
Brovada is an iconic example of a unique dish specific to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where it is enjoyed with roasted or grilled meats, alongside sausages or shredded into soups. Brovada is fermented turnips. Turnips are packed into wooden barrels in alternate layers with the grape skins and pulp leftover from making wine. Therefore, brovada is only made during the fall, after the harvest of grapes. The turnips are left in the barrels fermenting until spring when they are ready to eat.
white asparagus of excellent quality is one of the most celebrated crops in Friuli.
Frico is a common dish in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Frico is nothing more than fried cheese but this is fried cheese as it should be. A simple dish, shredded Montasio cheese is fried in a pan like a pancake with olive oil, until hardened and crisp. It's then broken up and eaten as a snack or appetizer. Montasio is the only DOP cheese of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Montasio can be eaten “fresco ” (fresh) when it has aged for 2 months, and the body is an ivory white dotted with little holes to “mezzano ” or semi-aged; the color turns slightly golden, the texture becomes firmer, and the flavor begins to deepen. After 10 months or more, Montasio becomes “stagionato,” or aged, with a deeper, nuttier flavor, straw-like color and firm texture. Recipe at http://montasiocheese.com/about-frico/
Regional desserts have a Germanic touch such as apple strudel, cuguluf (a ring cake that originated in Vienna), gubana (holiday bread made from dried fruit and raisins) and Dolce di Spilimbergo (dessert made with almonds)
Trentino Alto Adige
Trentino Alto Adige sits at the border between Italy and Austria so the people and the food are picked from both Italian and Germanic cultures. The two gastronomic traditions are called tridentina, with Venetian roots, and altoadesina, with German roots. The cuisines remain distinct but they coexist very well. You will encounter flavors here that are uncommon in the rest of Italy. The closer you get to Germany the more you will see wursts, cabbage, sauerkraut, turnips, potatoes and rye bread and dumpling soups. Move farther south and the food changes to more Italian fare, here you will enjoy polenta, gnocchi, potatoes and risotto served more often than pasta. Canederli (dumplings or gnocchi made with bread and flour), (called Knödel , in German), are often flavored with speck or mushrooms. Trentino is still Northern Italy so pastas are often sauced with cheese and butter more rather than with tomato sauces. Sauces here tend to be more mellow and delicate than the fiery sauces of Southern Italy.
Meats in Trentino Alto Adige include beef, poultry, rabbit, pork, wild fowl, goat, lamb, biroldi (blood sausages) and salt-cured beef called carne salata . Speck is a renowned local salumi style cured meat that is similar to bacon of boneless pork cut in small square pieces and placed in saltpeter with garlic, laurel, juniper, pepper and other herbs. Sausages here tend to be more like German and Swiss wursts rather than Italian sausages.
Local specialties show a big influence from German and Swiss cuisines.
Risotto al Teroldego (risotto with cheese and red Teroldego wine)
Spezzatino alla Birra Scura (beer-flavored beef stew),
Smacafam, a traditional Carnival specialty, is a savory bread/cake made here with buckwheat, pancetta and sausage. The name, in local dialect, means Hunger Killer! The authentic recipe calls for buckwheat although modern cooks often use polenta instead. Smacafam has an ancient history dating back as far as the Roman Empire, long before corn and polenta made it to Trentino.
Trentino Alto Adige is landlocked, so you won’t see much seafood here but there are numerous lakes and rivers to put frogs, snails and fresh water fish like river trout on the menu.
Birra, b eer in Italy? Italy is known for its wines but in Alto Adige, they make beer. Production of birra , began here as early as the 900s and continues to this day, although most of the small breweries have gone away there are still several large companies, producing millions of gallons of beer every year.
Desserts and sweets in Trentino Alto Adige begin to take on some of the sophistication of Austria and Germany. Trento is famous throughout Europe for their flavorful apples from Val di Non and they make Strudels and the fritters called Apfelküchel . Krapfen are baked or fried pastries with jam. Zelten, is a kind of pizza crust with dried fruit conserves. "fregolotta cake " is a mixture of flour, sugar, and almonds baked until it becomes crisp and crunchy.
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