The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Part III
The richest and most aristocratic of this group, the Count of Toulouse-Lautrec, was an expert gastronomist who evangelized in Parisian high society the forgotten splendours of regional cuisine and strong flavors of the south. The Italian Giuseppe De Nittis was often called upon to cook spaghetti and fish soup for greats such as Goncourt, Degas, Zola and Matilde Bonaparte.
In the subsequent century, the use of organic fertilizers and the invention of agricultural machinery made for far more secure and abundant harvests. The invention of railways and steam ships allowed faster movement of goods and the first applications of refrigeration to meat and dairy products in order to prevent damage due to rapid deterioration.
In the four decades before the Great War those in the higher echelons of society enjoyed virtually uninterrupted festivities and receptions. Extravagant lunches are held in both private mansions and royal palaces, in the halls of grand hotels and the finest restaurants, and in the company of beautiful ladies of the demi-monde, adorned by exquisite jewelry by Tiffany and Cartier.
Hunger reappears, in some regions of Italy more than others, during the years of World War I when poverty and destitution struck all social strata, culminating in the great crisis of 1929. The short lived prosperity of the Fascist Era soon gave way to the massive destruction of virtually all Italian infrastructure during World War II.
During the post-War rebuilding effort Orio Vergani, founder of the Academy of Italian Cuisine, launched a prophetic cry of alarm about the dangers of the disappearance of Italy's precious regional cuisine, especially the pernicious influence of the United States of America on traditional Italian habits, culture, and foods. Fortunately Italians today find themselves largely opposed to the spread of fast food and packaged foods, and profoundly felt in large sections of the Italian population is the need to explore ancient flavors, natural products, and a variety of simple foods that are based, and even enhanced, by the poor peasant cuisine of olden times.
Of course, the ease of contact with the modern world allows the importation of food and products from many other countries (Africa, Japan, India etc..) that fit into the rainbow of foods in today's Italy as a result of the formation of a newly multiracial and multicultural society through the recent bout of massive immigration which has drastically changed not only the population profile of the country, but in some areas its very appearance, culture and standards. Italy's cuisine has always thrived and evolved under the successive waves of foreign invaders, and it will be very telling to see whether a new Italian culinary dynamic is forged by this most recent foreign influence.
Having long abandoned the pretense of having a National Cuisine, the Italian regions are where the most time-honored gastronomic traditions are closely held in perpetuity for future generations. Consider each of Italy's many regions as an individual and often independent repository for traditional flavors and aromas, and you will soon realize that the peninsula is a treasure trove of magnificent culinary achievement, each region significantly different from the next, yet all springing from the amazingly fertile agricultural, social and historical soil of this very unique, variegated, and illustrious nation.
Continued in Abruzzo Part I
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