Gastronomic Differences in the Italian Regions
When it comes to cooking, pasta in its different shapes and forms is the adhesive that unifies Italy - but there are great regional differences. Only a few dishes are considered ‘national dishes’; each region has its own typical food, cooking methods, and recipes, as well as dialects. This is due to centuries of small city states before the country, at least on paper, fairly recently was “united”. The Unified Kingdom of Italy only happened in 1861. As a result, Italy is all about regional food. To experience the best of Italian cuisine, one should try typical dishes in their home region. There are some trends that allow the division of Italy into 3 general areas, coinciding with the approximate geographical division into North, Center, and South.
North: Gastronomic tradition here revolves around hearty food, hot soups, minestrone, vegetables like radicchio. The Northern tradition is based on dishes richer in fat, more of cold weather and mountain foods. Cheese, truffles, apples, polenta, risotto, mushrooms, speck, butter, game, gnocchi, and Germanic influences with buckwheat and potatoes. Example: Pizzoccheri, short tagliatelle made with 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour, cooked along with Swiss chard or Savoy cabbage and cubed potatoes, layered with cheese, and dressed with garlic and sage that are lightly fried in butter.
Center: The Center is renowned for being the area of heavy-bodied foods: Pecorini (cheeses from sheep’s milk), Scamorze (cow’s milk cheeses similar to Mozzarella), Insaccati (sausages), and Sottoli (pickles/preserves). Umbria is famous for truffles and mushrooms. Some special pastas here include: paste fresche, maccheroni, and spaghetti alla chitarra, often with sauces containing meat and game. The meat of choice in this area is pork.
South: Southern food is typical Mediterranean cuisine. A lot of fish; shellfish on pastas or pizzas. Pizza in Naples it’s relatively thick by Italian standards. Mozzarella and other dairy products are specialties here. A lot of herbs and spices are used, seasonings like basil, oregano, citrus, red pepper. tomato-based sauces. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is the pride of the South. All cooking is done with olive oil while in the North, butter is often used.