Italian Cuisine Characteristics

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Italy's rich culinary history has developed with a variety of influences including geography, topography, climate, and the skills of the home cooks working with available ingredients.

Northern Italian Cuisine

  • In north Italy, the climate can range from cool to very cold in winter. Signature dishes there reflect the richness of this dairy-producing, sometimes mountainous region: white truffles with eggs, risotto cooked with delicate broth, creamy polenta rich with butter, classic bean soup called paste e fagioli, and bollito misto, mixed boiled meats served with piquant green and warm red sauces. The cuisine tends to be lightly prepared and simple.

Southern Italian Cuisine

  • Southern Italy is warm and rich with Mediterranean influences. The cuisine here is savory, vibrant, and full-flavored featuring dishes. Examples include seafood salad (insalata di mare), pizza and pizza-style sauces, pasta with red sauces, fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella flavored with olives, herbs and pesto.

Central Italian Cuisine

  • In central Italy, the fruity olive oils of Tuscany and Umbria flavor elegant, yet rustic and simple food. T-bone steak, grilled and served with olive oil, pepper and lemon, white beans and garlic, hand-made pastas, Parma ham and proscuitto, and lasagna Bolognese predominate.

Cuisine from the Italian Islands

  • The sea influences island cuisine, with squid with pasta, or fried as in calamari, sardines, pastas sauced with robust Sicilian garlic and tomato sauces, and veal chops with rosemary and garlic. Flavors are robust and lots of spice are the hallmarks of Italian island cooking.

Always Bread

  • Each region shares a love of bread and eats it at each meal except with pasta. Bread is usually eaten without butter, and it is frequently used to mop up any delicious sauces left in the dish.

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References

  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking; Marcella Hazan; 1992
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