Introduction To Italian Cuisine

In the nineteenth century, modern-day Italy was a group of separate republics. Unification, or the Risorgimento, created a single state. But people carried on cooking according to local tradition, resulting in a country with an enormously varied cuisine.

Traditionally, the country’s wealth comes from northern Italy. It had trade routes with the rest of Europe – but most importantly, the port of Venice imported coffee, spices and sugar since the Middle Ages. Salts were used to cure meat like bresaola, salami and pancetta, and trading in luxuries afforded expensive food: liqueurs, nougat, osso bucco, truffles and nuts.
Tuscan beef stews and carafes of Chianti shape day-to-day life

Central Italy is known as the country’s ‘breadbasket’: rolling Tuscan hills and green grazing pastures surrounding Bologna and Umbria. Spelt or farro is one of the oldest crops, with pasta, bread and beans forming the base to most meals. Tuscan beef stew, and carafes of Chianti shape day-to-day of life in this agricultural part of Italy.

The craggy, dry and comparatively poor south of Italy owes its rich cuisine to past invasions: honey, olives and nuts from the Ancient Greeks, and citrus trees from the Byzantines. Aubergine is used as ‘the poor man’s meat’, and buffalo milk is turned into the region’s most famous export - mozzarella.

While pizza, pasta, and ice cream are products of unified Italy, for a true taste of the country you should start with authentic, local dishes which can be found in Bocca, The Silver Spoon and Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Click here for a range of Italian cookbooks, cookware and ingredients

1 comment

  • As a nation we’re devoted to Italian food and, apart from pizza, our all time favourites are spaghetti bolognese and lasagne. But these are just the best known representatives of Italy’s foremost food region – Emilia-Romagna and its capital, Bologna. Italians, famously proud of their food and more picky about it than any toddler, will sometimes concede that Bologna is their food capital. Of course: it’s the home of parmesan, mortadella (a seriously under-rated sausage), prosciutto and balsamic vinegar. It’s also home to the country’s most skilled egg pasta makers. As well as a delicious thing you eat, tortellini are a miniature art form, the crowning glory of a 500 year tradition of handmade stuffed pasta.
    A morning spent touring the city’s market streets is a good way to discover what bolognese food has to offer. Milan has the celebrated deli Pecks and Venice the fish market, but Bologna has everything: the freshest, best quality cheese, ham, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. As well as notable chocolatiers and a small– admittedly – clutch of excellent wine makers. But above all it has its bars, cafes and restaurants where the whole city seems to hang out, enjoying the food and the company. In winter, when the wind comes whistling in off the river Po’s swampy plains, the Bolognese will be clustered together for warmth outside their favourite bar, ciggie in one hand, a glass of prosecco or the local vino frizzante in the other. In the summer, when the heat is stifling, they retire to the cool restaurant terraces underneath the city’s 40km of porticoes.
    When you visit Bologna, make sure it’s spring or autumn. May and June brings the famed strawberries, cherries, asparagus and baby artichokes of the plains. September and October is the time for mountain and forest food: truffles, chestnuts and late raspberries. Every town, every village celebrates its produce with a sagra, a quasi-religious festival when the priest blesses the cheese or the cherries or the salami or the potatoes (tiny Tolé’s claim to fame, high up in the hills overlooking Bologna). And then everyone sits down together for a legendary spread that consumes the day.

    Martin Yarnit on

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