The Food and Culture of Italy
The main theme of most Italian meals is based around family gatherings. It is not uncommon for multiple generations to be in the kitchen slowly preparing a feast from scratch that will be enjoyed by a long list of family and friends. It is about sharing tradition, family love and connections. The food expresses the same qualities. Most Italian dishes will evoke a sense of family, comfort and a sense of what it must be like if grandma was in the kitchen stirring the sauce pot to prepare this dish. And in the same spirit, it is not uncommon for a typical family meal to extend for hours and have course after course presented for their enjoyment.
Examples of staples in the Italian diet are the familiar pasta, cheeses, cured meats and sausages, fish and poultry and vegetables of course. The variety of these is as wide spread as the available produce in its region and the boundaries of their imagination.
Northern Italy with its abundance and variety of produce still holds a diversity in regional cooking more so than most other regions. Diversity is evident because of its influences by the French in the northwest sections, which include Piedmont and Lombardy. The northeast is by Austrian- Hungarian practices.
Regions that make use of butter and lards as the fat choice will lean towards more use of meats rather than seafood. One exception to this observation would be Liguria and the Adriatic strip, where its Mediterranean influences will embrace seafood and olive oil. It would be obvious that inland areas would lean towards preserved fish and seasonal vegetables as well as grains, cheese, herbs and legumes.
A haven for the cheese lover, Northern Italy has an assortment of sharp, mild, creamy and ripe cheeses that are products of the goat, sheep and cow available. To elaborate on the variations within a region, it would be best to review the local meat dish favorite. Depending on where you are you could eat bollito misto in most areas of the northern region and not have a similar recipe. The uses of beef, veal, sausages and poultry will vary just as the choice of sauces prepared. Corn or buckwheat polenta, potato gnocchi and round bread dumplings called canederli all hail as favorites of northern Italy. Sauce choices would include salsa verde made of parsley or perhaps a Verona favorite of beef marrow and peppers to name a few.
While all regions of Central Italy will mirror each with its familiar Mediterranean culinary influence, their cooking styles will vary by the region. Since chestnuts used to be a thriving part Central Italy, It would of course mean that they were ground into flour and used for a large variety of offerings which would include polenta, bread, pastries, cakes and soups.
“Fine olive oil is made through the central hills and extra vergine comes from Tuscany, Umbria, northern Latium and Abruzzi. Garden produce is also of a seasonal nature. Rome is known for artichokes and peas, Tuscany for white beans and black cabbage, the uplands for lentils, chickpeas and potatoes. The central Apennines are a major source of truffles. Due to its inland access, preserved anchovies, tuna, sardines and salt cod are central Italy’s seafood of choice.”
So, if you ever have the chance to travel to Italy don’t just go for the rolling hills and historic museums… EAT YOUR WAY through each region and experience the various food cultures each region has to share. Eat, Love and Eat some more!