“Pizza, pasta and mandolin”: how many times have you heard our beautiful country described? As if Italy is reduced only to this!
Not to mention all the architectural beauties and masterworks present in our territory, Italy has a variety of dishes and delicacies that can’t be found in other countries.
So, why not make the Italian regional specialities better known?
Here are the typical regional dishes, emblem of our gastronomic tradition.
Emilia Romagna: Tortellini in brodo
Tortellini are a stuffed egg pasta – of ham, mushrooms or meat – typical of Bologna and Modena, and are perfect if accompanied by a good broth.
Their name derives from the diminutive of tortello – from the Italian torta – and its first traces date back to parchment of 1112, as well as to a bubble of Pope Alexander III of 1169.
There are several legends about the origin of this dish, including a very curious one: in 1200 a very beautiful young marquise arrived at a guest house; the owner of the inn, after having accompanied the marquise to his room, remained to spy on her from the lock of the door deeply attracted by her beauty and especially of her navel.
So, when preparing dinner, the man, remembering that wonderful image, pulled the sheet in order to recreate that navel, then deciding to fill the sheet with meat.
Lazio: Bucatini all’amatriciana
Many think that the typical dish of Lazio is carbonara, but this is not correct as the dish that really represents the region, in fact, is Amatriciana.
Originally from the city of Amatrice, the ancestor sauce as known as “Gricia” was composed of crispy guanciale with extra virgin olive oil shaded with dry white wine, pepper and sprinkled with pecorino romano.
Over time this sauce has evolved and is composed of the same ingredients, except for oil, and enriched with tomato sauce.
Ma tu vulive ‘a pizza,
‘a pizza, ‘a pizza,
cu ‘a pummarola ‘ncoppa…
‘a pizza e niente cchiù!
This is how one of the most famous Neapolitan songs recites, a tribute to her, emblem of Italianness in the world, queen of the Neapolitan tables: her majesty the pizza!
Perhaps the most well-known – and copied – a dish of Italy, with its simple recipe is one of the most appreciated dishes of our tradition.
Whether you prefer it high and soft, thin and crisp, white or red, with vegetables or sea & mountains, there is only one certainty: it is very good!
One thing though: don’t you dare ask for one with pineapple, I couldn’t forgive you!
Puglia: Orecchiette con cime di rapa
Emblem of the Apulian table, it contains the typical ingredients of this region: durum wheat pasta, vegetables and extra virgin olive oil.
Their origin is ancient: according to some, the orecchiette date back to the Middle Ages between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the area of Sannicandro di Bari.
Already at that time, in fact, with the Apulian durum wheat, an artisanal pasta of durum wheat was produced from the circular shape and hollowed in the centre with thumb pressure.
In the Apulian region, there are also the strascinati often confused with the orecchiette because very similar; the difference between the two kinds of pasta consists that the strascinati are larger, therefore the 1.5 cm pieces and more flat, that is without the dome, also the strascinati go well with vegetables while the orecchiette marries with ragù and sauces and lend themselves to being baked.
If you are planning to spend time in Sicily, you cannot give up arancini: rice balls with ragù, peas and cheese, breaded and then fried: in short, real goodness!
But on this plate, there is an ancient dispute: arancino or arancina? Male or female? The answer is simple, it depends on the city and the shape: in the Palermo area, they are called arancine and have the shape of a ball, reminiscent of an orange. In the area of Catania, however, they are called arancini and have the shape of a drop.
Being a speciality of Sicilian cuisine, it has been officially recognized and included in the list of traditional Italian agri-food products of the Ministry of agricultural food and forestry policies with the name “arancini di riso”.
Arrosticini is skewers of sheep meat or mutton typical of traditional Abruzzo cuisine.
In some areas, they are also called rustelle, arrustelle or rrustell.
Arrosticini is prepared to cut the meat into very small cubes and put it on skewers, in some areas called “li cippe”.
They are cooked on the grill, on a brazier called rostelliera, with a characteristic elongated channel shape.
According to the dialect of the area, it is also called “lu fucon”, “fornacella”, “furnacella”, “rustillire” or even “arrostellaro”.
Today this speciality is widespread throughout the region also outside Abruzzo, thanks to large retailers.
In order for the arrosticino to have its typical taste, cooking, the grill used and the temperature of the fire are very important.
In large-scale distribution and in various restaurants, arrosticini of non-castrated lamb are sold.
Pork, turkey and even chicken meat are variants not attributable to the Abruzzo tradition, with a larger size of meat used and commonly called skewers.
The arrosticini are usually accompanied by slices of unroasted and unsalted homemade bread but sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and they are eaten by pulling the pieces of meat one by one, holding them between the teeth and pulling the stump outwards.
Liguria: Trofie con il pesto
When you think Liguria, the first things that come to your mind are pesto – a sauce made with basil, pine nuts, garlic and oil – and trofie or trofiette, a type of pasta typical of Ligurian cuisine, elongated and thin, believed to originate from Sori, in the province of Genoa.
From the union of these two ingredients, one of the traditional dishes of this region was born: the trofie with pesto.
There are many versions of this dish, the trofie are usually made with durum wheat and water but also with chestnut flour or durum wheat and spinach.
It is said that the trofie was born at the time of the crusades, however, it is a type of pasta prepared in Ligurian kitchens for a long time.
In the past, they were made by hand and, to give the pasta its characteristic shape, a sort of wooden knitting needle was used, around which a filament of dough was rolled which was crushed with the palm of the hand.
Today, however, production is mostly industrial and is done with special machinery.
The name “trofie” has uncertain origins: according to some it could derive from the Genoese dialect strufuggiâ which means to rub, indicating the movement necessary to give the pasta its classic curled shape; according to others the name could derive from Greek words such as trophe, which means to twist.
Val d’Aosta: Polenta concia
Going through the typical dishes of the Aosta Valley cuisine, the famous Aosta Valley fontina cheese, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cheese produced for centuries (it is said since 1270) in the region cannot fail to come to mind.
Just from the encounter of this cheese with another typical product, polenta, another unique dish was born: Polenta Concia.
Let’s take a step back, however: polenta, an ancient dish based on water and cereal flour (usually corn) are very common in northern Italy and in the Alpine region in particular.
Aosta Valley is no exception and even here polenta is a real traditional dish.
The best-known variant is here, in fact, the Polenta Concia, which sees the addition of cheese and butter. In short, a non-low-calorie dish, but ideal for refreshing and warming up in the long and cold days and alpine nights.
“Tanning” is one of the ways to season and serve the typical polenta of the Aosta Valley.
Polenta is softer, almost liquid than a traditional method.
This is due to the use of butter and cheese mixed in the flour mixture.
The recipe, which like all historical recipes, is not unique, but varies from kitchen to kitchen, from family to family, does not present difficulties.
Polenta concia, a dish that combines taste, love for its local products and centuries-long recipes.
Veneto: Risi and Bisi
Halfway between a risotto and a soup, risi e bisi is a typical dish of Vicenza and Veronese cuisine, based on rice and peas, with a long history that draws its origins even from the ancient Greeks, but is in medieval era that this recipe was born, thanks to the first cultivations of the Benedictine monks who between the 10th and 11th centuries began to sow a quality of “bisi” – better known as peas – very valuable, known today as Piselli di Lumignano.
Excellent to taste in spring precisely because in this season there are the best peas, the main ingredient of this dish; the rice used for this dish, however, is the vialone nano, and not the classic carnaroli used for risotto, which has the characteristic of swelling a lot during cooking thus absorbing more seasoning.
Defining risi e bisi is not easy and still today many wonders if this very nutritious dish belongs to the category of risotto or soups: neither one nor the other.
In fact, in order to be such, risi e bisi must be a middle ground between both, that is, it must not be too dry or too soupy, but a sort of thick soup.
As for the origins of this dish, we can undoubtedly say that it was an almost royal dish in fact it was a tradition in the city of Venice, to offer the Doge the risi e bisi on the occasion of the patron saint of the city San Marco on April 25th.
In the 1800s, the cry “Risi e bisi e fragole” (green, white and red like the Italian tricolor flag) was the Venetian equivalent of the “Viva Verdi” in Milan against the Austrian occupiers (the writing Viva Verdi that appeared on the walls of Milan in the Risorgimento era it had a double meaning: if on the one hand, he praised the famous composer Giuseppe Verdi and therefore appeared politically harmless, on the other viva V.E.R.D.I. could be read as an acrostic that meant alive Vittorio Emanuele King of Italy, and therefore acquire a precise political meaning).
Trentino – Alto Adige: Canederli
The canederli (knödel) are one of the most representative dishes of the gastronomic culture of Trentino Alto Adige, a dish closer to the German and Austrian tradition, but whose origins are to be placed in Italian territory – precisely in South Tyrol.
These bread dumplings (“balls” of about 4-6 cm in diameter, eloquently called “balotes” in the Ladin valleys), are a poor dish of the peasant tradition widespread in Friuli, in Venezia-Giulia and in the upper Veneto but also in Bavaria (Southern Germany), Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, had the wise purpose of recycling leftovers: milk, water and eggs were more or less always present, while decidedly rarer were the pieces of meat, often replaced with turnips.
The South Tyrolean tradition wanted them to be eaten on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and only on holidays was speck or bacon added.
Now in restaurants is possible to enjoy all kinds of them and also very rich ones, but one thing of the ancient custom has remained the same: never cut a dumpling with a knife: use just the fork to eat them, otherwise is being rude with the cook.
Of the canederli there are also sweet versions: the Marillenknödel are based on apricot, the Zwetschgenknödel are with plums.
The same mixture of potatoes and flour is prepared that is used to make the gnocchi, then it is rolled out to make a sheet of dough which is then closed in the shape of a sphere with the garnish inside; the “balls” are then cooked in butter and served with a sprinkling of icing sugar.
Germknödel is instead a sweet that only has the shape of dumpling, covered with a vanilla sauce.
Piedmont: Bagna Cauda
Oil, garlic and anchovies: these are the basic ingredients of bagna cauda (also known as “bagna caoda”), one of the symbols of Piedmontese cuisine.
This sauce, in fact, is the ideal condiment for vegetables, so much so that it is no coincidence that there is a hot variant of the pinzimonio typical of the spring and summer seasons.
Its history has its roots in the medieval period and deserves to be deepened and known, also because we are not talking about a simple sauce, but a real ritual.
As has already been pointed out, the Middle Ages is the moment in which this condiment was introduced for the first time by Piedmontese farmers who needed to shelter from the winter cold: the main evidence identify the birth of bagna cauda in the areas of Asti, Monferrato and the Langhe, places where the owners of the vineyards used to celebrate new wines with vegetables and this spicy sauce, a real poor dish; on the contrary, the more noble classes did not particularly like the recipe, due to the excessive presence of garlic.
Many centuries have passed since those years, but still today it is customary to consume the condiment sitting around the table, with a terracotta container that keeps the temperature high.
But how is it possible that one of Piedmont’s main recipes is based on anchovies, given that the region is landlocked?
The explanation is simple: in the Middle Ages there were obviously no fishermen in the northern region, but anchovies did since salt was expensive and from the mountains, the roads leading to Liguria were used to buy it at lower prices; the salt was then hidden inside the barrels and covered with anchovies.
The fish was then resold at very competitive prices and the contact with the salt made them tastier, as well as prolonging the shelf life.
Over the years and centuries, variations have spread from the original recipe, which still remains the most common. According to what was filed by the Asti delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine in 2005, the official recipe includes one head of garlic per person, half a glass of extra virgin olive oil per person and 50 grams each for the Spanish red anchovies (the butter is optional).
One variation includes cooking garlic in milk, a trick that makes the sauce creamier.
Finally, the main combinations are those with vegetable salads, eggs or polenta.
Porceddu is a simple yet complex recipe made from roasted suckling piglet.
This traditional dish of Sardinian cuisine is based on very simple ingredients where the body of piglet is cleaned and stuffed with meat, rosemary, herbs, fennel and others.
Later, they are roasted conventionally over juniper or myrtle wood to produce a soft, moist and tangy boneless pork roast.
This dish is listed as one of the “traditional agricultural-alimentary product” that shows the roots of Italian culture and customs.
It is generally served at special feasts like weddings or large family gatherings.
The pork platter was first developed in 1919, in which a one year pig was slaughtered and roasted for seven hours inside an oven with pepper, garlic, fennel, salt and white wine.
Porceddu is now a popular dish and is spread in the whole country. Though originated in Central Italy, it is a staple food of the Sardinian & Venetian cuisine.
With the evolution of time, Porceddu has been introduced in the cuisines of United States, Philadelphia, Texas, and Ontario, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada and other cuisines by Italian immigrants.
They are served as a sandwich with spinach and provolone cheese and are generally referred to as “roast pork sandwich” in the above-mentioned places.
To create a crispy, brown and savoury Porceddu, one needs a suckling piglet weighing about 4-5 kilos, lard, myrtle, fennel, garlic and salt.
First, wash and clean the piglet well and apply salt both inside and outside.
Take your wooden stick or steel spit and set it about 3 feet in front of the fire.
Before spiting the pig over the fire, build the exotic fire with juniper/myrtle, olive, arbutus or oak.
Once the pig began to roast, throw the dried herb twigs, thyme, oregano, mint, basil and applewood chips, bay leaves, and marjoram to create a flavorful smoke.
Turn the split slowly to cook the pig and let the meat absorb all the fragrance.
After an hour, brush the meat with lard and bring the steel spit closer to the flame and continue roasting for more than two/three hours.
To know whether your meat is cooked or not, place a knife in the thigh and look for the hot, crispy and succulent piece.
Apart from this method, people also opt for the traditional one where a large pit is dug and is covered with rocks.
A huge fire is set up where the pig is set and covered with coals.
The coals are then covered with aromatic leaves, myrtle, and juniper and the pig roast for several hours.
After achieving the perfect crunchy and juicy structure, the pig is ready to be eaten.
Basilicata: Focaccia di Matera
The focaccia of Matera is a mandatory stop for those who set foot in the city of the Sassi.
For those who have never eaten it, focaccia is a baked dough similar to that of bread, made of flour, water, salt and mother yeast.
There are different types based on the seasoning: white, red, with cherry tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes and all that your imagination suggests.
In Matera, there are many ovens and each of them prepares the typical Matera focaccia of own production.
It is a typical element of traditional cuisine and Matera people eat it in large quantities.
Each Matera has its favourite focaccia which varies according to the bakery of origin, the cooking method, the quality of the ingredients and it is impossible to agree on who holds the primacy of the best focaccia of Matera.
The traditional focaccia from Matera was anciently white, stuffed with onions or simply seasoned with cherry tomatoes or tomato puree, oil and salt; a particular variant of the focaccia was the rich in oil, white focaccia whose surface was sprinkled with abundant extra virgin olive oil on which white sugar adhered.
Today, to better adhere to people’s tastes and requests, focaccia with fresh peppers or “peperoni cruschi”, with onions and capers, with sausage and turnips, with tuna are baked; there is also the Vesuvius focaccia which from the Neapolitan tradition has taken the habit of filling the cornice, the external part of the focaccia, with ricotta and spicy salami.
Friuli Venezia Giulia: Frico
The first evidence of a soft preparation based on cheeses in the Friuli area dates back to the mid-fifteenth century when Maestro Martino used to prepare the “Case in patellecte” for the Patriarch of Aquileia Ludovico Trevisan, a delicious recipe that was also transcribed in the “Book de arte coquinaria ”that the cook wrote.
The ingredients were simple: fatty cheese, neither too old nor too salty, cut into slices, fresh lard so as not to stick it on the pan, herbs or spices to season and then straight onto the plate, because “it was hot and hot.”
The nature of the “poor” dish of frico is also confirmed by the fact that it was often prepared in order not to waste the cheese scraps leftover during the process of making the shapes, what are called “strissulis” and with which, even today, prepare a tasty dish.
Typically Friulian and cheese-based, slowly the frico takes shape in the imagination, but still a complete definition of what you will receive at the restaurant or in one of the many festivals dedicated to it escapes: it is not easy to define it because, for each Friulian, the frico is nothing but… frico!
It looks like a cheese pie, to which potatoes or onion are often added, in the Sauri area, then, it is also presented with speck.
Always soft, warm and stringy on the inside, sometimes it can present a crunchy crust, other times it can be cooked evenly.
The crispy Friulian frico, on the other hand, is the second version of this typical product which is always produced from seasoned cheese which is grated and fried to form tasty waffles, perfect for a snack or an aperitif.
The main ingredient is, therefore, cheese, preferably local such as Montasio or dairy.
The seasoning varies between 6 and 12 months and, overall, it is good that different types of cheese aged at different times are used.
Calabria: Pitta ‘mpigliata
Pitta ‘mpigliata is a typical Calabrian dessert, originally from San Giovanni in Fiore but widespread throughout the province of Cosenza.
It is a dessert prepared both during the Easter period and on the occasion of Christmas; it is now consumed in most of Calabria.
In Catanzaro the dessert is prepared for Christmas and identified with the name of pitta ‘nchiusa, and the name derives from the Hebrew and Arabic word “pita”, which means crushed.
The period to which reference is made to the birth of the pitta ‘mpigliata is 1700.
The dessert was prepared especially for weddings, as reported by a notary document of San Giovanni in Fiore, dating back to 1728.
There are some variations of the pitta ‘mpigliata in which there are variations on the dried fruit, on the type of honey used, and some make the dough with cognac instead of using vermouth, in any case, the sweet always maintains its typical shape and it is served with the classic pitta shape (i.e. pizza, flat and round shape).
In addition to the pitta shape, however, there is the rose (or rosette) shape, the elongated nougat shape and the “cullura” (donut) shape.
In San Giovanni in Fiore, a promotional event has been held for some years, which aims to raise the sweet silane to the national interest.
The event sets the world record for the longest pitta ‘mpigliata in the world every year.
The ingredients used are durum wheat flour, sugar, extra virgin olive oil, sweet orange juice, vermouth or sweet wine, cinnamon, cloves, dried and finely ground orange peels and a glass of aromatic liqueur (paisanella in particular, typical silana grappa); for the filling: walnuts, sultanas, tangerine, mixed aromatic liqueur, cloves, cinnamon and sugar.
Lombardy: Ossobuco alla milanese
Ossobuco (marrowbone) is a typical speciality of Milanese cuisine and is often served on a bed of yellow Risotto alla Milanese.
The name comes from ossbus, which means a ‘bone with a hole’ in the local dialect and refers to the cut of veal that is used: a slice of the shin in which the round section of bone is surrounded by tender meat.
The bone is filled with tasty marrow that can be scooped out with a spoon or the customary tool, a small scooper, which is referred to with some irony as the “esattore” (tax collector).
The recipe for Ossobuco, which is lightly coated in flour before being put in the pan to fry, appeared in cookbooks as early as the 18th century. Over the centuries it has been elaborated and modified in a variety of ways, such as the addition of a tomato sauce.
An essential ingredient to this dish is the so-called “gremolada”, a finely-ground paste of garlic, lemon peel and parsley that is added just before serving for an extra dash of colour and taste.
Other variants include side dishes such as peas, carrots, beans or potato puree, or the addition of diced bacon to the butter and onion in which the meat is fried.
Ossobuco also goes well with polenta, another staple of the Lombardy cuisine.
Marche: Olive ascolane
Ascolana olives, a product that comes from Ascoli Piceno in Marche, are soft POD olives, pitted, with a soft stuffing of mixed meat, in particular beef, then breaded and fried.
The history of the ‘Olive Ascolane’ is long; even in ancient times, pickled olives (green and black) were considered a very nutritious meal; in fact, the Roman soldiers always carried some in their saddlebags for the toughest moments.
Rich people in Rome, however, was looking for something more exclusive and loved the taste of olives imported from Ascoli Piceno.
The quality of ‘Olives Ascolana’ was also appreciated by the Benedictines-Olivetan monks, while even the Pope Sixtus V had them sent to the Vatican.
Worth mentioning are also Rossini and Puccini, even Garibaldi, after tasting them in 1849 decided to cultivate his own olives in Caprera to produce them once left the city of Ascoli.
The research of Benedetto Marini on the origins of Ascolana olives brought him back to 1800 when the chefs that cooked for the noble families stuffed the olives to use all the different types of meat that the peasants give them as a gift.
The DOP recognition made of this product certified Italian excellence, defining its uniqueness.
Though the famous popular Acquacotta soup has a very mysterious and unusual name, it is a well-known soup dish that originates from the Maremma area of Tuscany.
The Italian name of this soup literally means “cooked water”.
Legend has it that the inventors of this dish, the herdsmen and coalmen of Maremma, were accustomed to frequent journeys, and thus normally travelled with stale bread, dried meat, oil, garlic, onion, and a few herbs, in order to prepare acquacotta.
A more poetic version of its origin can be traced in the short movie “La Zuppa di Pietra“ (The Stone Soup) by Christian Carmosino, winner of the First Prize at the latest Academia Barilla Short Films Festival.
In the short film director, Carmosino tells a story staged in the 19th century in a village in rural Italy, where the metaphor of a stone soup stands for the pleasure of getting around the table for a rich meal all together by sharing ingredients, big smiles, and a big heart.
Contrary to its origins as a peasant dish, made simply of water and a few flavours, acquacotta is a very hardy soup.
There is an assortment of recipes for acquacotta amongst the different areas of Tuscany, yet acquacotta is distinguishable from other Tuscan soups due to its use of eggs and stale bread at the end of (and not during) its preparation.
We found several book tracing the origins and tradition of acquacotta at the Academia Barilla’s Gastronomic Library in Parma, such as “Cucina e vini della Toscana” by Flavio Collutta (1974 Mursia Editore), “Il grande libro della cucina Toscana” by Paolo Petroni (1991 Ponte alle Grazie), and Sara Vignozzi and Gabriele Ganci’s cookbook “Tuscany – Flavour of Italy” (McRae Books, 1999).
Umbria: Gnocchi al ragù di agnello
Umbrian cuisine is based on dishes that are not always poor or popular.
Little influenced by the neighbouring regions, it is essentially based on meat and products of the earth, which are used both on special occasions and in the daily meal, a simple cuisine, with processes, in general, not too elaborate, which enhance the flavours of the raw materials.
The roots of Umbrian cuisine are rooted in the Umbrian civilization first (Etruscans for the area between Perugia and Orvieto) and later on by the Romans.
The potato dumplings with lamb ragout (preferably castrated) are a great must of Umbrian cuisine, prepared for festive occasions and especially for Easter lunch.
A rich and tasty dish that originates from rural traditions, with dumplings possibly prepared with Colfiorito red potatoes (according to those who write better than the white ones in this type of preparation), definitely the gnocchi with lamb ragout is a dish that needs time for its preparation, but that brings to mind memories of grandmothers and mothers in the kitchen, aromas that spread throughout the house: the taste of tradition.
Molise: Molise Baccalà fritto
Baccalà fritto (fried cod) is a recipe symbol of Molise, known and appreciated throughout the peninsula, thanks to its simplicity of execution and its unmistakable flavour.
It is just cod cooked in batter and fried, very simple and amazing taste.
Fried cod is one of the most popular dishes of Molise cuisine, it could not be otherwise, given that cod is one of the most loved and most used ingredients in Italian cuisine.
It is prepared in practically a thousand different ways, each region has its own recipe and this is one of the recipes of excellence in Molise.
Cod is sold preserved in salt, known and consumed all over the world, for example, Portugal has a recipe for every day of the year.
On 27, 28 and 29 September, in Riccia, on the occasion of the feast of San Michele Arcangelo, the “Festival of fried peppers and cod” takes place, with a tasting of fried peppers and cod cooked in the three traditional ways of the place: fried in batter, “arracanate” with a lot of oregano and cooked in the oven and “ammullecate” with plenty of breadcrumbs.