The Great Foods of Italy



Who doesn’t like Italian food? We are mostly known in America for our pizza and spaghetti and meatballs. But Italian cuisine is much more than that. Hopefully people all over the world will come to appreciate its varieties and qualities. After all Italy is well known for its Mediterranean diet, consisting among others of Extra Virgin Olive Oil as its base, and fruits and vegetable  and plenty of seafood.

Southern Italy is blessed with plenty of good weather and sunshine, and is known a il Mezzogiorno, (the land of the mid-day sun). It comprises the regions of Campania, Apulia, Calabria, Basilicata as well as the two major islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

 In Campania, Naples is known worldwide as the birth place of pizza. Two varieties are known: Pizza Marinara, with San Marzano plumb tomatoes, garlic and oil, and Pizza Margherita, with San Marzano tomatoes,Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and basil.

In Naples you also find calzoni,(pizza dough rolled over a filling), and focacce of all types. Neapolitans are also devoted to pasta: maccheroni, spaghetti, vermicelli, fusilli, perciatelli and ziti, to name a few. The pasta sauce preferred is pummarola, made from San Marzano plum-shaped tomatoes, which are protected by PDO designation, and grown in the fertile soil around Mt. Vesuvius, in the Sarnese-Nocerino area and in Avellino and Salerno provinces.

 Neapolitan cuisine is well known for using plenty of greens and vegetables. In the fertile sun-drenched soil around Mt. Vesuvius and the gulf, eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini, all kinds of peppers, salad greens, onions, garlic and herbs, reach heights of flavor as well as melons, peaches, oranges, apricots, grapes and lemons. From the thick skinned lemons of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast they make limoncello.

Seafood is a mainstay in neapolitan diet, especially the tiny creatures that go well with antipasto and pasto or deep-fried in zuppa fritto di pesce. The gulf abounds with little clams called vongole veraci, mussels, young tender octopud, cuttlefish, squid, prawns, shrimp, anchovies and the smelt called cecenielli.

 Inland, away from the coast, country people prefer meat. Around Benevento and Avellino, you find lamb, pork, veal, poultry and rabbit. Campania’s hill people also make fine salame, often spicy like soppersata and prosciutto along with tangy pecorino cheese.

Other cheeses of Campania: Mozzarella di Bufala, Mozzarella made with cow’s milk called, fior di latte, ricotta (soft cheese), and mascarpone from buffalo are also prized. Caciocavallo and provolone are also popular. The prized grating cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano , used in dishes like parmigiana with eggplants, zucchini and other vegetables. Naples is also well known for its dolci. Many pastries and sweets are made like sfogliatelle ricce, pastiera, struffoli, and zeppole. And who can forget gelato, which is usually made from fresh fruits and nuts. Icy granita is usually flavored with lemon or coffee and who can forget an espresso macchiato?

 As far as wine is concerned, one of ancient Rome wine region was Falernum , with vineyards in  northern Campania . Today Falerno del Massico, one of the region’s 18 DOC’s, produces both fine white and red wines. Wines around Naples that carry names like Ischia, Capri and Vesuvius or Lacrima Cristi. But the most prized wines come from the hills around the city of Avellino, in Irpinia. The red Taurasi, the whites Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino.All of which rank DOCG. Oh !! how I envy them! I grew up in the town of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi, before emigrating to America at the age of 15.

Foods of Northern Italy

Northern Italy comprises the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Valle D’Aosta, Veneto, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, and Trentino Alto Adice.  Pasta, rice, polenta, and gnocchi are prevalent in the cuisine of each Region. Fresh pasta, made with eggs, is found south of Po River in Piedmont, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna.

Rice dominates the flat-lands of Lombardy, and Piedmont. It is usually braised and stirred as Risotto. In Veneto, where it is usually simmered in broth in dishes that vary between Risotto and Soup.

Polenta made from corn flour, and sometimes buckwheat and chestnut flour, was the sustenance of Northern Country peoples for centuries. Eaten as mush or porridge, with cheeses or sauces or sliced and fried, or grilled accompanied to meat dishes. Polenta country today comprises of Venezie, Alpine lands of Lombardy and Piedmont.

Gnocchi another delicacy often made with potatoes, or dumplings from semolina filled with ricotta are known in Trentino as Knodeln or canederli. Primi piatti in the North are soups which may include pasta, rice, polenta, gnocchi, bread, vegetables, beans, meats or seafood.

An example of Northern Minestre are noodle and bean pasta e fagioli (pasta e fasuli in Naples). of Veneto and Friulu, the fish chowder of Liguria and the Adriatic Coast. Milan is well known for triple busecca and Emilia-Romagna’s delicate pasta in brodo.

Bollito misto is another meat dish of Northern Cuisine. The mix varies between meats, such as beef, chicken, veal, pork sausages and poultry. The sauces vary from basil based salsa verde of Liguria to Piedmont red tomato sauce. To Verona’s beef marrow and pepper peara’ and Cremona’s candied fruit and mustard.

Fritto misto is also popular In the North, although they vary from region to region. It’s a combination of fried meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits and pastries.

Who has not heard of prosciutto, cured pork from Parma in Emilia-Rom and San Daniele from Friuli. The salt-cured prosciutto is considered dolce, due to the ripe flavor and soft texture that usually develops often about one year of maturation.

Salami includes not just pork products but also beef, as in bresaola of Valtellina in the Alps of Lombardia as well as goat, goose, ostrich, and chamois for salami and sausages.

If you love cheese, go visit North Italy there is a great variety. Beginning with Parmigiano Reggiano  and Grana Padano which account for 80%  of national production. You can nibble on cheese Gorgonzola, buttery Fontina, tangy Asiago, and many creamy and soft and sharp cheeses, mainly made from cow’s milk but also goat and sheep.

As far as wine is concerned, the Northern Regions produce about half the nation’s quota of DOC/DOCG wines. Veneto is the number one producer in the region, where Soave and Valpolicella and the related Amarone e Recioto, head production. Trentino and Friuli in the Alps have a reputation for good white wines. Prosecco is one of the, sparkling, but they also produce some fine reds. Lombardy is noted for aged reds from Valtellina in the Alps Mountains, and classical sparkling wines from Oltrepo’ Pavese such as sweet Moscato.

Piedmont produces fine Barolo and Barbaresco from nebbiolo grapes. It also produces the sweet sparkling Asti Spumante known the world over. Grappa is also produced in the Noth. It is a byproduct of wine production it is obtained from distilling vinacce, the grape’s skins. Trentino, Friuli and Piedmont distill Grappa from grapes of specific vineyards.


Foods of Central Italy

Central Italy comprises the regions of : Molise, Abruzzi, Latium, Umbria, Tuscany and Marches.

The area is known for its country cooking, cucina contadina. Most of it is based on the principle of simplicity and balance, nothing extravagant!

All six Regions follow the Mediterranean Diet consisting of Olive Oil, Extra-Virgin, grains, fruits, nuts and seasonal produce. The local cuisine differs considerably from region to region. This is due to the formation of the land. In some places it is mountainous and rugged and other places hilly and flat. The Appennine Mountains mark Umbria and Abruzzi. Marche and Latium are hilly and flat at the coastline. Latium and Tuscany border the Tyrrhenian Sea. Marches borders the Adriatic Sea. Umbria is land-locked. Farro or Spelt is one main staple throughout the territory. It is used in soups. Chestnuts until recently, were the leading staple, in the diet of the population in the Highlands of the Appennines. They were either roasted or boiled (lesse). Chestnuts were also dried and ground into flour, to make polenta and soups, flatbreads, cakes and pastries. There was so much of it that they were even used to fatten the hog, which they slaughtered every year during the winter months!

Today of course, wheat flour is used in making Pasta, and unsalted breads in Tuscany, Umbria and Marches. Both dried pasta and fresh pasta are used extensively. In Abruzzi and in Molise you find Maccheroni. In Latium , besides Fettuccine made with flour and eggs, you also find  spaghetti, bucatini and rigatoni. In Umbria and Marches, dried pasta is used extensively even though chefs often hand-roll the dough to make Tagliatelle, Fettuccine, and many other local delights!

Hand-made pasta is also preferred in Tuscany! The territory in Central Italy is dotted with vineyards and olive groves. Resulting in excellent wines, extraordinary extra-virgin olive oil. The grapes and olives are hand-picked! The province of Rome, Capital of Italy also produces large quantities of artichokes, and peas. Tuscany produces white beans and black cabbage.

The highlands of Umbria, Abruzzi and Marches are known to produce lentils, chickpeas and potatoes. In the Appennines you find the prized Truffles: both white and black variety. The black truffle (tartufo) is much prized and sells for thousands of dollars per kilo!  The white truffles are found in the mountains of Marches, and parts of Tuscany. The black truffles are found in Umbria.

The coastal areas on both sides of Central Italy boast a great variety of seafood. You find in each port on the Adriatic Sea a Recipe for fish soup called Brodetto. Along the Tuscan Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea is colled Cacciucco. In land-locked Umria the chefs make good use of preserved and dried fish. Such as Anchovies, Tuna, Sardines, and Salt Cod called locally Baccala’ .In Tuscany veal is prized as in the Chianina steer which provides Bistecca alla Fiorentina, (with the bone in the middle). Lamb, poultry and rabbits, are appreciated everywhere! Even game birds, hare and wild boar (cinghiale), are hunted for food!

Pork is prominent in all regions in Central Italy. The ancient town of Norcia is known for making the best Salumi in Central Italy ! Porchetta is the the term used for roasting a whole pig.  This is how you prepare it: A whole pig is boned, stuffed with garlic, wild fennel, rock salt and peppercorn and roasted slowly in a wood-burnig oven, and you get Porchetta!

Pecorino Romano is also produced in Central Italy. It ranges in styles: it can be soft, young Marzolino, made from sheep or goat milk grazed on green grasses in early spring; or firm and tangy, like the classic Pecorino Romano, which is at the same time hard and sharp. It is used for grating over pasta dishes all over the World!

A word about the great wines of Central Italy. The Tuscans can make superb wines with sangiovese grapes. Tuscany is not only known for its Chianti Classico, obtained from sangiovese grapes, but also for magnifico Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. But also for its “Super Tuscans”, great wines made from a single grape varietal! Abruzzi also produces large quantities of its own Montepulciano wine, which is made with Montepulciano grapes. It is fruity and pleasant to the palate and pairs well with pizza and pasta dishes.Umbria produces a great Sagrantino.

What about white wines of Central Italy? You can enjoy a crisp Verdicchio in Marches. A pleasant Orvieto, in Umbria and a refreshing Frascati in Latium! As well as other premium wines made around Castelli Romani, a stone’s throw away from Rome, the Capitol of Italy!

Salute ! Cin-Cin ! 

Daniele Matteo Food & Wine Editor-2014


The Foods of Apulia, Basilicata and Calabria

SICILY – Sicilia – The largest of the two islands, with a population of 5 million inhabitants, just off the coast of Calabria, surrounded by bountiful seas and fertile volcanic soil right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.  Some of the early settlers of the island were the Greeks who introduced whole grain and flour for making flat-bread similar to today’s focaccia. They also cultivated the Malvasia and Moscato grapes for winemaking, still popular today. 

Later in the middle Ages the Arabs and Saracens also influenced Sicilian cuisine.  They brought spices from the East, and introduced sugarcane for making sorbets, pastries, cakes and the elaborate cassata. The Arabs also introduced methods for fishing tuna, tonnare and swordfish in the deep waters of Mar Tirreno. Sicilians are the descendants of Siculi and have adopted customs from foreign invaders, such as Greeks, Romans, Arabs,  Normans and Aragonese. Their diet is based on grains,  vegetables,  herbs and spices, olives,  olive oil,  fruits,  citrus,  nuts, seafood and cheese. Recipes vary locally according to the availability of ingredients.  Pasta usually made from semolina flour, takes many forms, ranging from spaghetti and maccheroni, to ziti, penne, pappardelle gnocchi and gnocculli. A dish you have to try is pasta con sarde, spaghetti with sardines and fennel and other ingredients. Due to a mild climate Sicily has fresh vegetables all-year round, most of which are grown organically. 

Tomatoes grow everywhere, especially around the town of Pachino.Eggplants are very popular too. They can be fried, baked with cheese, or stewed and served cold as caponata. The smaller islands around Sicily specialize in the production of capers.  Tasty flower buds preserved in sea salt. Best known are IGP Capperi di Pantelleria. Olive oil is prized.  So are table olives DOP called Nocellara del Belice. Seafood includes tuna and swordfish, anchovies and sardines.  Swordfish may be marinated, stewed. Roasted or cut into steaks and grilled. Meats include lamb, kid, pork, veal, poultry and rabbit.  Sicilians take credit for inventing meatballs, polpette or polpettoni, which are eaten as main course with tomato sauce.  Not with spaghetti an American tradition.  Pecorino Siciliano DOP, tumazzu, has a pungent flavor, when aged is used for grating.  A cow’s milk cheese is Ragusano DOP, delicate when young; it can also be aged for grating. Other cheeses include cacicavallo and provola or provoletta. Ricotta cheese, which is creamy and soft, is used for filling and pastries.  Sometimes it is salted and dried, to make ricotta salata. 

APULIA – PUGLIA, where vegetables are used in pastas, stews and salads. Fava beans are prevalent,  as well as artichokes,  chicory,  turnip greens, rucola, cabbage,  cauliflower,  eggplant and all kinds of peppers. Also there is a great variety of pastas do to the abundance of durum wheat flour. You find maccheroni, spaghetti and lasagna, as well as small shells called Orecchiette and Cavatieddi. Served mostly with vegetables and tomato sauce. The coasts of both the Adriatic And Ionian Seas, provide an abundance of seafood and Frutti di Mare. In the Gulf of Taranto there are beds of oysters and mussels. You also find Octopus, Cuttlefish,  Squid, Anchovies, Sardines and Sea Urchins. On the Murge Plateau there are lamb and kid: their preferred meats.  Beef, poultry and pork, used in making a great variety of salumi, also enhance their diet.
There is a great variety of cheeses: From Pecorino to Pasta Filata, to Burrata. A mozzarella with butter filling interior from the towns of Andria and Martina Franca. Altamura is known for its famous bread with D.O.P. designation. Also popular are flat focaccia and variations of pizzas made from both wheat flour and potatoes. 
These include calzoni, calzoncieddi, panzerotti and sfogliatelle, in which the dough is folded over a filling of cheese, ricotta or mozzarella and fried or baked. Doughnuts frisedde and the curly taralli are also popular.
As for wine production it is impressive – with 25 DOC’s. Notable crisp whites are from Locorotondo and Martina Franca. The red wines are from Castel del Monte and the Salento peninsula known for its Salice Salentino and rose’ wines. 
BASILICATA – The people of Basilicata are descendents of ancient Lucani and they share their diet with their neighbors. Pastas and vegetables,  mountain cheeses,  lamb and mutton and pork. Which is used to make cured meats and fine salumi including a sausage called Luganica. The salami and soppressata are usually stored in olive oil or lard. Minestre cover a range of vegetables and bean soups and pasta in hand-rolled tubes called minuich, lasagna with beans and a little dumpling called strangulaprieuti.

 Some of the cheeses of Basilicata are: Pecorino, the goat’s milk casiddi and cacicavallo from Podolica breed of cows. Cow’s milk is also used for making Manteca. A creamy pasta-filata cheese filled with butter and salami. 

As far as wine production Basilicata boasts a great red full-bodied Aglianico del Vulture.  When aged it makes a great match with lamb and cheese. Also refreshingly are the sweet and often bubbly Moscato and Malvasia!

CALABRIA – Is the foot of the Italian Peninsula known as Magna Grecia when the Greeks settled the land. The typical foods are soups and pasta laden with vegetables.  Such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes,  as well as artichokes,  asparagus, potatoes and beans and peas. The red onions of Tropea are renowned for refined aroma and flavor. Calabria accounts for 25 percent of Italy’s production of extra-virgin olive oil. Homemade pasta is still popular.  Some housewives still make pasta cu ferretto, rolling the dough around a thin iron rod to make tubes. Besides maccheroni and spaghetti, they also make pasta called lagane.

Similar to fettuccine and Rocco di donna, ladies curls, and cappieddi de Prieviti, priests hats. Pork is the prevalent meat, preserved as prosciutto, salame, sausage and soppressata. Four types of Calabrian salumi qualify as D.O.P. Capocollo, pork neck, Pancetta,  Pork belly,  Salsiccia, pork sausage,  and Soppressata, thick sausage. Sheep and goats are prized both for their meat and milk. Cows aging on the Plateau of Sila produce fine cacicavallo Silano DOP. At Bagnara Calabra on the Mar Tirreno, fishermen harpoon tuna and swordfish.  You also find abundance of seafood, mainly anchovies and sardines. Almost every one has a Recipe for Baccala’. Dried Cod often prepared with onions, potatoes,  tomatoes and peppers. 

As far as wine is concerned, the Region has 12 DOC zones, led by Ciro’, made from Gaglioppo grapes. The whites come from Greco grapesa, a crispy fruity Ciro’ Bianco; a sweet Greco from town Bianco and Greco di Gerace.

Citrus fruits are abundant in Sicily including Arancia rossa di Sicilia IGP, blood oranges. Other fruits include lemons, peaches, apricots, figs, moscato grapes and prickly pears. The island also produces pistachio nuts which go in the making of gelato. Sicily is increasingly taking the lead in modern winemaking with Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG plus 22 DOC zones. It’s most famous is Marsala. An excellent aperitif and it goes well with ripe cheese. Other sweet whites are Passito di Pantelleria Moscato and Malvasia delle Lipari. 

SARDINIA -Sardegna – seafood is abundant along its coastline.  You find lobsters, aragoste, crabs, anchovies,  squids,  clams and swordfish and sardines. Spicy fish soups are called burrita anCasso’la . Dried mullet eggs with a pungent flavor called bottarga are sliced over pasta or salads. Many say the real sardinian cuisine is found inland,  in the hills away from the coast.  

Roasted meats, sausages, salami, Pecorino Sardo and Fior Sardo cheeses and red wines, the likes of Cannonau, Monica and Carignano. Near the city of Nuoro, they roast slowly under an open fire, a suckling pig, porceddu, or lamb or kid, on poles. Turning it occasionally and roasting it for hours with the juices sealed inside.  The island reflects the culture of the foreign invaders from Phoenicia, Cartagena, Romans, Genoese, Pisan, the Savoy Kingdom of Sardinia and the Spaniards. Due to its warm climate Sardinia is Italy’s leading grower of organic produce. Tomatoes are used in sauces, as are artichokes, fava beans, peas, eggplants and zucchini. Each village makes its own variety of breads, including pane carasau and Carta Da musica.

Sardinia boasts a great variety of sweets. Including biscuits, fritters, pastries and cakes, rich with ricotta cheese, almonds,  resins and spices,  spezie. Pasta is always present.  Be it spaghetti, maccheroni, culingiones, ravioli-like and gnocchi called malloreddus. Sardinia makes the best pecorino cheeses from Razza Sarda sheep. Pecorino Sardo and Fiore Sardo DOP cheeses are eaten fresh or aged for grating. It also produces a great Pecorino Romano cheese DOP. Other cheeses include the ones made with goat’s milk plus cacicavallo and provolone.  

A dry white wine is Vermentino di Gallura DOCG, and it boasts 19 DOC zones.  A very popular wine of Sardinia is Vernaccia di Oristano, with sherry-like tones. Others are Vermentino,  Cannonau, Monica and the sweet Moscato. Malvasia is also featured.  Lamb and kid are served with a dry Cannonau. Seafood is served with Vermentino di Gallura, the dry Nuragus Di Cagliari and the stylish Alghero DOC.

Buon Appetito! – (c ) DanieleMatteo

Food & Wine Editor – 2014.


Daniele & Jerry Marra

Daniele & Jerry Marra.


Mastrantoni Gaetano

Mastrantoni Gaetano (Butcher Shop in Priverno Latina. Lazio, Italy).



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