WHAT IS ITALIAN COOKING?
Many non-Italians identify Italian cooking with a few of its most
popular dishes, like pizza and spaghetti. People often express
the opinion that all Italian cooking is pretty much alike.
However, those who travel through Italy notice differences in
eating habits between cities, even cities only a few miles apart.
Not only does each region have its own style, but each
community and each valley has a different way of cooking as
Italian cuisine has developed over the
centuries. Although the country known as Italy
did not unite until the 19th century, the cuisine
can claim traceable roots as far back as the
chefs, political upheaval and the discovery of
the New World have influenced its
• The first known Italian food writer was a Greek Sicilian named orchestrates from
Syracuse in the 4th century BCE. He wrote a poem that spoke of using "top quality
and seasonal" ingredients. He said that flavors should not be masked by
spices, herbs or other seasonings. He placed importance on simple preparation of
• Simplicity was abandoned and replaced by a culture of gastronomy as the roman
empire developed. By the time de re coquinaria was published in the 1st century
CE, it contained 470 recipes calling for heavy use of spices and herbs. The romans
employed Greek bakers to produce breads and imported cheeses from Sicily as the
Sicilians had a reputation as the best cheesemakers. The romans reared goats for
butchering, and grew artichokes and leeks.
MIDDLE AGES from Rome and Athens, a cuisine developed in Sicily that some consider the
• With culinary traditions
first real Italian cuisine. Arabs invaded Sicily in the 9th century. The Arabs introduced
spinach, almonds, and rice. During the 12th century, a Norman king surveyed Sicily and saw people
making long strings made from flour and water called atria, which eventually became trii, a term still
used for spaghetti in southern Italy. Normans also introduced casseroles, salt cod (baccalà) and
stockfish which remain popular.
• In the 15th century, maestro martino was chef to the patriarch of Aquileia at the Vatican. His libro de
arte coquinaria describes a more refined and elegant cuisine. His book contains a recipe for
maccaroni siciliani, made by wrapping dough around a thin iron rod to dry in the sun. The macaroni
was cooked in capon stock flavored with saffron, displaying Persian influences. Of particular note is
martino's avoidance of excessive spices in favor of fresh herbs. The roman recipes include coppiette
(air-dried salami) and cabbage dishes. His Florentine dishes include eggs with bolognese
torta, sienese torta and Genoese recipes such as piperata
(sweets), macaroni, squash, mushrooms, and spinach pie with onions.
• Martino's text was included in a 1475 book by Bartolommeo
platina printed in Venice entitled de honesta voluptate et
valetudine ("on honest pleasure and good health"). Platina
puts martino's "libro" in regional context, writing about perch
from lake maggiore, sardines from lake garda, grayling from
adda, hens from padua, olives from bologna and piceno, turbot
from ravenna, rudd from lake trasimeno, carrots from
viterbo, bass from the tiber, roviglioni and shad from lake
albano, snails from rieti, figs from tuscolo, grapes from
narni, oil from cassino, oranges from naples and eels from
campania. Grains from lombardy and campania are mentioned
as is honey from sicily and taranto. Wine from the ligurian
coast, greco from tuscany and san severino and trebbiano
from tuscany and piceno are also in the book.
ITALIAN FOOD COMMON INGREDIENTS
Olive oil is the most
commonly used vegetable
fat in Italian cooking, and
sauces, often replaces
animal fats of butter or lard.
stereotypical part of
Italian cuisine, but only
entered common usage
in the late 18th century.
Pesto, a Ligurian sauce
made out of basil, olive
oil and pine nuts, and
which is eaten with
Garlic In an era before
antibiotics, garlic may
have kept the Greeks
and Romans free of
Seafood is a staple
protein in Italian diets;
any and all kinds of
shellfish and fish are
several in the same
grains (whole wheat
pasta, whole grain
bread, barley, whole
wheat couscous) are
the base of most
essential, satisfying and
healthy ingredient often
found in Italian cuisine.
Nut trees are almost as
common as olive trees in
Italy. Nuts are savored as
sauces and sprinkled on
Dark Leafy Greens
To be Italian is to
appreciate dark leafy
y broccoli rabe, an
earthy bitter brassica
that pairs beautifully
with bold ingredients
and hot pepper.
a glass of wine?
area has its own specialties, primarily at a
regional level, but also at provincial level. The
differences can come from a bordering country (such
as france or austria), whether a region is close to the
sea or the mountains, and economics. Italian cuisine is
also seasonal with priority placed on the use of fresh
FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR
TRADITIONAL SAN DANIELE
DEL FRIULI HAM, MONTASIO
CHEESE, AND FRICO
CHEESE. OTHER TYPICAL
DISHES ARE PITINA
(MEATBALLS MADE OF
SMOKED MEATS), GAME,
AND VARIOUS TYPES OF
GNOCCHI AND POLENTA.
VENETO - POLENTA
PEASANT FOOD OF
TIRAMISU - (MADE OF
BISCUITS DIPPED IN
COFFEE, LAYERED WITH A
WHIPPED MIXTURE OF
EGG YOLKS AND
FLAVORED WITH LIQUOR
AND COCOA, BAICOLI
(BISCUITS MADE WITH
BUTTER AND VANILLA)
TRENTINOSOUTH TYROL TRADITIONAL
1. ITALIAN CUISINE IS KNOWN AS MOTHER OF MODERN
ITALIANS KEPT THEIR TRADITION ALIVE. THERE
ARE NO OTHER CUISINES WHICH HAS SO ANCIENT
TRADITIONS. THE HISTORY OF ITALIAN FOOD
SHOWS ALSO ITALIAN CUSTOMS THROUGH TIMES.
IT'S KNOWN WHEN SPAGHETTI WAS FIRST DONE
(IN NAPLES) AND HOW PASTA WAS INVENTED (IT
WAS LIKE BREAD WITH NO YEAST).
2. HOW DID THE ITALIAN VALUE THEIR CUISINE IN THE KIND
FEW WOULD DOUBT THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD TO ITALIAN
OF ENVIRONMENT THEY HAVE?
NATIONAL AND CULTURAL IDENTITY. FOOD IS WIDELY RECOGNIZED TO
BE A FUNDAMENTAL PART OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ITALIAN.
NATIONAL SIGNATURE DISHES — WHICH ACTUALLY ORIGINATED IN
THE ITALIAN CITIES, REGIONS, OR LOCALITIES — PROVIDE MANY
PROUD ITALIANS WITH A CAUSE FOR NATIONAL CELEBRATION. ITALIAN
FOOD ALSO CONSTITUTES A KEY FEATURE OF GLOBAL FOOD
CULTURE. THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTERNATIONAL FOOD CHAINS
SELLING PIZZA OR PASTA ENSURES THAT PEOPLE ACROSS THE
GLOBE RECOGNIZE ITALY AS ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREAT FOOD
3. HOW DID THEY CREATE THE IMPACT OF EUROPEAN
THE COUNTRIES CULTURE OF DIFFERENT REGIONS IN ITALY.
5. DESCRIBE THE IN EASTERN EUROPE HAVE MANY THE LOCATIONBETWEEN THEIR RESPECTIVE CUISINES
AND MANY DIFFERENCES. THE DIFFERENCES LIE MAINLY IN
AND CLIMATE OF THE COUNTRY.
POLAND IS KNOWN FOR THEIR NATIONAL DISH CALLED BIGOS AND FLAKI, WHICH IS A TRADITIONAL POLISH STEW.
KIELBASA AND PIEROGIES ARE ALSO POPULAR AND ARE SEEN THROUGHOUT OTHER COUNTRIES AS WELL.
RUSSIA IS FAMOUS FOR VODKA, AS WELL AS CHICKEN KIEV, BEEF STROGANOFF AND BLINI. IN SLOVAKIA YOU CAN
FIND BRYNDZOVÉ HALUŠKY, A DISH OF POTATO DUMPLINGS SERVED WITH SHEEP CHEESE AND BACON. THIS DISH
IS OFTEN ACCOMPANIED BY ŽINÈICA, A BEVERAGE MADE OF SHEEP’S MILK WHEY.
THE BALKAN COUNTRIES ARE, HOWEVER, ARE MUCH MORE INFLUENCED BY THE BOUNTY OF THE
MEDITERRANEAN AND THE AVAILABILITY OF GREAT PRODUCE. EVEN INSIDE THE BALKAN PENINSULA THERE ARE
AS MANY DIFFERENCES AS THERE ARE SIMILARITIES TO THE CUISINE. MOUSSAKA IS THE NATIONAL DISH OF
GREECE, AND IN ALBANIA THE NATIONAL DISH IS MADE OF FRIED MEAT, LIVER, EGGS AND TOMATOES. IN SLOVENIA
YOU CAN FIND HORSE MEAT ON MENUS, AND CAN EVEN ENJOY A HORSE BURGER FROM THE HOT HORSE
RESTAURANT IN LJUBLJANA.
NORTHERN EUROPE IS ANOTHER MELTING POT OF VARIOUS CUISINES. HERE YOU CAN FIND AUTHENTIC
DUTCH DISHES IN THE NETHERLANDS, IDENTIFIED BY ―NEERLANDS DIS‖ ON RESTAURANT SIGNS. IN THE NORTH
YOU CAN ALSO FIND SUCH NATIONAL SPECIALTIES SUCH AS HAGGIS FROM SCOTLAND, IRISH STEW AND CHICKEN
TIKA MASALA WHICH IS ARGUABLY ENGLAND’S NATIONAL DISH (OR IS IT FISH AND CHIPS, OR ROAST BEEF WITH
YORSHIRE PUDDING?). ICELANDIC, FINNISH AND NORWEGIAN CUISINES RELY HEAVILY ON THE BOUNTY OF THE
SEA AS DO OTHER NORTHERN COUNTRIES BORDERING THE OCEAN.
GERMANY’S NATIONAL DISH OF SAUERBRATEN TO THE FAMOUS BRATWURST. WHEN IN BERLIN BE
SURE TO ORDER A CURRYWURST FROM AN IMBISS (SNACK) KIOSK ON THE STREET. BELGIUM IS
KNOWN FOR SUPERB CHOCOLATE, WAFFLES, AND MUSSELS WITH POMMES FRITES. IN
GHENT, BELGIUM TRY THE LOCAL SPECIALTY, WATERZOOI, A CREAMY FLEMISH STEW USUALLY
MADE WITH CHICKEN, FRESH HERBS, LEEKS, POTATOES, CELERY, ONION, AND CARROTS. AND
DON’T FORGET TO TRY SOME OF THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD WHILE EATING IN GERMANY AND
BELGIUM. AUSTRIA HAS GIFTED THE WORLD WITH WEINER SCHNITZEL AND THE TAFELSPITZ FROM
THE PLACHUTTA RESTAURANT IN VIENNA IS VERY POPULAR. VIENNA IS ALSO THE ONLY WORLD
CAPITAL WHICH PRODUCES LARGE QUANTITIES OF WINE, THEREFORE WINE BARS ARE VERY
POPULAR. IN FRANCE, LYON IS CONSIDERED THE FOOD CAPITAL OF THE COUNTRY. FAMOUS FOR
THEIR CASSOULET, LYONNAIS SAUSAGE AND TRIPE, IT IS ALSO WELL KNOWN FOR THEIR BREADS
AND PASTRY CREATIONS. MANY FAMOUS CHEFS HAIL FROM LYON, INCLUDING CHEF DANIEL
SOUTHERN EUROPE IS HOME TO SOME OF THE WORLD’S BEST LOVED CUISINES, AND
THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH FOR PASTA. ITALY’S EMILIA-ROMAGNA REGION INCLUDES THE FOOD
CAPITAL OF BOLOGNA, BUT MODENA AND PARMA ARE EQUALLY LOVED FOR THEIR BALSAMIC
VINEGAR AND HAMS, PROSCIUTTO AND CHEESES, RESPECTFULLY. SUNNY SPAIN IS KNOWN FOR
THEIR TAPAS AND WHILE MOST CONSIDER PAELLA TO BE THE NATIONAL DISH, LOCALS CONSIDER
IT TO BE A VALENCIAN DISH.
6.BEGINNINGS FOOD HABITS EXISTING
IN THE FIRST MEAL OF THE DAY THERE IS LITTLE HINT OF WHAT LIES AHEAD. ITALIANS START THE DAY SIMPLY, PERHAPS
WITH A CORNETTI (CROISSANT) OR SLICE OF BRIOCHE, ACCOMPANIED BY A CAPPUCCINO, OR JUST AN ESPRESSO TAKEN
STANDING UP AT A LOCAL COFFEE BAR -- CHEAPER THAN SITTING AT A CAFE TABLE.
• LEISURELY LUNCH
PRANZO (LUNCH) TRADITIONALLY WAS THE MAIN MEAL OF THE DAY, AND IN THE COUNTRYSIDE IT STILL IS FOR MANY
WORKERS. IN URBAN AREAS, LUNCH HAS BECOME LIGHTER, ALTHOUGH IT REMAINS A THREE-COURSE MEAL -- ANTIPASTO
(APPETIZER), PRIMO PIATTO (FIRST PLATE), USUALLY PASTA, SOUP OR RICE, FOLLOWED BY SECONDO PIATTO, A MEAT OR FISH
DISH. IT IS ALSO A LEISURELY AFFAIR, LASTING MORE THAN AN HOUR AND ENDING WITH FRESH FRUIT. ITALIANS PREFER TO ENJOY
CAKES AND PASTRIES WITH A MID-AFTERNOON COFFEE BREAK.
• TAKE TWO
CENA (DINNER) FOLLOWS THE SAME PATTERN OF LUNCH, USUALLY THREE COURSES BEGINNING WITH ANTIPASTO -SMALL SERVINGS OF CURED MEAT, OLIVES, LITTLE BITES TO PERK THE PALATE. NEXT IS PASTA, RICE OR SOUP, FOLLOWED BY A
MEAT OR FISH DISH, ACCOMPANIED BY CONTORNI (VEGETABLE SIDE DISHES), ENDING WITH FRUIT AND PERHAPS A GLASS OF
• RELAX, ENJOY
ITALIANS CONSIDER DINNER AN OPPORTUNITY TO RELAX WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY, TO CHAT AND GOSSIP, LAUGH AND
SHARE. TYPICALLY, ITALIANS EAT LATER THAN MANY AMERICANS AND NORTHERN EUROPEANS -- LUNCH AT 1 P.M. AND DINNER
NEVER BEFORE 8 P.M., OFTEN LATER IN SUMMER. WAITERS WILL NOT BRING A CHECK UNTIL ONE IS REQUESTED, AND NO ONE
WILL BE ASKED TO HURRY UP AND EAT TO FREE A TABLE.
THERE HAS BEEN A BLURRING OF THE LINES IN DEFINING TYPES OF RESTAURANTS IN ITALY. TRATTORIA
USED TO REFER TO A LOCAL RESTAURANT FEATURING AFFORDABLE, REGIONAL FOODS IN A RELAXED SETTING, BUT
THE NAME HAS BEEN CO-OPTED BY SOME CHIC URBAN RESTAURANTS TO DENOTE AUTHENTICITY AND RUSTIC
COOKING. AN OSTERIA IS A MORE HUMBLE ESTABLISHMENT, USUALLY FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED, A PLACE
WHERE CUSTOMERS ARE SERVED HOMECOOKED-STYLE MEALS, OFTEN AT COMMUNAL TABLES AND FOR A
THERE ARE TWO CARDINAL RULES OF ITALIAN CUISINE -- EAT LOCALLY AND EAT SEASONALLY. IMPORTED
FOODS ARE CHANGING THIS PICTURE, BUT FAITHFUL ITALIAN COOKS WOULD NEVER EAT ASPARAGUS, TOMATOES OR
ARTICHOKES OUT OF SEASON. FOOD IS PART OF THE RHYTHM OF LIFE, AND SO ITALIANS EAGERLY AWAIT THE ARRIVAL
OF SEASONAL INGREDIENTS FROM MUSHROOMS IN THE FALL TO WILD STRAWBERRIES IN THE SPRING.
FOLLOW THE LOCALS
EAT LIKE THE LOCALS TO SAVE AND SAVOR: BUY PICNIC FARE AT OUTDOOR MARKETS AND CITY
SALUMERIAS (ITALIAN DELIS). OPT FOR A TAKE-OUT PANINI (SANDWICH) FOR LUNCH FROM A BAKERY. BUY PIZZA AL
TAGLIO (BY THE SLICE) FROM A TINY HOLE-IN-THE-WALL PIZZERIA. EAT CAFETERIA-STYLE AT A TAVOLA CALDA (HOT
TABLE) -- CHOOSE FROM A WIDE VARIETY OF HOME-STYLE DISHES AND PAY AT THE REGISTER. IT IS HARD TO EAT
BADLY IN ITALY, BUT LOOK FOR A SPOT WHERE THE LOCALS ARE EATING, PASS ON THE "MENU TURISTICO" AND ASK
FOR THE "MENU DEL GIORNO" -- THE DAILY SPECIALS.