Mediterranean cuisine part I: Italy

Mediterranean cuisine

The Italian cuisine: the queen of the Mediterranean cuisine

The Mediterranean cuisine is rich, we all know that. However, the Italian cuisine is probably the most highly varied of all cooking traditions in South Europe. This is a natural consequence of the fact that regional traditions dominate in this country. Culinary traditions were (and sometimes still are) handed over from one generation to another. The art of cooking in Italy originated from two basic principles: simplicity and essentiality. The popularity of the Italian cuisine is not only justified by the migration of many Italian people to other countries. Cooking Italian food is also very easy!

In this post, I will tell you about the most important aspects of the traditional Italian cuisine. Particularly, I want to dig into the characteristics of the cuisine of those Italian regions that face the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, the traditional recipes in these regions follow the rules of the Mediterranean diet.

Tuscany

The many salamis and the typical Florentine steak do not exactly look like typical Mediterranean food, I know! However, the Tuscan cuisine can surprise you with many delicious Mediterranean dishes as well. Tuscany boasts several superb soups, which often contain beans, like the famous “ribollita”. The latter is a dish that contains lots of vegetables and beans and goes well with crostini. Bread is the main ingredient for a couple of rustic and tasty Tuscan dishes: “panzanella” and “pappa al pomodoro”. In many restaurants in Tuscany you will be able to taste several fish specialties such as the “cacciucco alla livornese”, a typical dish from Livorno.

Marche

Marche has a varied cuisine whose recipes have very strong flavors. In Marche, you can either taste meat dishes (especially in the mountains) or fish and shellfish recipes, particularly if you visit the Conero Riviera. Very typical of Marche are also the famous “olive ascolane”. These are large olives stuffed with meat, herbs and fennel seeds, that represent the symbol of the Marche cuisine.

Abruzzo and Molise

“Maccheroni alla chitarra”, are a variety of pasta, similar to spaghetti. People traditionally prepare them using a special loom. It is the best-known dish from the cuisine of these two regions. Other popular dishes are the potato dumplings that contain both cheese and eggs, the “pappicci”, a thistle soup and the “ghiotta”, a sort of ratatouille that contains vegetables and potatoes. Chilli pepper is a common ingredient, and saffron appears in some recipes as well. Abruzzo is indeed a saffron producer. Other typical ingredients in this cuisine are the aged sheep ricotta cheese and other types of cheese including scamorza and pecorino. Among the desserts, the most famous ones are the “Confetti” (almonds with crisp, sugar coating) that you can find in many varities in the city of Sulmona.

Lazio

The traditional cuisine in this region is based on pasta, among other things. The famous “penne all’arrabbiata” come from Lazio, as does “pasta with broccoli”, “spaghetti alla carrettiera” together with many other popular dishs. Fava beans, and other legumes are typical of this area, and people use them as ingredients in many dishes. Examples of typical local legumes include the lentils of Onano, the cannellini beans of Atina, the Viterbo’s “quarantine” (local beans that ripen in approx. 40 days) and the Frosinone peas.

A characteristic of the cuisine in the Lazio region is the use of “puntarelle” (a sour chicory, seasoned with oil, garlic and anchovies) not to mention the Roman lettuce. Wild herbs are common as well and eleven of these end up as ingredients in “misticanza”. The latter is a traditional salad prepared with herbs collected during springtime. Ricotta is also widely common, and you can retrieve it in salty dishes as well as in desserts. Common sweet treats include “bocconotti alla ricotta” that you can try in many restaurants.

Campania

The cuisine of this region is a blend of French, Spanish, Norman, Greek and Byzantine influences. The frequent use of various vegetables and legumes, including cooked escarole, are a peculiarity of this cuisine. Tomatoes are the most distinctive ingredient here, and this is not surprising if you think that both pizza and pasta al pomodoro were born here! Octopuses are ingredients of various recipes, such as the “Polpo alla Luciana”, made with octopus, olives, tomatoes, and garlic.

Calabria

This region is located right at the bottom of the country and faces Sicily. It has a very ancient cooking tradition, and it has blended with the Norman, Arab, Greek, French and Spanish cuisines. Pasta and vegetables are the two protagonists of the Calabrian cuisine. Aubergines, in particular, are served in many ways: melanzane in agrodolce, eggplant with mushroom, “melanzane alla Parmigiana”, etc. Fifteen different ways for making homemade pasta exist, such as makarìa (cylindrical dumplings of Greek origin), laganelle, and schiaffettoni (large stuffed macaroni) to name a few. Grains are the main ingredient of “pitte calabresi”, small cakes stuffed with almonds, walnuts, raisins, jam and cinnamon

Puglia

The recipes of the Apulian cuisine are often pasta recipes. An example of this is “orecchiette” or “cavatelli”, that people here prepare with “cime di rapa” (turnip tops). Pasta with chickpeas, fish (“cavatelli alle cozze”), or vegetables, are all very common. Many soups are typical dishes of this region. Beans, artichokes, fennel, chicory, and herbs, particularly oregano and mint, are their most common ingredients. A typical dish of the city of Bari is “Riso, patate e cozze” (Rice, potatoes and muscles). This is one of the few recipes from South Italy that use rice.

Basilicata

The Lucanian cuisine has incorporated the influence of the traditional cuisines of the neighboring regions, such as Campania, Puglia, and Calabria. The food in Basilicata has an ancient flavor that has remained almost unchanged over the centuries. Butter is rarely used, whereas extra virgin olive oil dominates each dish. Chilli peppers are the protagonists of the Lucanian cuisine. Here, they have several names, including: diavulicchiu, frangisello or cerasella. They are used to create delicious dishes and they are considered the typical farmer’s lunch, since they were a main ingredient of the poors’ diet.

Sicily

The most common ingredients of the Sicilian cuisine are also the most typical Mediterranean foods: pasta, fish, vegetables, olive oil, and herbs. These foods take part in a large variety of delicious recipes. From “pasta con le sarde”, to grilled swordfish, to “caponata” (a dish made with cooked eggplants), the list could go on and on forever. Pulses are very common here, especially chickpeas and fava beans. Capers, olives and many aromatic herbs (oregano, fennel, and basil) give taste and flavor to several dishes. Raisins, pine nuts, and salted ricotta cheese are typical ingredients of the traditional Sicilian cuisine.

Sardinia

Sardinia offers a variety of bread and pasta types, all characterized by very exotic names such as Carasau bread and Guttiàu bread. Typical pasta varieties include ferritus, maccarones, malloreddus, etc. Other common grains include spelt, which has been used since Roman times, and whose flour is an ingredient of many tasty sweet and savory cakes, often stuffed with cheese. The Sardinian cuisine also includes many soups, where legumes, potatoes, fennel, artichokes, and cabbage represent the most common ingredients. Soups usually go with grated pecorino cheese, another specialty of this region.

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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About Me

I’m an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. I started MY career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden.

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