The Italian cuisine: the queen of the Mediterranean cuisine
The Mediterranean cuisine is rich, but 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 it is based on regional traditions. Culinary traditions used (and sometimes still are) handed over from one generation to another. The art of cooking in Italy is based on two major principles: simplicity and essentiality. The popularity of the Italian cuisine is not only justified by the migration of many Italian people to the US and to other European countries, but also to the fact that cooking Italian food is not that difficult.
In this post, I would like to summarize the most important aspects of the traditional cuisine of the Italian regions facing the Mediterranean Sea, i.e. whose traditional recipes are in line with the principles of the Mediterranean diet.
Apart from the many salami and the typical Florentine steak (which are not exactly typical Mediterranean food), the Tuscan cuisine is characterized by several Mediterranean dishes. These include the numerous soups, often enriched with legumes, such as the famous “ribollita”, a dish made with lots of vegetables as well as beans and served with crostini. Bread is a main ingredient for another couple of rustic but tasty Tuscan dishes, such as “panzanella” and “pappa al Pomodoro”. In many restaurants of the coast of Tuscany, many fish specialties are served, one of which is the “cacciucco alla livornese” typical of the city of Livorno.
Marche has a varied cuisine that alternates dishes characterized by strong flavours – mainly meat dishes typical of mountain areas – with dishes based on fish and shellfish, more typical of the Conero Riviera. If you visit Marche, don’t forget to taste the famous “olive ascolane”, large olives stuffed with meat, herbs and fennel seeds, which one of the most symbolic foods of the Marche cuisine.
Abruzzo and Molise
“Maccheroni alla chitarra”, are a variety of pasta, similar to spaghetti, which is traditionally prepared on a special loom and it is the best known dish from the cuisine of these two regions. In addition, a traditional dish is represented by potato dumplings made of cheese and eggs, together with the “pappicci”, the thistle soup and the “ghiotta”, a sort of ratatouille made of vegetables and potatoes. Chilli pepper is commonly used, although saffron appears in some recipes as well, since Abruzzo is a saffron producer. Other typical ingredients in this cuisine are the aged sheep ricotta cheese as well as other types of cheese including scamorza and pecorino. Among the desserts, the most famous ones are the “Confetti” (almonds with crisp, sugar coating) made in Sulmona.
The traditional cuisine in this region is based on pasta, among other things. The famous “penne all’arrabbiata” come exactly from here, as well as “pasta with broccoli”, “spaghetti alla carrettiera” as well as many others. Fava beans, and other legumes typical of this area, are common ingredients in the cuisine of Lazio. 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 Frosinone peas. A characteristic of the cuisine in the Lazio region is the use of “puntarella” (a sour chicory, seasoned with oil, garlic and anchovies) not to mention the Roman lettuce. Another typical ingredient is represented by wild herbs, eleven of which are used as ingredients of “misticanza”, a traditional salad prepared with herbs collected during springtime. Ricotta is also widely used, both for savoury recipes as well as for the preparation of desserts, such as “bocconotti alla ricotta” which you can try in many restaurants.
The traditional cuisine of the Campania region is a blend of French, Spanish, Norman, Greek and Byzantine influences. The frequent use of various vegetables and legumes, including the typical cooked escarole, are a peculiar characteristic of this cuisine. Tomatoes are the most distinctive ingredient of the local cuisine, and it is indispensable for the preparation of both pizza and pasta al pomodoro. The sea offers octopuses that are cooked in various recipes, such as the “Polpo alla Luciana”, made with octopus, olives, tomatoes and garlic.
This region, located right at the bottom of the country and facing the island of Sicily, has a very ancient cooking tradition, which has been influenced by Normans, Arabs, Greeks, French and Spanish people. Pasta and vegetables are the two protagonists of the Calabrian cuisine. Aubergines, in particular, are prepared in many different ways: agrodolce, with mushroom, “alla Parmigiana”, etc.. Homemade pasta is made in fifteen different ways, such as makarìa (cylindrical dumplings of Greek origin), laganelle, and schiaffettoni (large stuffed macaroni) to name a few. Grains are used for “pitte calabresi”, small cakes stuffed with almonds, walnuts, raisins, jam and cinnamon
The dishes of the Apulian cuisine are often based on pasta, such as the “orecchiette” typically prepared with “cime di rapa” (turnip tops) or the “cavatelli”. Pasta can also be prepared with chickpeas (ciceri and tria, lagane with chickpeas), fish (cavatelli alle cozze), or vegetables, such as fresh or dried peppers. In addition, many soups are here prepared using beans, artichokes, fennel, chicory and herbs (in particular oregano and mint). A typical dish of the city of Bari is “Riso, patate e cozze” (Rice, potatoes and muscle) which is one of the few recipes from South Italy that uses rice
The Lucanian cuisine has been influenced by the traditional cuisines of the neighbouring regions, such as Campania, Puglia and Calabria. The food in Basilicata has an ancient flavour that has remained almost unchanged over the centuries. Butter is rarely used, whereas extra virgin olive oil dominates each dish. Another protagonist of the Lucanian cuisine are chilli peppers, which here have several names, including: diavulicchiu, frangisello or cerasella. These are used to create delicious dishes and was considered the typical farmer’s lunch” (or the “shepherd’s lunch”), since it was the main ingredient of a poor diet.
The most common ingredients of the Sicilian cuisine are also the ones considered the most typical of Mediterranean cuisines: pasta, fish, vegetables, olive oil and herbs. These ingredients are used to prepare a large variety of delicious dishes, such as “pasta con le sarde”, grilled swordfish, “caponata” (a dish made with cooked eggplants), and many others. Legumes are widely used, especially chickpeas and fava beans. Capers, olives and many aromatic herbs (such as oregano, fennel and basil) are used to give more taste and flavour to several dishes. Also, raisins, pine nuts and salted ricotta cheese are very common ingredients of the traditional Sicilian cuisine.
Sardinia offers a variety of bread and pasta types, all characterized by very exotic names such as carasau bread and the guttiàu bread. Typical is also a type of bread made of barley flour. Typical pasta varieties include ferritus, maccarones, malloreddus, etc. Other common grains include spelt, which has been used since Roman times, whose flour is used to prepare tasty sweet and savoury cakes, often stuffed with cheese. The Sardinian cuisine also includes many soups, made with legumes, potatoes, fennel, artichokes and cabbage, often served with grated pecorino cheese, which is another specialty for this region.