Is there a traditional italian food?
The huge variety from Veneto to Sicily
Speaking about the traditional italian food means to enter a neverending tunnel. Why do I say that?
Well, there’s a general belief that the italian food culture is based basically on two mainstays: pasta and pizza...no wonder Italians are often nicknamed spaghetti benders.
By the way, so to stick to our website's main subject, that is the italian region Veneto, the citizens of Vicenza, a town in Veneto, are jokingly nicknamed magnagatti, meaning cat eaters...but this is a different topic that I will delve into on another occasion.
Please don’t turn your nose up at that, I know how you’re feeling..I live near Vicenza and I adore cats, I have a female cat too, I can reassure you that the nickname is not related to that in reality...
..the cats from Vicenza are fine and beloved..
Bigia, my boss
Italy: a country east of Prague and south of Tunis
Well, I was saying that, beyond spaghetti and pizza, the traditional italian food holds more!
Italy is a small country, just ¾ of the area of California, but the food recipes variety is stunning. After all it’s obvious, both for geographical and historical reasons.
It is a long boot shaped land, in the North with mountains and valleys bordering France, Austria, Swiss and Slovenia, while the rest borders the Mediterranean, the cradle of the western civilization.
Just think that part of Sicily is further south than Tunis, in North Africa, and the heel of the boot is much more eastern than Prague. Italy is north, south, east and west Europe at the same time.
Therefore the climate is diverse too, even inside the very regions there are a lot of different microclimates.
Take Veneto, for example: the Dolomites mountains have a mountain climate, very cold in winter, while close to the sea or to the lake of Garda the climate is north-mediterranean. Then it is a bit colder in the plains, far from the sea.
Another reason for the big variety of the traditional italian food are the different rulers which in Italy existed over the centuries: just to name a few, Spanish, Austrians, French, then Arabs and Normans in Sicily.
By that, I mean that is extremely tough to define the traditional italian food, as it is diverse even inside the regions itself.
Italy has been historically made up of a lot of little States, Kingdoms, Dukedoms, City States..This is where its big cuisine variety comes from as well.
It’s a bit hard to talk about food traditions as the today’s Italians don’t eat exactly like they did 100 or 200 years ago.
The living condition have changed, not only in Italy, but everywhere, so did the cooking. Once people prepared bread at home, and the pasta as well, and so on. I mean, people generally eat worse now than before, a lot of things are now precooked or such.
Some italian peculiarities still remain though, there is still kind of an italian food culture.
Therefore I will talk in very broad terms about the traditional italian food.
I will mention some types of food that are common to all of Italy. They might have originated from a certain area, and then spread all over the country.
Just spaghetti and pizza?
The traditional italian food, this is true, is based mainly on cereals, pasta - primarily made with corn, but not exclusively - and rice.
Pasta can be seasoned with hundreds different sausages. Just to name a few, the ragu, which is a sauce of minced meat, tomato, and onion, known in some countries like the USA as bolognese.
Then the sausage can be based on tomato, or a very simple aglio, olio e peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and chili pepper)...great in its simplicity.
Or with vegetables like sweet peppers, zucchini, aubergines, combined in the most diverse ways.
A pasta dish that I love is the Pasta col pesto.
Pesto is a typical sausage from Genoa, in the region Liguria, in the north-west, made with basel, oil and pine kernels. Simple but amazing.
Well, they say that a top pesto has to be made with the authentic basel from Liguria, with its unique mediterranean aroma of a kind that you can find only there... So this is Italy, a country of local tastes.
To be more precise we could talk of a traditional italian food from Venice, from Florence, from Rome and Palermo, and so on with the thousands of italian towns and villages
When I say pasta, I don’t mean only...spaghetti.
Italy has tens, maybe hundreds of types of pasta.
Often it takes the name from the shape. Spaghetti, for example, means short strings. Farfalle means butterflies, etc.
The pasticcio is kind of a meat or vegetable pie, kept together often by a home made flaky pastry. You can find it everywhere in Italy, but with hundreds of different local peculiarities, sometime personal too, if the cook is imaginative.
Then there are the gnocchi, small round wheat balls seasoned usually with a ragout or tomato sausage.
Another type of pasta is the tortellini, stuffed with meat or vegetables (often pumpkin).
Even vegetables can be cooked in hundreds of different ways.
A dish that I love is the parmigiana al forno, that is aubergines (eggplants for my american friends) stuffed with tomatos, caciocavallo cheese (hard smooth or strong pear shaped cheese from the South of Italy), all dusted with parmesan cheese.
A simple dish, but very tasty. They think it may have originated from Sicily.
Then I love the grilled vegetables, as an appetizer or side dish.
The Veneto food
In Veneto people eat many dishes common to all of Italy, for example the ones of the traditional italian food mentioned above, but there is also a rich local cuisine.
Some dishes are just typically local, even made with some types of vegetables which grow only in a small area of Veneto.. Not to talk about the very rich Venice food culture and recipes , especially in fish based dishes.
For the sweet tooth, Veneto is home to a yummy cake, the tiramisù, very popular not only in the rest of Italy, but also in many other countries. I read a couple of years ago that many Hollywood celebrities seem to be longing for that. Read about how to make an easy tiramisu recipe, it's easy and quick, and about its curious origin!
You might be interested in Veneto food and its traditions.
A very traditional and popular food in Veneto is the risotto. See here tips on how to cook this great dish!
You might also want to try and cook some delicious risotto recipes. It's not difficult, just follow the simple rules and tips!
Finally, sometimes in the restaurants in Veneto the menu may be partly written in Venetian. See here a basic Veneto and Venetian food glossary.
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