Friday, June 10, 2011

Regional Cuisine's of Italy

In Italy, cooking is an art, it is love and who the Italian people are. The soul of the food is found in an ideal combination of many ingredients, such as sauces, herbs, olive oils, and cheeses which play an important part in preparing the food. Pasta, rice, beans, eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, artichokes, escarole and tomatoes are all ingredients that are used within a typical Italian recipe. All fresh ingredients such as spinach, carrots, celery, potatoes and fruit are also used as an essential part to create a very tasty Italian meal. The Italian diet is very healthy even though Italians consume a great deal of wine. The Italian people have made their mark in many parts of the world. They are very proud of their heritage and origin. It is the heartland of art, knowledge and beauty. Italians have helped build railroads, bridges, streets and buildings. They worked in mines, farms and factories. They brought to this country their famous love for art and music, their laughter and of course their famous Pizzas. They have a very strong family life, and “La Famiglia” is everything to the Italians. They also are very dedicated in their belief of the Roman Catholic religion. They have fairs and festivals to honor the Saints that are part of their belief system. Italians are known for their generosity, friendliness, gentleness, welcoming, sociability and are very animated people. The Italian language is known as a romance language. There are many various dialects throughout the different regions of Italy. The Italian cuisine is characterized by strong regional influences which differ from region to region. Italy is a long and narrow peninsula surrounded by the sea. In addition, a long row of mountains runs from the north to south through this narrow country. These geographic features create a multitude of environments with different variations, including fertile valleys or plains, mountains, forests, cool foothills, and Mediterranean coastlines. There are many different climates throughout Italy which gives great varieties to the different types of foods that are grown.

The cuisine from Northern Italy is mainly based on meat (usually red) with vegetables, such as carrots and cauliflower. Rice (risotto) and polenta also dominate this region. A few examples of what foods come from that area include red radicchio and balsamic vinegar from Modena. Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto (type of bacon, but dried and cured) is a delightful influence to many dishes throughout Italy.

In Central Italy, grilled or roasted meat dishes are popular in this area. Tomatoes are plentiful in this region because of the warmer weather and the abundance of the sun. Chestnuts and saffron (a common herb) are also part of the central Italy’s diet. Rome which is the capital of Italy is a great producer of grapes and wine making. Central Italy has introduced the boiling of green vegetables, such as cabbage and escarole to just name a few. Artichokes are very popular and the stuffing of vegetables with rice or cheese is a delicious addition to that regions cuisine.

The South (except for the islands of Sicily and Sardinia) is based on fish, lamb and pork with a lighter side of vegetables, salads and tomatoes. Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot) has the longest coastline of any Italian region. Seafood is very abundant and popular, such as mussels, clams, eel, sardines, anchovies and octopus along the Amalfi coast. Naples is the birthplace of Pizza. A staple of the southern households are pastas, lemons and breads, which include calzones, crusty breads and focaccia. Olive oil, cheeses and cream based sauces are delightfully added to any recipe made in that region. And then we cannot forget Limoncello, which is considered now as the national drink of Italy. Limoncello is the generic name for an Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur that is served chilled.

The Sicilian (Sicily) cuisine was influenced by the long domination of the Greeks, Arabs and the Spaniadards and it is refined with a variety of fine delicious pastries such as cannoli, tiramisu and cassatas. Eggplants, tomatoes and pastas are also favored in that region. Many types of fish including sardines, and calamari are popular because of the sea that surrounds this area. Cheeses such as Pecorino Siciliano and Ricotta are prominent in Sicilian cooking. Sicily surpasses all other regions in its abundance of sweets, fruits, and ice creams.

Sardinian (Sardinia) cuisine includes fish (shellfish, lobster, tuna) from the sea, fruits and vegetables, herbs from the mountains and a variety of meats, pork, lamb and chicken. Popular choices for meals in Sardinia include stews and roasts made with fennel. Potatoes which are made into gnocchi make for a very filling meal. Hearty grains, breads and pastas are accompanied by very simple preparation but extremely “tasty” dishes. Although generally not big drinkers, Sardinians like beer more than the mainland Italians. Local red wines are rich full bodied and give roasts and cheese a strong taste. Local whites are tangy and dry served chilled with fish and cheese dishes which are extremely refreshing.

In doing some research for my upcoming cookbook that I am in the process of writing, I found some information on my family history as to what regions in Italy my family originated from.

My grandparent’s families on my mother’s side originated from towns called Caserta and Catanzaro. Caserta is located in the Campania region of Italy. Caserta is a 45-minute train ride from Naples Central Station. Located in the south of the country, the southern cuisine is very familiar in this area. Catanzaro, which is located south in the Calabria region. (Tip of boot) This area in Italy has coastlines on two different seas, the Lonian and Tyrrhenian. This is a large tourism area due to its splendid cliffs, wide fine sandy beaches and a lively nightlife especially in the summer.

My grandparent’s families on my father’s side originated from towns called Benevento and Castelvetrano. Benevento is an historic town in the hills of the Campania region, which is near Naples and Caserta where my mothers’ family came from. (as they say it is a small world) Benevento is mainly an agricultural area with products that include wine, olives and tobacco. The main industry is that of processing food (sweets and pasta.) Castelvetrano is located in Sicily. Castelvetrano is a big agricultural center, olive oil, grapes and has a large wine industry.  
My grandmother Julia, Mother,
grandfather Louis

I remember a recipe that my Mother taught me called Italian Stuffed Peppers. (was her own recipe that she created) They are made by stuffing cubanelle peppers with a bread crumb filling toped with tomato sauce and baked. Cubanelles are a long slender banana-shaped sweet pepper, also known as Italian frying peppers. You can use this recipe as a side-dish along with any of the regional foods throughout Italy.

Italian Stuffed Peppers
6 Cubanelle peppers
3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
3 cups unflavored bread crumbs
4 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

1. Cut ½ inch from the top of a washed pepper and remove the seeds.
2. Mix the bread crumbs with parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper.
Add a small amount of oil and mix with hands. When it feels like a sandy
consistency then you are ready to fill the peppers.
3. Fill the peppers with mixture (do not fill to tightly as it will become dry)
4. Put about a 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce on bottom of a baking dish so they will not stick.
5. Place peppers in the baking dish, cover with remaining 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce and sprinkle a small amount of olive oil on top of the peppers.
6. Bake the peppers at 350° for about 30 minutes.

Till next time....

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