Few countries’ contributions to gastronomy rival Italy’s culinary canon. After all, we’ve got the boot-shaped nation and its food-centric folk to thank for the pleasures of springy al dente pasta, pillowy pizza crusts, lip-smacking tomato sauces and ice-cold gelato to bring cooling respite to balmy summer days. Italy’s gourmet landscape is reason alone to plan a trip, but with 20 regions to explore, it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s a bite-sized serve of Italy’s top food regions to inspire your next gastronomic getaway.
The flavours of Campania can be attributed to the holy trinity of sun, sea and soil, from the sun-ripened ingredients, enriched by volcanic soil, to bountiful seas. While it’s long stood in the shadows of more popular Italian cities, the capital of Campania, Naples, is considered Italy’s most unlikely and delicious masterpiece.
But we’re not referring to multi-course tasting menus; the most celebrated Neapolitan eats are found on the streets.
Think uncomplicated, unfussy fare that is perfect for enjoying on the go. Stand-out street eats include portafoglio pizza, the folded ‘wallet-style’ pie for one; and o-cuppetiello – deep-fried potato puffs, arancini and seafood bites served in a cardboard cone.
Few would dispute Tuscany as Italy’s gastronomic capital. This vast region spans the Renaissance city of Florence to the viticultural landscape of Chianti, with myriad meals and drops to tempt the global foodie. Central to Tuscan cuisine is the use of legumes, pecorino cheese, vegetables and game meat. Without flourishes or flair, Tuscan cuisine is hearty, bold and rooted in farming traditions.
Typical Tuscan meals include the Florentine speciality, bistecca Fiorentina, a mammoth T-bone cooked rare over a wood fire, and gnudi, similar to gnocchi, made with ricotta and spinach, doused with lashings of olive oil, crisp sage and pecorino cheese.
If Lazio doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because its capital Rome monopolises the spotlight, leaving the rest of the fertile countryside largely off the foodie trail. Of course, there are many enticements to be found among the Roman ruins, but beyond the tourist-heavy city is a decadent food landscape just begging to be savoured.
The flavours of Lazio span the sea to the forest, with seafood and foraged ingredients such as chestnuts and truffles common ingredients used in regional fare. But it’s the fertile farmlands that play the largest role, with the dish that best sums up Lazio being abbaccio, or spring lamb, prepared alla cacciatora. That is, cooked with oil, lard, garlic, rosemary and salt-cured anchovies, served family-style at the table. Bellissimo!
Lombardy is Italy’s richest region, with capital Milan the second-largest city in the country. Beyond the glamorous fashion-forward capital, Lombardy’s terrain can be likened to the landscapes of Southeast Asia; a large portion of land in Lombardy is dedicated rice paddy fields, growing Carnaroli and Arborio varieties of rice.
Up north, flavours are heavier, based around grains and are a far departure from the typical olive oil- and tomato-based meals of the south.
A characteristic Lombardy dish is risotto alla Milanese, complete with saffron, along with a host of meat-heavy mains such as osso bucco. And when it comes to sweets and desserts, the region is known for the raisin-studded bread panettone, which is a table staple come Christmas.
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