Continuing on our foodie road trip across Italy, we’re going pick up where we left off. Let's head to Lombardy! (If you just stumbled upon this adventure, check out the Italian food by Region Guide Part 1
to ensure you don't miss out on any of the delicacies!)
Lombardy’s beautiful food culture definitely struggles to get out from under the glitz and glamour of Milan
, the fashion capital of Italy. But, this chunk of the country contents stands up when it comes to the culinary arts.
Rice is a popular staple in Lombardy and taking pride of place at the top of the region’s menu is risotto alla Milanese. This take involves saffron which gives the meal its distinct yellow color and beautiful flavor.
The geography of the region, like much of Italy, varies from mountains to rolling hills and flat plains. In the latter, cows roam in abundance, and so, it should come as no surprise that beef features heavily in food here too. Ossobuco alla Milanese is braised veal shanks, and often coming alongside it is polenta, another delicious staple of the region.
To satiate those with a sweet tooth, Lombardy boasts Torrone, a type of nougat. After all, what’s regional Italian cuisine without its sweet treats? Made from egg whites, honey, and sugar this tasty confection is then stuffed with toasted almonds, hazelnuts and other types of nuts.
This little Italian region is a hidden gem and renowned for its shoemaking tradition. In fact, most of the country’s finest and most luxurious shoes are made in Le Marche. But, the region also boasts some mighty fine cooking.
Due to its location, snuggled away on the east coast and existing in the long shadow cast by both Umbria and Tuscany, Le Marche hasn’t fallen prey to the masses of tourism. Defining the region’s rich food tradition is a geography made up of mountains, farmland, and sea.
Ascoli Piceno’s stuffed olives are handmade by local women. Filled with meats and cheeses, they are then deep fried and make an excellent snack to eat on the go.
Couple them with Ciauscolo, a spreadable smoked pork sausage flavored with fennel, garlic, and non-alcoholic wine.
But, without doubt, the centerpiece of Le Marche’s regional Italian cuisine is Vincisgrassi, a take on lasagna. This version sees 12 layers of pasta sheets smothered in a veal ragu with mushrooms, truffles and a bechamel sauce.
Along the coast, you would be remiss not to seize the opportunity to indulge in a bowl of Brodetto all'Anconetana. This fish soup, traditionally made with 13 different types of fish, has a tomato base and a rich, fresh seafood flavor.
Molise is the newest Italian region, formed in 1970 after it split from Abruzzi. Like in Abruzzi, lamb is the livestock of choice and consumed from head to toe.
Pezzata is a mutton stew flavored with hot peppers and rosemary. The slow cooking tenderizes the meat and intensifies the flavors beautifully.
For the brave and those with a stronger palette, there are Torcinelli, lamb intestines wrapped around lamb liver, offal or testicles. Typically grilled, but sometimes stewed, torcinelli is a dish popular in Puglia, too.
Pampanella, a delicious street food specific to Molise, sees pork meat marinated in garlic, salt, vinegar and spicy peppers. Served in a bun, the tasty treat’s name comes from the vine leaves the meat is wrapped in before cooking. Head to San Martino to eat it where it was first made.
Up to Piedmont now as we continue on our Italian food by region tour. This region in northern Italy juts into both France and Switzerland and boast gamey meats, root vegetables, and lots of slow cooking. Rich flavors and full-bodied wines are very much order of the day in these parts.
First, the truffle. In Piedmont, both the black truffle and white truffle top many of the region’s authentic Italian recipes. The black truffle is the more common of the two. But, found in Alba, southeast of Turin, and harvested between August and January is the much coveted, rarer white truffle. When shaved thinly, this delicious fungus couples perfectly with simple dishes like plain tagliolini.
Bagna Cauda, which translates literally to "hot bath," is a tangy sauce made from oil, butter, garlic, and anchovies. This is specific to Piedmont and comes as a dipping sauce for fresh, locally grown artichokes, peppers, and celery.
Follow this up with brasato al barolo, a hearty meal of beef marinated in red wine and then braised with herbs and vegetables until tender.
The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia sits off the coast of Italy a stone’s throw away from the north African country of Tunisia. As a result, this not-so-little island is a conflation of cultures and, of course, cuisines. As a result, authentic Italian recipes here are rich and varied.
Bottarga is a great example of Sardinia’s unique food tradition. It is grey mullet, sometimes tuna, cured and pressed into a block. Served in thin slices as an appetizer or grated over pasta, this delicious chunk of fish is to die for. Although bottarga features on menus outside of Sardinia, for a real taste of island’s traditional Italian cuisine, make sure to taste some here.
Looking like a cross between gnocchi, pasta, and couscous, fregola are small, hand-rolled balls of semolina pasta dough. In Sardinia, they feature in pasta, soups, and stews. Best though is a seafood variation which features mussels and saffron.
For a taste of Sardinia’s past seek out pane frattau. This dish extends back over 3000 years to the times of Sardinia’s Nuragic’s civilization. They consist of thin sheets of baked durum wheat flatbreads lathered in just about any topping. Most popular is tomato sauce and a poached egg.
Like Sardinia, Sicily’s culinary tradition draws on the many influences of its former invaders. Here, on the island just off the toe of Italy’s boot, flavors in food extend from Greece to Spain to North Africa and the Middle East.
Clams, prawns, anchovies, sardines, tuna and swordfish reign supreme in these parts. But, for meat lovers, the lamb is great too. Vegetables such as aubergines plump up pasta dishes and beans, and chickpeas feature heavily too, as, of course, do nuts.
Caponata, which has its origins in the sweet and sour cooking of Greece, is slow-cooked vegetables, olives, pine nuts, and raisins. The arrival of the Arabs saw the introduction of pasta con le sarde, a pasta dish composed of sardines, saffron, fennel, raisins and pine nuts.
For a taste of truly traditional Italian cuisine in Sicily look to pasta alla norma. Made from aubergine, salted ricotta, and sun-dried tomatoes, this deceptively basic dish explodes with flavor. Similarly, there is pasta con tenerumi which includes the shoots of the courgette flower.
As we continue on our Italian food by region tour, we head to Italy’s northernmost region, Trentino-South Tyrol. This morsel of Italy, which shares a border with both Switzerland and Austria, was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So, expect food in these parts to blend central European traditions with Italian traditions.
Canederli is a take on the Austrian knödel. Made with stale bread, moistened with milk and bound with egg, these dumplings fall into Italy's “Cucina Povera” tradition. Generally, flavored with speck, smoked pork, they are served alongside stews and roasts.
Whether enjoyed by itself or in stews and salads, speck is a staple in this region of Italy. Similar to bacon, this chunky pork delicacy is packed with flavor. Smoked varieties go great with crusty bread and a glass of red wine.
However, South Tyrol is most famous for its sweet treat, strudel. This region is where most of Italy’s apples come from, so it makes sense that the people of the area would dedicate a desert to the fruit. Baked in pastry with raisins, spices, and nuts, strudel is perfect for both the winter and summer months.
Tuscany, one of Italy’s most visited regions and home to Florence
, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Food and wine are one of this region’s main draws and for a good reason. Tuscan winemaking and culinary traditions
are rooted in its farmlands. Here, meals are simple, hearty and beautiful.
Much of Tuscany's produce is sourced locally, from the abundant fields and farms of the area’s rolling countryside. And, bringing together some of Tuscany’s best produce is ribollita, a fantastic, popular winter soup. Cabbage, beans, onions, and carrots go into this fine example of classic comfort food.
Cannellini beans also feature heavily in a number of authentic Italian recipes in Tuscany. In zuppa, the beans are stewed in tomatoes, garlic, and sage. For those after a meaty equivalent, there is fagioli con salsiccia, beans with sausages.
Tuscany too is home to both black and white truffles. And, for a bowl full of the flavorful fungus then seek out tagliatelle al tartufo, pasta covered in truffle sauce.
Wild game is used in a variety of ways. It is cooked in hearty stews and rich pasta sauces. Pappardelle alla lepre are wide egg noodles cooked in an intensely flavored sauce made from wild hare.
But, taking top spot as the most iconic meal in this region is Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This is a T-bone steak taken from the loin of a young steer and quickly grilled. The biggest mistake you can make when ordering one of these is to ask for your steak to be cooked for longer.
In 2016, two big earthquakes devastated parts of the Umbria. But, this region in central Italy is known as the country’s “cuore verde,” or, green heart. And, heart it has, in its people, its culture and its food.
Umbria is golden hills, olive and cypress trees, and, of course, the high peaks of the Apennine mountains. Its cuisine, which has its roots in the ancient civilization of the Etruscans, is simple and relies on seasonal ingredients.
Norcia is home to prosciutto that rivals that produced in Emilia-Romagna’s Parma. Mushrooms and wild asparagus along with other fresh vegetables are grown throughout the region.
Like Tuscany, truffles are popular and used in dishes like crostini alla norcina which combines truffles, anchovies and chicken livers spread on crispy bread. Strangozzi is a pasta made without eggs and generally served in meatless sauces. Popular variations include serving it topped with truffles or in a spicy tomato sauce.
Umbria though garners world recognition for its porchetta and suckling pigs. These are pigs, one deboned, the other whole, stuffed with herbs, and then roasted on a spit.
Rounding out our Italian food by region tour is Veneto
. This region of Italy is home to Italy’s floating city, Venice
. Set against the Adriatic coast in the east and enjoying the spoils of the Po Valley in the west, Venice boasts some truly stunning food.
Here, unlike in other parts of Italy, rice and polenta take precedence over pasta. Locally grown rice is served most commonly in risotto and polenta is either served mashed or in blocks that are pan-fried. Or, try polenta with various toppings like scampi and veal liver.
Fish also plays a key role in Venetian cuisine. Baccala, salt cod, and stoccafisso, cured cod, are hugely popular. Plates of fritto misto, fried fish, go excellently with chilled white wines. Risotto di gò features black goby fish and makes for an excellent main course.
Game birds also make the menu in Venice with duck, goose, and guinea fowl slow-cooked, or marinated in rich sauces.
That brings us to the end of our Italy food by region tour. So, with twenty regions and a whole lot of food to enjoy, go forth and indulge in some of the greatest food in the world. Buon Appetito!
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