TL;DR This is a research post on getting a base for Italian Cuisine.

Background

Italian cuisine is one of the oldest cuisines tying to origins around the 4th century BCE. Due to Italy’s historical prominence, this cuisine not only had an opportunity to flourish, but to develop through the cultures Italy either captured or interacted/traded with.

As we turn to modern times, cook books tended to focus on regionalism rather than French cuisine. Cookbooks weren’t attributed to chefs, but rather housewives. Home cooking and house hold recipes were integral to Italian cuisine.

Meal Structure

Italian Meals consist of courses with everyday meals consisting of 1-2 courses plus a side and coffee and extended/weekend meals will have 3-4 courses. Food serves as a cornerstone of festive events often leading to feats. Food is also seen as a time to spend time with family/friends. Some highlights:

  • Apertivo: an alcoholic appetizer at the beginning of the meal (Campari, Vermouth)
  • Antipasto: hot or cold appetizers before the “meal” starts
  • Primo: a first course usually heavier with hot, starchy dishes such as pasta or risotto
  • Secondo: the second course, usually fish or meat
  • Contorno: a side dish like salad or cooked vegetables
  • Formaggio e frutta: cheeses and fruits, usually local
  • Dolce: a sweet desert
  • Caffè: coffee, and integral part of the meal
  • Digestivo: a “digestive” liqueur such as grappa or sambuca, sometimes referred to “coffee killer”

Ingredients

Grains

Pasta – Pasta is one of the most commonly associated ingredients when people think of Italian food. Grains have been integral to this region and have evolved over time to so many varieties:

  • Penne
  • Spaghetti
  • Linguini
  • Fusilli
  • Lasagne
  • Ravioli
  • Toretelini
  • And this list goes on..

Another staple to this region is arborio which is a short grain rice often used to make risotto.

And lastly, is bread. Wheat was readily available in this region and created breads such as ciabatta and focaccia or converted into a dish of its own such as pizza or calzones.

Mediterranean Vegetables and Fruit

Italian cuisine values local and fresh produce. These vegetables can be used as is, made into sauces, combined with pastas, or used as toppings.

  • Tomatoes – fresh, sun dried, chopped in bruschetta, and incinerated into sauces
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Bell Peppers
  • Fennel
  • Artichoke
  • Mushrooms (Truffles)
  • Spinach

And then are the fruits which you will see in the Antipasto or Formaggio e Fruta.

  • Grapes
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Figs

Olives

Olives are a staple Mediterranean produce but it’s importance deserves it’s own category. You can see olives as a topping or playing a part in the antipasto, but the most value formed is in olive oil.

Non-Veg

Fish – due to the closeness to the water, seafood plays a prominent role in this area. From anchovies and sardines, to tuna and shrimp, crab, mussels.

Poultry – chicken does play a role in the cuisine but not as prominent. Eggs can be seen in frittatas but eaten modestly.

Meats – the southern region of Italy was traditionally poorer and thus meat was reserved for special occasions. You will see more meat in the north but still modestly.

Legumes/Nutes

  • Chickpeas
  • Cannellini Beans
  • Pine Nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds

Cheeses

Fresh cheese is prized in regions around Italy and will be used in variety of ways from toppings, to mixing into pastas, or eaten as part of an antipasto dish.

  • Parmesan
  • Mozzarella
  • Romano
  • Gorgonzola
  • Ricotta

Herbs/Spices

Letting flavors shine through it a big part of the cuisine so herbs are used opposed to heavy spices. Other than the below, you will see salt/pepper, wine, olive oil, and vinegar for flavorings.

  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary

North Italian vs South Italian 

Regionalism plays a large role in Italian cuisine. Unfortunately breaking down the 20 something regions wouldn’t be time or knowledge effective. In the north you will see more grains, a variety of cheeses, and more meats such as sausage and pork. In the south you will see a lot more produce, olive oil, and fishes.