Italy's Food & Drink - the History of Italian Cooking

If you're planning a holiday to Italy just make sure you pack your eating trousers. Italian food is more than a form of nourishment; it's a way of life in a country where family, friendship and feasts are all indelibly linked.

Italians will tell you that there's no such thing as 'Italian' food per se. As a nation Italy is still in its relative infancy - for hundreds of years the country was divided into city states and each was governed individually (see Italian history for more information). Regional cuisine quickly emerged and because the areas were so autonomous, the cuisine didn't travel from place to place. As a result, the food you'll encounter in Tuscany will be dramatically different than the food on the streets of Naples or Sicily.

For hundreds of years Italian cooking has followed a very simple principle: food is best when it's cooked fresh and in season. Italians don't import a lot of produce - they cook what is grown locally and what they can buy locally. This goes a way to explaining the diversity of Italian cuisine. While the top of the country borders Switzerland, France and Austria, the Mediterranean south is closer to North Africa than Europe. And these geographical differences are reflected in the regions' dishes.

The north of Italy boasts wide plains, ideal for grazing cattle. As a result the northern Italian menu features butter, cream, cheese and a lot of beef. No cows are farmed in the south, but sheep, goats and chickens thrive here and feature more heavily on the dinner table.

Of course some famous Italian dishes have become cornerstones of a western diet. Pizza and pasta are popular the world over, and the average Italian consumes 28kg of pasta each year. You also have the Italians to thank for risotto, parmesan, and salami.

Each Italian region is renowned for its special dishes and this diversity is precisely what makes an Italian holiday a dream come true for foodies.

The Liguria region is known as the birthplace of pesto and succulent fresh fish, but Ligurians don't use tomato-based sauces. Instead, tomatoes are king in Sicily, where cuisine is strongly influenced by the island's Greek, Arabic and African history. Sicily also has a reputation for producing some of the best Italian desserts.

In Milan and surrounding Lombardy, rice is eaten more than pasta, and risotto is big news. Lomardy is also the home to delicious gorgonzola and mascarpone cheeses. Polenta is also a diet staple here.

Chocolate was made in Turin before it was produced in Switzerland, and this region is renowned for growing white truffles and producing excellent wine.

In Puglia, at the heel of the famous Italian boot, seafood is in abundance as three quarters of the region is surrounded by sea.

Tuscany produces some of the most famous Italian produce - black and white truffles and pork products; while salami, Parma ham and parmesan cheese all call the Emilia-Romagna region home.

If you've still got room, drink is an integral part of the Italian dining experience. Children grow up drinking the country's wines with meals, and coffee is literally the fuel that powers Italian society. Italians are also partial to a digestivi, an after dinner liqueur like grappa (made from the skins of grapes), amaretto, sambuca or limoncello.

Also see..... Spanish Food - Arabic Food - Belgian Food - French Food - Maltese Food - Foods of Portugal - Turkish Food - Cyprus Food - Thailand Food - Provence Food France - Majorca Food - Camping Food for Kilimanjaro - Greek Food - Burgundy Food France - Alsace Food France - Basque Food - Languedoc Rousillon Food - French Food - Normandy Food

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