Italy’s a compact country about the length of California, but the culinary differences between northern Italian food and southern Italian dishes are tremendous. While northern Italians love their rich cream sauces, polenta and stuffed meats, people in the south embrace flavors such as tangy tomato sauces, olive oil and fresh steamed seafood. Both north and south have contributed their share to classic Italian cuisine, but each region has its own distinct set of flavors.
Southern Italian Cuisine
Southern Italian cooking features the bright, lively Mediterranean taste that most people associate with Italian cuisine. From salad greens to seafood, freshness is paramount to southern Italian chefs. Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes thrive in the warm southern Italian climate, and they form the basis for some of the region’s most-beloved dishes. Eggplant parmigiana, tangy marinara sauce and minestrone enlivened with fresh herbs are southern classics. The wealth of great tomatoes led to the invention of Italy’s most popular food worldwide: pizza.
The Neapolitan pizza margherita combines the best of southern Italy in one delicious dish. Fresh tomatoes, creamy mozzarella cheese and a few leaves of peppery sweet basil turn a simply prepared crust into a feast. Purists can opt for the traditional pizza or choose some of the region’s other delicacies as toppings. Anchovies, freshly made sweet sausage, diced peppers and onions are practically made to go with pizza.
While northern Italy runs on butter, southern Italy makes the most of its abundance of olive oils. Olives grow beautifully in warm Mediterranean climates, but nowhere has olive oil become a greater culinary art form than in Italy. From deep green oils meant for salads to light yellow oils perfect for putting a golden crust on a piece of pan-seared fresh fish, olive oil is a southern Italian icon. You’ll find it in the kitchen and on the table as a dipping medium for the region’s crusty, open-textured breads.
Northern Italian Fare
Thanks to its mountainous terrain and its proximity to Switzerland, Austria and France, northern Italy loves the land. The Piemonte and Lombardia regions of northern Italy are prime cattle country, and their cuisine shows it. Butter-based sauces rich with cream grace northern Italian tables just as they do in France, but Italian chefs put their own delicious spin on them with fresh herbs and garlic. Stews and soups with the beef so abundant in the area are popular in the winter, but spring is for succulent veal. Thin breaded veal cutlets are as popular in Italy as they are in nearby Austria.
Hard sausages of every description helped northern Italians weather winters that came early to mountain valleys. Salami and other salted, preserved meats such as prosciutto are northern Italian delicacies that have gone worldwide. The Emilia-Romagna region of central northern Italy is home to prosciutto di Parma and another product synonymous with great Italian food: Parmesan cheese.
The mountainous terrain at the foot of the Italian Alps lends itself to pastures rather than fields, so cheese has been a staple for centuries. The sheep, goats and cows that graze there produce the milk that goes into Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, asiago and gorgonzola cheeses. With their variety of textures and tastes, northern Italian cheeses complement northern and southern dishes alike.
Whether you prefer a dish inspired by northern Italian cooking such as fettuccine Alfredo or a southern delight such as a Neapolitan pizza, you’ll find the same commitment to bold yet balanced flavor common to all great Italian cooking.Tweet read more
Italians and Italian-Americans have a deep appreciation for history, even if it’s a personal history. For many of them, Sunday dinners are at the heart of those personal histories, and stories about memorable Sunday meals live for decades in the retelling.
Unlike hurried weekday meals that might be eaten in front of the television or in between the end of the school day and the beginning of dance or karate class, Sunday dinners were leisurely affairs in most households. The food was a little bit more special, too; with time to roast a chicken or prepare a marinara sauce that simmered on the stove for hours, a Sunday meal often felt more like a feast. For many families, it was the one day of the week during which everyone could relax and spend the day together.
Each family gathering had its own Sunday traditions. In some families, it was choosing someone for the honor of saying grace. In others, it was finishing dinner in time to spend the afternoon playing outside or cheering the local football team together. The food was always the centerpiece, but every family had a special Sunday menu or two. Tender veal scaloppini, a roast chicken, spaghetti and meatballs – whatever it was, its aroma and taste became inextricably linked with happy family memories for everyone around the table.
What really made Sundays special, though, was the company. Visiting relatives and close friends were more likely to share the table on a Sunday than for any other day. Dressing for dinner might not have been important for other days, but for Sundays, it was a way to show guests they were special enough to merit the extra effort. At the same time, Sunday dinners still felt serene in a way that special-occasion meals like holiday gatherings didn’t. On Sundays, kids could get away with a few pranks and pratfalls that wouldn’t work during a once-a-year Thanksgiving dinner.
Think back to your own favorite Sunday dinners and what made them special to you. Perhaps it was a time to see the friends and family you hadn’t seen in a while, or maybe it was just good to spend more leisurely time with the people you saw every day. If you’re seeking inspiration this holiday season, or if you’re simply looking for a great read that will get you thinking about your own personal history, we recommend Dr. Ed Iannuccilli’s book, What Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner?
For Carlo, Sunday dinners were a special treat. The food on the table was simple, but his mother served it with the pride and panache of a top chef revealing a masterpiece and the atmosphere was always celebratory on Sundays. She’d been in the kitchen cooking all day and that could only mean something exceptional. Whether it was chicken cacciatore or succulent veal involtini, everyone knew they were in for a special delight.Tweet read more
Pizza is a worldwide phenomenon now, but the popular pie’s roots are sunk deep in the fertile soil of the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Naples, the ancestral home of pizza, still produces some of the world’s best pies thanks to its unique geography. Flat breads and cheese were part of many other Italian cities’ cuisines, but the world had to wait for Neapolitan chefs to combine the region’s flavorful tomato sauce with a crisp dough and slices of mellow mozzarella cheese to create the first true pizza.
A classic pizza Napolitano relies on only three elements: tomato sauce, cheese and crust. Because it has so few ingredients, each must be top quality to produce a perfect pizza. Neapolitans grow their long, narrow San Marzano tomatoes in the region’s mineral-rich volcanic soil and cook them slowly into a robust red sauce. Carlino’s embraces this same philosophy, making pizza sauce fresh from flavorful tomatoes.
Only real mozzarella cheese will do for an authentic pizza Napolitano. Mozzarella, a young cheese that doesn’t need to age like a Parmigiano or Pecorino, melts and toasts without burning due to its high water content. Its special characteristics make mozzarella what some would call the most important aspect of a proper pizza.
The crust of a pizza Napolitano is more than just a carrier for toppings. It’s a flavor in its own right, and its characteristic blend of crispness and chewiness gives a classic pizza its mouth-pleasing texture. While the earliest Neapolitan pizzas had thin crusts, modern residents now have a choice of thin crust or the thicker crust favored by their more southerly Sicilian neighbors.
Sample the original with Carlino’s classic pizza Napolitano or enjoy one of many variations on this delicious theme with toppings that incorporate the fresh, authentic flavors of Italy.Tweet read more