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
One of the greatest baseball players in history and a cultural icon off the field as well, “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio was an American legend with Italian roots. Born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, he eventually Anglicized his name, but he never lost his appreciation for the home-cooked Italian food he ate as a child. His reputation for staying close to his fans meant he often visited the same restaurants and sidewalk food stands they enjoyed, a fact that must have stunned other diners who recognized the handsome athlete at a neighboring table.
Joe’s early life as the eighth son of first-generation Italian-American parents meant he grew up on a combination of traditional southern Italian fare and classic early 20th-century American dishes. During the first World War when he was still a toddler, his family observed the same “meatless Mondays” that most families did to conserve resources for the war effort. The colorful Sicilian and southern Italian meals his mother made kept meatless Mondays from becoming dull and helped the young DiMaggio grow into the promising young athlete he would become.
Today, professional athletes depend on a team of nutritionists and dietitians to counsel their eating habits, but Joe came from a different era. The previous baseball great, Babe Ruth, was famous for his dietary indulgences, but DiMaggio ate a training diet that plenty of present-day athletes would find fairly familiar. With plenty of meat and eggs for protein and pasta or other carbohydrates for fuel, Joe’s usual menu during his career wasn’t too far off from the training tables in today’s MBA or NFL facilities, albeit with more red meat and dairy foods. He also appreciated an all-American New York hot dog or three.
Despite his fame as one of the best athletes ever to play the game, DiMaggio wasn’t content to be a hero on the baseball diamond. In 1943, he enlisted in the Air Force. Although he didn’t see combat duty and mostly participated in exhibition games and morale-boosting events, he still played a key role in the war effort and sought to do more. When he realized his relatively soft life had actually put ten pounds on his lanky frame instead of whipping him into shape, he requested a combat rotation but was declined. Just before the war’s end in 1945, DiMaggio was discharged for stomach ulcers, a problem for which doctors of the time recommended drinking plenty of milk and forgoing spicy foods.
If the Yankee Clipper was famous for his incredible performance on the field, especially his still-unbeaten 56-game hitting streak, he later married someone else at least as famous for her performances on the silver screen: Marilyn Monroe. She was initially reluctant to meet him, but when they met in 1954, her reservations about his being a typical athlete melted away; he was gracious, humble and gentlemanly. Their marriage lasted less than a year, but despite their incredibly high-profile personas, they tried to lead a normal married life, often cooking dinner together when their schedules permitted. One of their favorite foods was a simple broiled steak with a salad or some carrots on the side.
All of Joe’s life was a rags-to-riches story in the greatest American tradition, but he never lost the humility that kept him grounded. He frequented the meat-and-potatoes men’s club Toots Shor’s rather than Sardi’s and purportedly preferred a hot dog from a street vendor or a plate of garlicky spaghetti to the overly refined fare that was considered stylish in the 1950s and ’60s. After he ate, he’d often give interviews or sign autographs, never tiring of his fans; in turn, they respected the great man enough to let him eat his chops or meatballs in peace.
With his natural grace and quiet humility, DiMaggio was an American legend, but his Italian heritage helped endear him to the Italian-American community.Tweet read more
For us, Easter Sunday might bring thoughts of egg hunts, Easter bonnets and chocolate bunnies, but the holiday has a different feel in other parts of the world. Marked with the solemnity of its religious origins and the lightheartedness of spring’s rebirth, Easter has a long and colorful history that even retains elements of ancient Roman festivals.
Russia and Eastern Europe
Russian and Eastern European countries’ Easter celebrations are most famous for their incredibly detailed decorated eggs. These aren’t the simple hard-boiled and dyed eggs most of us know for Easter; these works of art are often meant to be displayed for years. The eggs are a hold-over from the earliest celebrations of spring’s renewal. They represented new beginnings and fertility, and adorning them with festive decorations is a practice that predates not only Christianity but also recorded history; no one’s quite sure when the practice began. However, the Romans almost certainly contributed to the custom, carrying it to all corners of the far-flung Roman Empire.
While Easter Sunday is solemn, the Monday afterward is celebratory throughout Eastern Europe. It’s tradition to spank others with decorated willow switches – think of the friendly swats you might get on your birthday or the affectionate pinch you’d get if you forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Water-fights are also common, especially in Poland.
The dinner table almost always includes a ham, eggs and bread, often marked in the shape of a cross to honor the religious roots of the celebration. Some traditions also include cracking boiled eggs with a nail to symbolize Christ’s suffering.
Greek Orthodox traditions start with celebrations on Great Thursday with eggs dyed red and placed on altars or ikons. Easter is a more solemn holiday than it is elsewhere; traditional and devout households consider the next few days a period of mourning. On Holy Friday, church bells toll in funereal tones and flags fly at half-mast. Saturday’s observances have a distinctly modern twist; the Eternal Flame travels to Greece from Jerusalem by jet, a trip that used to be considerably longer. Each church gets its own flame that remains lit throughout the remainder of the week.
On Easter Sunday, the somber tone of the holy week is transformed to a joyful celebration. Whole spit-roasted lamb is a traditional centerpiece to an Easter feast, but any kind of lamb dish can work for those who don’t have time or space for a whole lamb. Heaps of delicacies grace every table, and the retsina and ouzo flow freely throughout the day. It’s no wonder, then, that Easter Monday is a time of restful contemplation in the Greek tradition.
The home of the Roman Catholic Church and of pre-Christian Roman celebrations of spring naturally has its own rich Easter traditions. It’s second only to Christmas in its importance socially, and for many devout Italians, it’s the most solemn feast in the liturgical calendar. Good Friday is filled with more solemn observances, including blessings from parish priests and meatless Lenten meals, but Sunday is a day for celebration.
Easter Sunday is for feasting on pork, lamb and veal as well as sweet treats in the shape of eggs. Chocolate eggs are as beloved in Italy as they are here for Easter, and the Italians have turned decorating the candies into an art form. Bakeries try to outdo each other with lavish confections and iced cakes. The colomba pasquale, or Easter dove, is a special sweetened, yeast-leavened Easter bread that is Easter’s counterpart to the traditional Christmas panettone.
Florence has a unique tradition, the Scoppio del Carro, loosely translated as the Bursting of the Cart. A cart filled with fireworks is paraded through the streets and set alight with flints from the Holy Sepulchre, bringing together a religious tradition with one that predates Christianity in a unique event that celebrates spring with a bang.
Whether you celebrate Easter as a traditional Christian holiday or as a celebration of spring’s arrival, Carlino’s wishes you Buona Pasqua!Tweet read more