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
To the French, it’s joie de vivre; to the Italians, it’s che gioia vivere. Either way, it means the same thing: the joy of living. For Italians, the phrase describes the way they embrace every experience as one to be savored. From great music to fine art to outstanding food, every Italian considers certain pleasures a birthright. Love, Italian style isn’t just an ordinary romance; it’s seeing the romance in everything.
Art in Italy
If you were to list the world’s most exquisite artists, Italians would be represented more than any other culture. Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Botticelli, Michelangelo and others changed the face of visual art and sculpture. The Renaissance began in Italy’s studios and libraries. One reason for this artistic flowering is Italy’s natural beauty, but part of it might also be the Italian psyche. To create something beautiful, an artist must first be sensitive enough to see beauty. Their eye for beauty didn’t keep Italian painters and sculptors from unstinting realism, though. The simplest horse drawings in da Vinci’s notebooks had an earthy, muscular presence along with their grace.
Art in Italy has never meant frescoes and sculpture alone. Every building, landscape or wardrobe is another occasion to make something beautiful. From vintage Venetian Carnevale masks to the latest Milanese fashions, opulent Italian style is a delight to wear and to see. Unlike the heavy, brooding Gothic architecture that evolved in other countries, early Renaissance architects designed piazzas and public buildings filled with light and clean, simple lines. These Italian artists in plaster and stone paid homage to the simple elegance of Roman architecture and added their own sophisticated polish. Modern Italian buildings still evoke the grace of their Renaissance roots because Italians still appreciate the beauty of a Mediterranean sun slanting through Venetian glass windows.
Magnificent Music and Movies
No other country could have created the pageantry and passion that is opera. Combining the best of a stage play with music as memorable today as it was when it was written hundreds of years ago, opera is still dominated by the Italian influence. That Italian gioia di vivere makes itself known in every soaring aria. Like all Italian art forms, opera combines refinement with a rustic charm that shines through in comic operas.
Opera isn’t Italy’s only contribution to great music. Great Italian, Italian-American and Sicilian-American performers like Louie Prima, Connie Francis, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra brought Italian passion to everything they did. The legendary Tony Bennett is still thrilling new generations of fans.
From Federico Fellini to Roberto Benigni, Italian filmmakers have become famous for their richly complex movies. Kaleidoscopic art-house films and emotionally moving masterpieces like “Life Is Beautiful” are equally emblematic of Italy’s thriving and varied movie industry.
Great Italian Food
An Italian dinner doesn’t just fill you up; it fills your senses. Peppers, tomatoes and fresh greens let you feast your eyes before you taste the first courses of your meal. Even the textures of crunchy bruschetta or creamy mozzarella in an insalata Caprese contribute to the diner’s delight. The Italian love of food is an appreciation for how it pleases every sense. Home cooking – or restaurant cooking that comes from the heart – is better than any overly precious plate of nouvelle cuisine to an Italian because it’s made with love.
Every Italian believes a meal is incomplete without at least a little time to savor food, wine and conversation – even for a quick lunch. Even when pressed for time and grabbing a quick bite, Italians chat as they eat. Whenever possible, friends and family gather for dinners, turning them into convivial events. As great as the food tastes, it’s improved with good company. It’s okay to leave food on the plate because you’re busy talking and laughing; Italians believe it’s more important to live in the moment. Dessert is just another reason to spend time in the company of those you love best, so linger over that slice of tiramisu.
With the beginning of Lent on February 13, Roman Catholics throughout the world observe the season by forgoing meat. Some say goodbye to red meat altogether while others skip it only on Fridays, but giving something up for Lent is part of a centuries-old tradition. For observant Catholics, vegetarians and lovers of Italian food, many meatless meals may feel more like an indulgence than abstinence.
Salads are an excellent way to start a lunch or dinner at any time of year, and they fit beautifully with Lenten observations or vegetarian dining. The key to a perfect salad is combining the right flavors and textures. The best salads incorporate tangy, rich, crunchy, salty and sweet flavors and textures in the right proportions. Carlino’s fruit salad is a great example; with sweet fruit, crisp mesclun greens, rich and salty Romano cheese and tangy balsamic dressing, it hits all the high points. Without the cheese, the salad goes from vegetarian to vegan.
Pasta is a perfect base for meatless dining. Topped with shrimp or clams, it’s a Lenten classic; with vegetables and a delicate cream sauce, it’s a taste of spring in any season. Meatless marinara sauce rich with garlic, basil and olive oil is all a great plate of pasta needs sometimes. Who says Lenten meals have to be dull? No one who’s ever tried pasta puttanesca, certainly. With its briny capers and pungent anchovies, this luscious dish packs enough flavor to keep anyone from missing meat.
During Lent, consider making vegetables the star of the show instead of a side dish. Eggplant, broccoli rabe and portobello mushrooms get regal treatment from Italian cuisine and deserve their share of the spotlight. Try an eggplant parmigiano sandwich for lunch or an eggplant rollatine bursting with flavorful mozzarella for dinner and discover how versatile the vegetable can be. Carlino’s has a wide variety of sandwiches that are perfect during Lent or at any time of the year.
Pizza, America’s favorite food, is also a great Lenten meal if you choose the right toppings. Skip the sausage and go heavy on the vegetables for a healthy, flavorful pizza. Anchovies and shrimp are also fine for those observing Lent and for pescetarians. All of Carlino’s pizzas are made to order, so let us know if you have special requests for toppings.
Seafood of any sort has long been a staple for Lent. Finding flavorful fish, shrimp and clams may be a challenge in some parts of the country, but New Yorkers don’t have to suffer through their seafood dishes. Clams Posillipo, tender mussels and buttery shrimp scampi are at their best near the coast. Spicy shrimp fra diavolo may have a wicked-sounding name, but the piquant dish is as virtuous as any Lenten meal. Lobster, one of the most luxurious foods you can enjoy, is also welcome on the table for Lent.
The beauty of Italian food is its inclusiveness. No matter what you eat or how you eat it, you’ll find something to please your palate. It’s the perfect solution for large parties because everyone can enjoy something on the menu. With hundreds of years of experience creating phenomenal feasts for Lent, Italian food is excellent for vegetarian and vegan diners as well as observant Catholics. Those who like to indulge in a sausage pizza or spaghetti with meatballs will find all these favorites on the menu, too.
Let our meatless, vegetarian and vegan choices surprise and delight you by dining in with us or ordering for delivery.Tweet read more