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
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
Of all the elements of a perfect pizza, the toppings grab most of the attention. Mellow mozzarella, homemade sausage, pungent onions and other great pizza toppings deserve their spotlight, but it’s the rich, tangy tomato sauce that creates the stage for them. You’ll find cans of sauce on the shelves, but once you’ve tasted the concentrated flavor of freshly made pizza sauce, you’ll be spoiled for anything less. At Carlino’s, our sauce is a big part of what makes our pizzas so special. We’d like to share a few of our secrets for a great sauce.
Pick the Right Tomatoes
Many cooks reach for the best-looking tomatoes they can find, but those big, juicy beefsteak tomatoes that taste terrific on a sandwich are exactly wrong for pizza sauce. Instead, hunt for smaller, firmer Italian tomatoes. You’ll also see them labeled as Roma tomatoes or plum tomatoes. A rich red color and a strong tomato scent tell you when the tomatoes are just right for sauce.
The tastiest sauce comes from layering flavors, so you’ll also want to seek out the queen of sauce tomatoes, the San Marzano. These long, thin tomatoes are related to Roma varieties, but they’re sweeter and more potent than their plum-shaped counterparts. Getting fresh San Marzano tomatoes shipped from Naples is a challenge for home chefs, so you can also use a San Marzano tomato paste from the gourmet aisle of your local market.
Prepare for Saucing
Tomato sauce requires peeling your tomatoes, but if you’ve ever tried to peel a raw tomato, you know it’s a challenge. There’s a trick to it: blanching. Dunking the fresh tomatoes in boiling water, cooking them for a few seconds until their skins begin to split and transferring them to a bath of ice water makes them easy to peel. Because they don’t stay in the boiling water long, they keep their flavor while shedding their skins. Once you’ve peeled your tomatoes, split them and remove the pulp and seeds with your fingers. You can do this step over a strainer placed over a bowl to reserve the juice for other recipes.
Tomatoes are the star of the sauce, but at Carlino’s, other flavorful ingredients play important roles too. Diced onions and garlic simmer with the tomatoes and impart their distinctive flavors to the finished sauce. Save the stems from fresh basil and oregano to give the sauce a more complex bouquet. If you’re using dried herbs, rub them between your palms to release their flavorful essential oils as you add them to the sauce.
Proportions for pizza sauce vary by taste, and every chef has a signature blend of ingredients. Chef Wali likes to start by covering the bottom of the pot with diced onions and letting them brown in a splash of olive oil. When the onions are brown, the garlic goes in the pot. Stir the mixture frequently to keep the garlic from overcooking; singed garlic tastes bitter and can spoil an otherwise great pizza sauce. After a few minutes to soften the garlic, add peeled, seeded tomatoes and fresh herb stems if you have them.
The perfect pizza sauce is slow simmered over low heat that produces a natural sweetness. The real secret to a perfect pizza sauce is frequent tasting. If you love the milder taste of fresh tomatoes, simmer your sauce for half an hour or so. We prefer a bold and sweet taste that stands up to the vibrant flavors of our toppings and our fresh homemade mozzarella. So we create our sauce every day and simmer it for hours to reduce the liquid and turn it into the sweet, thick and rich signature style that’s made our award winning pizza and Italian dishes famous.Tweet read more