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
Every chef is also a little bit of a food historian. To understand a dish, it’s important to know its history, and that’s especially true of cuisines with a rich and illustrious history. The Italian food you love today has a colorful history that stretches back millennia to the food that graced ancient Roman tables. Even one of Italy’s most famous creations, the pizza, goes farther back than you might think. Even Julius Caesar may have eaten something we would recognize as a kind of pizza, but he didn’t get to enjoy a New York slice the way we know it.
The classic Neapolitan pizza wasn’t created until the late 1800s. Until southern Italy got a taste of tangy tomatoes and adapted them to their menu, there could be no familiar pizza sauce. That’s about two millennia too late for Caesar to have enjoyed a red sauce, but Caesar probably did enjoy another condiment that isn’t as well-known today: liquamen. Liquamen, a salty fish-based sauce that probably tasted much like anchovies, was a favorite for Romans of every status, and bottles of it were as likely to be found on Caesar’s table for a state banquet as on the kitchen table in the home of a farmer or merchant.
Caesar could have enjoyed his liquamen with something that is familiar to any pizza-lover – a crisp, flat round of flavorful, yeasty bread. The ancient Romans loved great bread as much as Italians today appreciate it, and they were inventive with how they served it. It’s no wonder, then, that some Romans enjoyed their focaccia-like bread with a topping or filling. Stacks of the bread were served on Roman tables to let guests enjoy plain, drizzled with olive oil or folded around a bite of meat or cheese. In fact, the word “pizza” was around before the concept as it’s known today, being used first about a thousand years ago to describe a flatbread with something tasty atop it.
As for those toppings, Caesar would be familiar with most of today’s options. Italian sausage redolent of fennel would have been a familiar sight on any well-to-do Roman’s table, and prosciutto’s history goes back to Julius Caesar’s era; ham in all its forms was a favorite for Romans. Pepperoni and salami would have been reserved for honored guests; the black pepper that gives them their characteristic taste was as precious as gold in ancient Rome. Onions, mushrooms and olives were completely familiar to the Roman table, too, and they were often served as condiments with bread. About the only common pizza toppings that would seem truly strange to the Roman emperor are green peppers and tomatoes, both New World foods that Europeans had not yet encountered.
For many aficionados, pizza is all about the cheese. All of the cheeses that top a modern-day pizza would have been available to Caesar’s kitchen, too. Mozzarella cheese is made fresh with ingredients that would have been available to any Roman chef. Milk, rennet, lemons and salt were part of the Roman pantry, and they enjoyed fresh cheese with their meals as much as modern diners. A grating of Parmesan cheese is the finishing touch for pizza and other Italian dishes, but the Romans likely ate a similar cheese centuries ago. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese had already been perfected in Parma more than a thousand years ago, so it’s likely that the hard cheeses described by Roman contemporaries of Julius Caesar tasted a lot like the current version.
In one sense, Julius Caesar never ate a pizza because he didn’t have some of its main ingredients. However, he probably ate something quite similar to it, albeit with liquamen instead of tomato sauce atop it. The next time you grab a slice of pizza, think about the history behind each bite; it’s one of the things that makes Italian food so exciting!Tweet read more