Italian cuisine is known and savoured throughout the world. From the delicious pasta sauces and the crisp stone-baked pizzas, to risotto and parmesan cheese and tasty cured ham, the country has it all. When in Italy, however, it’s worth noting that each region has its own distinct dishes and traditions and although you can find pizza and pasta throughout the country, knowing what the region you’re holidaying in does best, will bring out the best in flavours, and your taste buds will be forever grateful. ´
Campania’s Neapolitan Pizza
Although the Americans have taken the pizza on as a national dish of their own, it was originally invented in this region. In Naples the main focus of the pizza is to get great flavours out of few ingredients. If you thought a Margherita pizza was a boring choice on the menu, you haven’t been to Naples. Fresh buffalo mozzarella perfectly melted into the rich tomato sauce and with basil leaves sprinkled on top, this simple recipe will beat any pizza that you’ve ever tasted. Also, you might struggle to find a restaurant that serves pre-cut slices, as this dish is traditionally eaten with knife and fork.
Florentine Steak in Tuscany
Italy might not be known for its steakhouses, despite the green pastures that abound with cattle in the northern regions. One city, however, has steak as its main culinary treat, and if you find yourself in the romantic city of Florence, you’ve not dined out properly until you’ve sunk your teeth into the mouth-watering Bistecca alla Fiorentina. A giant cut of T-bone steak sourced from the local Maremmana cattle, the beef is grilled over an open fire and seasoned only with salt, pepper, oil and sometimes lemon. This meaty dish is best consumed with a glass of delicious Tuscan wine to complement it.
Roman Carbonara in Lazio
The international version of the pasta carbonara often consists of slices of cured ham and mushroom turned in a rich, creamy sauce. The original carbonara, though, follows a slightly different recipe. Focusing simply on eggs, parmesan or pecorino cheese, pancetta and black pepper this is a tasty minimalist treat. There are various stories behind the origins of this dish, some claim that it’s named after the charcoal men (carbonari), who would also be selling eggs and bacon, while others say that it originated after the Second World War via Allied soldiers providing eggs and bacon. Regardless of how it came about, the fact remains that an Roman holiday should have this on the itinerary.
Tagliatelle Ragu in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna
The two conjoined regions of Emilia-Romagna are home to some of the most famous (and delicious) foods in Italy. From parmesan to prosciutto, and tortellinis to lasagne, this is one of the culinary strongholds in Italy. In the regional capital of Bologna, you’ll find one of the tastiest pasta dishes. Known throughout the world as Bolognese sauce, the ragu is best sampled in a local restaurant in Bologna, where the flavours from the local produce make the dish come alive. Served with tagliatelle rather than spaghetti, the rich, meaty sauce comes with shavings of local parmesan cheese and is not to be missed if you’re staying in this region.
Okay, admittedly not a dish on its own, the cannolo is a sweet dessert, which I think we need after the four hearty dishes that we have just made our way through. These tasty pastry tubes are native to Sicily in the south and sum up the rich history of the island. Cannolo loosely translates as “small cane” and refer to when the Arabs introduced sugar to Sicily and thus giving dessert makers a new type of sweetener, rather than honey. This dessert basically consists of crust (the thinner the better) and creamy, sugar-sweetened ricotta cheese as filling. Served chilled in a local café or restaurant will make even the hottest day on Sicily seem delightful.