There is a saying that states ‘one either lives to eat or eats to live’ and Italy as a country is ruled by the former. Italy is a culture that is rich and saturated in their traditions of cooking. They take pride in their food and live by the credo that food is only used if it is fresh, local and in season. There has been much debate on what defines Italian food and through research one can see that Italian food is not typical of a specific dish, rather that each region offers a new variance of depth and originality that is not common to the Americanized beliefs of solely pasta and pizza. Yes one could lump Italian food into categories such as breads, pasta, olive oil, cured meats and cheese but each of these foods is made in such a different way depending on the region that to really understand the country and the roots of its food one must look deeper into the individual regions. The twenty regions of Italy, as shown in Figure 1 are full of their individual gastronomy and it would take days to discuss all of them. For the purpose of this research paper the regions of Piedmont, Tuscany, and Sicily will represent the regional cuisines from northern, central and southern Italy. This paper will describe the cuisines of each region through the geography, starches, fats, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy, comparing differences that exist from one region to another and the connection between diet and the domestic capacity to provide the necessary ingredients. This paper will go on to discuss the health benefits of the Italian Mediterranean diet and what the country has done to sustain it.
Figure 1: Regional Map of Italy
Source: Kostioukovitch, E. (2009). Why Italians love to talk about food. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. ix. Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Ward.
Taste of Northern Italy: Piedmont
Food in the north has made a big impact on the culture of northerners as regions gather at festivals and parties to celebrate the harvesting of produce. Using Piedmont as an example, this section will discuss the traditional foods and dishes found in northern Italy and the regions domestic capacity to produce them. These foods are based largely on rice and polenta instead of pasta that is typically found in the south, game animals such as pheasants or wild fowl, the use of butter and lard instead of olive oil and of course magnificent cheeses. Piedmont is situated in the northeast of Italy bordering France and Switzerland and focuses on rich hearty meals. Piedmont is Italy’s wealthiest region and their gastronomy is known for being French inspired focusing on refinement and perfectionism (Thorn, 2005). Piedmont has the greatest agricultural differences in all of Italy due to its variety in topography. The land there is comprised of mountains, the Alps, which transform into rolling hills, low valleys and high river beds. Much like the rest of Italy Piedmontese pride themselves on using seasonal, fresh and local ingredients (Roden, 1990).
Pasta is not as popular in the north as it is in the south therefore the people of Piedmont rely on polenta and rice as the starch in their diet. Polenta was once considered peasant food and its growth is celebrated on the last Sunday of April each year. Polenta accompanies many meat and vegetable dishes such as puccia which contains pork, cabbage, butter, polenta and seasonal vegetables (Riley, 2007). Rice based dishes are at the fore front of Piedmontese cooking as they hold over half of Italy’s rice growing land and export approximately 70% around the word (Blengini & Busto, 2009). The most well known varieties of rice produced are Arborio and Carnaroli. One of the most popular dishes made with rice in Piedmont is called risotto which can be mixed with frogs that are found in the rice fields, cheese and wild mushrooms (Costanzia, 2009).
Due to the varying geography Piedmont has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In the hills apples, peaches,...