Regional Italian Cuisines
The Piedmontese have two boasts: they created a united Italy and they have the best cuisine in Italy. They are certainly justified in their first claim, because it was due to Piedmont and the monarchs of the House of Savoy, as well as to all of the country’s patriots, that Italy assumed the character and dignity of an independent state during the last century. As to the second point can be said that they have a good argument, since Piedmont produces many of the best food products and wines of Italy, some of which, as in the case of the white, powerfully scented and costly truffle of Alba, are unequaled anywhere in the world. It is precisely because of the difficulty of exporting products that are so delicate and so much appreciated at home that Piedmontese cuisine has not been widely diffused outside the regions territory, whether in Italy or abroad.
When anyone has the good fortune to come across a restaurant that has succeeded, despite the great difficulty involved in securing the means of providing authentic Piedmontese preparations, he or she is certain to enjoy a truly memorable gastronomic experience. This is true, first of all, because of the incredible variety of antipasti or appetizers, which alone are sufficient to make a meal. Then there are the extraordinary and multitudinous risotti prepared with the rice grown in the vast paddies around Novara and Vercelli in the northeastern part of the region The pasta dishes are just as inviting, although limited to those freshly made and containing eggs. Particularly delicious are the taglierini and the agnolotti flavored with the juice of roasted meats, or butter, or served in broth, or enriched with truffles. The fritto misto is a magnificient dish in which meats, vegetables and other ingredients are fried separately and then brought together in an ensemble that is the joy of any gourmet. The desserts are superb. They, like other dishes, show the strong influence exerted on Piedmont by nearby France. The bill of fare is rounded out by savory cheeses of great character. Piedmont also means wine to people throughout the world. Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Nebbiolo and many others have outstanding reputations.
The Aosta Valley
Like Piedmont, but even more so, the Aosta Valley reflects the influence of neighboring France in its culture and language, as well as in its cuisine. However, Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, along with neighboring regions of French culture, were united for centuries in a territorial entity that was subject to the rule of the House of Savoy. During that period, an extremely high degree of unity was attained, even from a gastronomic standpoint, in Italy as in France. The characteristics of that unity were rather exclusive, as is customary in all mountainous areas. While the Piedmontese emigrated in substantial numbers to France and the Americas, the inhabitants of the Aosta Valley refused to abandon their mountains because of their attachment to their region which they refer to, in French, as the petite patrie or little homeland. Consequently, it is not easy to find restaurants in the United States specializing in the cuisine of the valley, although many of the dishes are available in the restaurants of Piedmont.
A valley meal certainly does not fit within the framework of the Mediterranean diet because of the predominance of the meat of large animals and especially the general use of butter and lard, although olive oil is beginning to gain headway. This mountain cooking is dominated by hearty, warming soups, like the valpellinentse, formidable sausages and exquisite cheeses, especially formidable, which is as famous throughout the world as other Italian cheeses like parmigiano and gorgonzola and forms the base of an exceptional preparation, fonduta. The valley wines are highly appealing, but are not produced in large quantity because of the enormous difficulty involved in cultivating vines in the rocky soil. However, they were known to and appreciated by the ancient Romans.
Liguria is a region with an eminent seafaring tradition that has left its marks on its inhabitants’ way of life and particularly their culinary habits. The cuisine of the Ligurians harbors a contradiction that, on examination, however, turns out to be more apparent than real. There is an ancient predilection for herbs, greens, vegetables, mushrooms and wild berries. That taste, however, can be attributed to the maritime activity of so many of the region s men. After long periods at sea, where they survived on a diet of dried or smoked food, the sailors disembarked with an instinctive and powerful urge to consume foods, especially green plants, that contain large quantities of vitamins, mineral salts and chlorophyll. That explains, as well, the invention of one of the world’s most famous sauces, pesto, which is also found along the nearby French Riviera or Cote d’Azur, where it is known as pistou. It is made with olive oil, which is truly exceptional in Liguria, basil, which, as grown in this region, has a really special scent, and garlic. The sauce is used to flavor many unusual pastas as well as minestrone containing a remarkable abundance of vegetables.
Greens and vegetables also play starring roles in the torta pasqualina. In addition, they are served in savory broths and are stuffed in numerous ways. Among the meat dishes, the rabbit and baby goat are excellent, while fish represents an essential chapter of the region’s cuisine. Ligurian cooks are all masters at preparing tasty soups in an ancient mariner style. Despite some exotic touches, Ligurian cuisine is typical of Mediterranean cooking, with its combination of marine and mountain influences. Both make their contribution to the region’s production of delectable and highly fragrant wines, especially whites.
This region, although definited by its ard refinement, is one of the most modern of the Italian peninsula. Its capital, Milan, is one of Italy’s great cities with a decidedly international character, since it is a point of encounter between Middle and Southern Europe. Its cuisine, therefore, is universal rather than particular. The region’s gastronomy is also difficult to define because there are many important cities in Lombardy each with a great tradition and a rich history. In addition the communities have been strongly influenced by neighboring cultures, such as those of the Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia.
Its geographical character is another element in the region’s diversity, for it includes rugged mountains gentle hills and the flat lush plain of the Po River. There is an abundant water supply, which has made Lombardy a leading producer of rice. As a consequence of its isolation from the sea, Lombardy has almost no seafood tradition, although one is rapidly developing as a result of changing dietary patterns. Today, Milan and Bergamo boast the best fish markets in Italy. However, freshwater fish have always been prepared with outstanding competence. Rice has been more commonly consumed than pasta, but spaghetti has been advancing rapidly in recent years. Pork is appreciated, but less so than the excellent beef and veal, including offal, which is presented in numerous delectable ways.
The regions cheeses are superb. Animal fats – the butter is extraordinarily good – are now giving way to olive oil and the oil produced in the vicinity of Garda Lake is of an incomparable quality. The wines are of high quality and are admirably varied, like the foods. Considerinq all those factors, as well as the foreign influences, including French, Spanish and Austrian, that have leh their impressions on the region, it is difficult to speak of Lombardy’s cooking as an entity. Abroad, the gastronomy is presented as “Milanese cooking and among the many fine preparations served under this heading are three veritable masterpieces: risotto giallo or saffron-flavored rice, ossobuco and cotoletta di vitello alla milanese, which the Austrians, perhaps with justification, refer to as a Wiener Schnitzel.
For most people, especially foreigners, Veneto means Venice. And to say that Venice is the world’s most beautiful city is to go far, perhaps, but not far enough. It is so extraordinary, so unequaled anywhere, that it is almost possible to believe, unless you are residing in it or visiting it, that it may not really exist. It might be only a dream. Venice and Veneto are not just infinite beauty but also history – and what a history! Its republic was proudly, independent for centuries and it was an authentic world and maritime power for much of that time. It was Europe’s gateway to the Orient, as Genoa was the port of the West, the beginning and the end of the great trade routes and the depot for Italy and the whole of Europe of the spices arriving from the East. That background explains the extreme refinement of the region’s gastronomy, for it was shaped by the influences of the coast and the lagoon, the plain and the mountain, as well as other features of the geography of Veneto, which is extremely varied.
It was a cuisine of a level so elevated that it might be considered the counterpart of the cookery of Paris, a city with which Venice competed and of which it was something of a twin in the 15th and succeeding centuries. However, no one should be intimidated by the claims advanced for the finesse of the Venetian cuisine, because anyone who drops into one of the many restaurants offering the region’s specialties abroad will not be offered preparations “intelligible” only to the regal palate of a Doge. It is accessible to all, for it is the creation of a people who take second place to no one in their love of a good life and the pleasures of the table.
Fish, shellfish and seafood in general are prepared with exemplary competence and flair and in a stimulating range of styles. That’s especially true of the baccalà or dried salted cod. Fowl are just as astutely prepared, especially geese, ducks and pigeons, while the Venetians also have a knowing hand with meats associated with mountain pastures, those of sheep and goats. There are many dishes that have international reputations, chief among which is fegato (liver) alla veneziana. As to wines, there is not enough space to do them justice.
Friuli Venezia Giulia
Like almost all of the peninsula’s regions, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s geography is highly varied, ranging from the peaks of the Carnic Alps to the coast, which is washed by a sea abounding in fish. The area alonq the shore is heavily populated with the port of Trieste, as the principal center. That supremely attractive city, which is somewhat off the beaten track for tourists, was the outlet and port of entry for the whole of Central Europe during the period of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire. It and Friuli developed a culture shaped by that role, which also formed the gastronomy and dietary habits of the inhabitants of the city and region. Still today, the cuisine is distinguished by a significant number of foods of Hungarian, Austrian and even Turkish origin it must be remembered that a Turkish army once laid siege to Vienna. However, the region also borders on the Slavic world, a factor that has marked both its language and its gastronomy. Therefore, food in this border region reflects an interesting example of coexistence of different cultures as well as the successful harmonization of the attributes of a variety of societies that owe their existence and differences to geographical factors – mountains, hills, plains and seas.
Fortunately for those who seek out Italian cooking in the United States, the cuisine of Friuli is not difficult to find, since emigration from the region was extremely substantial in the past. In their homeland and abroad, the people of Friuli show in their cooking their pride in being what they are and it is rare to find in their restaurants as in their homes anything that comes from outside the region. But, then, they have everything: the ham of San Daniele, which competes on equal terms with the output of Parma, or of Sauris, exquisite pork dishes, extraordinary soups prepared from legumes, including the noted jota, meats in savory Central European preparations, extraordinary beans, fish presented in tasty fashion in accordance with sensible recipes, enticing desserts and excellent wines, which include Picolit (as rare and precious as Chateau d’Yquem), Tocai, the various Cabernets and Merlot.
Bologna, the capital of the region, was known for many centuries as the Learned and the Fat”. In one of those curious parallels in which the history of Europe abounds and, in particular that of Italy and France, the same description was applied to the French city of Lyons. The shared appellation was due to the fact that, at the beginning of the second millennium, both Bologna and Lyons founded universities of great fame and prestige, which attracted professors and students from every part of the known world. Even more curiosly, “the fat” as an appropriate term to describe the cities was equally applicable because each was the center of a gastronomic tradition and primacy that persist to the present day. Beginning with Bologna, every city of this happy region has its own gastronomic specialties, which, however, are basically its variations on some common denominators: freshly prepared pasta made with eggs, processed pork and cheeses.
Because of the quality and the wholesomeness of those products, Bolognese cuisine has come to be known and appreciated throughout the world and has made the region one of the leading sources of exports of Italian food products. Everyone is familiar with the areas’s pasta – lasagne, tagliatelle, tortellini and many others and its extraordinary cheeses, especially parmigiano, made in the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia. Just as famous are its meat specialities, such as the tasty mortadella and zampone, not to mention the prosciutto di Parma that is so well known that it is simply referred to as Parma in every country of the world. Just as extraordinary are the fried mixed dishes and the bolliti or boiled meat preparations, while the desserts are soft and sumptuous. The wines, which include Lambrusco, Albana and Sangiovese, are particularly adapted to the rich foods so copiously served and consumed in the region, since they also promote good digestion.
When people talk about old Europe and its ancient cities, they often use the expression, “it’s as if time had stood still.” The observation, although somewhat threadbare, is still valid and meaningful as far as this beautiful region of central Italy is concerned. Like the others, it is “between the sky and the sea,” a land of mountains and coasts. Natives of the Marches, or their descendants, are now scattered throughout Italy and the world, and it is not difficult to find then managing a restaurant or a hotel in almost any city and country.
Since they are a conservative people, their cuisine has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries and it is based on an incredibly well-stocked “pantry” that varies substantially from one place to another. The savory fish soup of the Adriatic, the brodetto, is as good example. It is made in a hundred different ways. It all depends on the place. To decide which are authentic, there is an ancient Academy of the Brodetto of the Marches. There is a dense and tasty stew, known as potacchio from the French word potage, of which there are may uses and versions. It is employed above all in preparing baccalà or dried, salted cod, chicken and rabbit. The pastas are exquisite, especially the famous vincisgrassi, a rich lasagna that is as highly appreciated as the dish made in nearby Emilia. The name is derived from Windisch-Graetz, an Austrian general who fought against Napoleon in the Marches. The olive occupies a prominent place in the roster of culinary accomplishments of the Marches. The superb olives of Ascoli, for example, are stuffed with meat and fried to produce a dish that can easily be tasted and savored in restaurants abroad operated by people from the region. The cuisine also features black and white truffles and extraordinary preserved meats, especially those of Fabriano. Among the many good wines, the Piceno, Conero and Verdicchio are outstanding.
Each italian region is a separate historical complex created by the blending and stratification of multiple ethnic groups, cultures and political systems. The result is that the cities within them have characteristics that set them apart from each and all others. That is particularly true of Tuscany, which cannot be discussed without reference to Florence, Siena Lucca. Pisa and many other stupendous cities of the arts that every person of good taste will want to visit at least once in his or her life. As far as the regional cuisine is concerned, the various local traditions have found a common denominator, since throughout Italy and all other countries the term “Tuscan cooking” signifies wholesomeness. That reputation is due to the goodness of the region’s olive oil and wines, the fine quality of its meats and the premium characteristics of its vegetables and legumes. It also represents an assurance of essential and traditional flavors and informed and patient preparation according to the precepts of simplicity and adherence to ancient dietetic principles that were established intuitively but have been proven correct by the modern science of nutrition. For those reasons, Tuscan cuisine has gained a following throughout the peninsula and, along with Neapolitan cooking, is now considered the most representative example of Italian gastronomy.
What can be more appetizing or healthier than a typical Tuscan menu consisting of crostini or firm, home-made bread spread with a purée of liver and spleen, bread and cabbage soup, ribollita, or one made with tomato, pappa col pomodoro, then tripe or a tender and delectable beefsteak from the Val di Chiana, known as fiorentina, served with beans basted with the finest of oils. And with that medley of foods, a bottle of Chianti, one of the world’s most famous and appealing wines that is still remembered by people abroad for its traditional container, a fiasco or glass bottle wrapped in woven straw. A meal in this region is concluded with a richly scented Vin Santo in which the dry, almondy biscuits known as tozzetti or pratesi are dipped and softened.
After an international inquiry, a U.S. university committee recently proclaimed Todi the world’s most “liveable” city. But in that respect Todi is merely identical to other communities like Gubbio, Spello, Foligno and Assisi as well as of the urban center of Perugia and the cluster of houses that constitutes Torgiano. That life is good in Umbria and always has been, is demonstrated by the fáct that, within its borders, more numerous traces are found than elsewhere of extremely ancient human settlements, whose inhabitants were clearly attracted by the mild climate and the abundance of food and water.
Umbrian cuisine is based on olive oil, pork processed in various ways and the truffle. However, the illustrious fungus should not be confused with the white version of Piedmont. The Umbrian truffle is black and has a flavor and perfume that is much different and more intense. It is a relative of the truffe noire of Perigord in France, which is proudly served in French restaurants, in the United States and elsewhere. As far as pork is concerned, it is sufficient to say that in Italy the word norcini, meaning the inhabitants of the Umbrian town of Norcia, is applied to outstanding processors of pork and the production of sausages and hams that are of unforgettable quality. In addition, the Umbrians are fond of game and freshwater fish, since theirs is one of the few Italian regions that has no coastline. Both game and fish are usually roasted on the spit – many rotisseurs in France and other countries are Umbrians. The lush countryside also provides magnificent vegetables and legumes, such as lentils and beans. The wines from its numerous hills are extremely good, whether white or red, whether for everyday or holiday consumption. The pastries are excellent, as are the biscuits, which were much appreciated by the great St. Francis of Assisi.
Lazio and Rome
The Romans conquered the world and created an immense empire, but they never became a rich people. with the exception of the few who held the reins of imperial power and were able to indulge their most extravagant whims, the Romans followed a modest and sober way of life, as befitted farmers and soldiers who guided the plow when they were not wielding the sword. The cuisine of Rome and the region of Lazio, of which it is the capital, has in general maintained its ancient frugality and simplicity and is based on that agricultural and farm economy, hymned in the verses of the Bucolics of the great Latin poet Virgil. That modesty is appropriate, since many of the men who exercised great authority, like Cincinnatus, concluded their lives tending to their farms.
For more than 2,000 years, the cheeses of Lazio made from milk of sheep and goats have been Italy’s best. And the region also produces truly excellent vegetables, such as the lettuce that even the French refer to as romaine, peas, fava beans and artichokes, which are the delights of the Roman table. There is excellent olive oil from the Sabine hills, outstanding pork products and a wealth of fish from the Tyrrhenian as well as from the region’s many lakes. Another extremely ancient component of this cooking is the Jewish tradition – Rome was one of the first major settlements of the Jews outside Palestine. The Jewish cuisine is also “poor,” just as the Ghetto was poor, but it is richly imaginative and those who practiced it knew how to bring out and enhance their foods flavors. Those who enjoy such foods should know that in the Roman cuisine offal, known as frattaglie, has been accorded close attention and its preparation has attained a high level of sophistication. Although tripe, oxtail, sweetbreads and the like may be regarded as foods of the poor, they become sumptuous dishes in the hands of Rome’s cooks.
Modern Romans are also big consumers of pasta flavored with exceptional sauces, dishes like carbonara and amatriciana that can be found in Italian restaurants in the United States and elsewhere. The wines of Lazio are of good quality, especially the whites of Frascati and are produced in large quantity.
Abruzzo and Molise
A great writer and poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Gabriele D’Annunzio, described the Abruzzo as a “strong. and gentle land.” It’s an impeccably correct description, because the rough character of the people of these cold mountains in the centre of Italy is combined with a singular gentleness and humanity. And the observer will see that their personalities become livelier, more maritime and Mediterranean as he or she descends from the heights toward the coast of the Adriatic. At the Abruzzo’s center, therefore, there is a cuisine of mountain people, one that is high in calories that supply the strength to resist the cold and the snow and that is based above all on animal fats. That diet is lightened substantially through the addition of fish and olive oil close to the warm waters of the sea.
High on the list of the mountain dishes of the Abruzzo are hearty broths and soups, among them the extremely elaborate sette virtù, which owes its name to the fact that the magic of numbers has a long history in this region; seven (sette) is one of the numbers traditionally regarded as sacred or lucky. Just as rich are the pasta dishes, while the meat preparations owe with the their origin to the pastoral nature of the land. Mutton and lamb yield rich, strong sauces, but spices also play a conspicuous role. The region’s most important city, L’Aquila, owes its wealth to the cultivation of saffron and the local product is the world’s best. Seafood dominates along the coast, especially in mixed roasted dishes and soups of an incredible variety of ingredients that share a common name with the same preparation of the neighboring Marches, brodetto. Another aspect of the gastronomy of the Abruzzo is its extension through manpower. For in recent centuries, the region has sent out legions of cooks and restaurateurs who have made their native cuisine known throughout Italy and the world. Villa Santa Maria has virtually been a nursery of cooks. The wines may not be exceptional, but they are good and pleasant to drink and there is a satisfying range from which to choose.
Since its borders are washed by the waters of two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, Apulia’s society is typically Mediterranean. But it is not maritime in an exclusive sense, because in its vast interior of plains and mountains agriculture flourishes, especially tile cultivation of grain. But there are many other important crops, such as deliciously fruity olive oil, the output of which has reached substantial levels. The region’ s production of fruits and vegetables is rich and varied, providing all that is needed to assure a satisfying and pleasant existence for the inhabitants. That abundance has always been a feature of the land, as proven by the sample traces of ancient settlements in the region and especially on the extraordinary peninsula of the Gargano, the point of which thrusts out into the Adriatic toward the east. It extends out-ward so far and so abruptly that it has received the nickname Pizzomunno (the tip of the world).
Still, it cannot be said that the cuisine of Apulia is unusually rich or refined. As is true of the cooking in other regions of the south of Italy, it owes its savor and appeal to the intelligence and skill with which the people have brought out and emphasized the primary goodness of the raw materials. They have been remarkably successful with legumes, such as favas and peas, and a succession of superb vegetables, especially chicory. A dish often found in Apulian restaurants, even those abroad, consists of a puree of boiled favas and bitter chicory flavored with a bit of olive oil and spring onions. It is a masterpiece of simplicity and flavor. No one errs when ordering the famous orecchiette – the famous ear-shaped pasta is always listed on Apulian menus. It is made by hand from water and hard-wheat flour. The people of the south are not fond of fresh pasta made with eggs, which is a favorite of northeners. The meat dishes are tasty, especially those involving lamb, while offal, grilled on spits, is a treat for those who en joy such foods. The wines are quite good but strong and liqueur-like, although there are some delicate whites and roses as well.
Campanian cooking means Neapolitan cuisine, which is synonymous with Italian gastronomy in every part of the world. That’s primarily because of the abundance of agricultural products in the city’s hinterland and because of the quality and variety of the seafood obtained from the sea on which Naples is situated. Because of that bounty, the region was already known 2,000 years ago as Campania felix or “happy” Campania. The cuisine’s standing is due in great part to the volcanic soil around Vesuvius, which is extraordinarily fertile and yields vegetables that are wholesome and tasty. It is also an outgrowth of the ingenuity and genius of the inhabitants, which find expression in many other fields as well. And it is a result of the intelligent assimilation of the elements of other civilizations, such as the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Norman, Provençal, Spanish and French.
The unusually rich history of Campania is reflected in the cuisine, two specialties of which have entered the gastronomic repertoire of the countries of half the world. Pizza and spaghetti are now at home almost everywhere, yet, while Naples created them, they owe their existence to a gift of the New World, the marvelous tomato. Neapolitan cooking, whether rich or poor, is essentially the outgrowth of the imaginativeness and irrepressible liveliness that are the principal characteristics of the city’s people. It has the merit of being light and digestible. And it is not fattening. Dining in a Neapolitan restaurant is always a celebration. It is a feast further enlivened by the enormous variety of pasta dishes listed on the menu, with their accompanying sauces and condiments, which are just as numerous. Among those flavorings are superb cheeses, including the famous mozzarella , which is perhaps the world’s finest milk product. But every coin has two faces and the overwhelming success of the city’s and region’s cuisine has encouraged the spread of restaurants that improperly masquerade under the flag or fare of Neapolitan Cuisine. It has therefore, become increasingly difficult to distinguish, as in the case of pearls, the true and authentic from the cultivated or even the false ones.
Calabria and Basilicata
Calabria has been less affected than other regions of the south by foreign civilizations and it has not been particularly receptive to Italian influences. That imperviousness is due to the fact that in the past, when there were no railroads or superhighways, travel was extremely difficult in the region, which is formed almost entirely of rugged mountain chains. To go from Campania toward the strait that separates Calabria from Sicily, most travelers preferred to pass along the coast. Despite the region’s ruggedness, Arabs, Spanish and French, attracted perhaps by the great natural beauty of the land, invaded Calabria and made it into something like a second homeland. In even more remote times, the period when Calabria was Greek, the region, and especially the areas along the coast, was the center of a civilization that was highly developed and refined. It was on the sea that Sibaris was founded and flour-ished. Its citizens, the Sybarites, knew how to enjoy life so well that their name appears in tile dictionaries of numerous languages.
Except along the coast, where seafood predominates and, in turn, is dominated by the legendary swordfish, Calabrian cuisine is the fare of a mountain people – vegetables, legumes, exceptional mushrooms, lamb and, especially, pork. According to a Calabrian saying, “whoever marries is happy for a day, but whoever slaughters a hog is happy for a year.” Still, only the meat of the hog is appreciated, since olive oil is the preferred cooking and condimental fat. It is a cuisine of strong flavors that are also often fiery because of the extensive use of hot red pepper (peperoncino). All of the preparations are washed down with excellent wines, many with robust bodies like those that, along with crowns of laurel leaves, were presented to the athletes who won at Olympia several centuries before the Christian era. The diet of nearby Basilicata – its ancient name was Lucania – is similar to the Calabrian, but with an even more pronounced flavor of the mountains. It is also a more consistent consumer of hard-wheat pasta and has been since Roman times.
The first European gourmet was Archestratus of Gela, a Greek Sicilian who lived in the fourth century before Christ. A few scattered fragments of his poems survive and some of them are metrical recipes for meats and fish, both of which are still prepared on his native island with the same fundamental simplicity he recommended. Since then, this fascinating island, like Campania but even more so and for much longer, has been dominated by people from other lands. Among the invaders were the Romans, Normans, Angevins from France and Aragonesi from Spain. But the Arabs also left indelible traces of their civilization, which at that time was highly advanced. Palermo, not Baghdad, was the real setting of “A Thousand and One Nights”.
As usual, the influences of those foreign peoples where most noticeable in the field of gastronomy, so that eating in the Sicilian style is still today a fascinating cultural as well as sensory experience. The Arabs may have introduced pasta to the island although some trace that food to the Chinese. They certainly provided the many highly perfumed spices that are used in making that great dish pasta con le sarde, the rice, rolled in bulls around meat stuffing and fried, that is the essential ingredient of arancini and the sugar and cinnamon that appear in an extraordinary variety of sumptuous desserts. It is a piquant and sweet cuisine that is rich (even when it is prepared by the populace) and that accords great importance to pork and its derivatives stews and sauces. Extensive use is also made of seafood, especially the tasty tuna and swordfish. It is a cuisine that, according to the Gattopardo, takes on a touch of the grandiose, as in the timbale of macaroni, which combines French genius, Arab wisdom and Sicilian intelligence. There are many Sicilian restaurants abroad, both because of the intrinsic value of the foods they serve and because of the large number of islanders who have emigrated, especially to the United States. An authentic Sicilian restaurant never betrays its patrons, while the island’s fresh and eminently drinkable wines are worthy complements to a meal.
As an island located at the center of the Mediterranean, Sardinia has been open to influences from every direction which its extremely ancient indigenous civilization has both welcomed and resisted through the centuries. In remote ages, the Greeks, Phoenicians and Arabs left their murk, while in more recent times the island has been strongly influenced by Liguria to the east and Spain’s Catalonia to the west. But the Sardinians have remained a people apart, proud and jealous of their independence. The same can be said of their cuisine, which is shaped, given the geophysical nature of the island, by mountain and sea. The result is a gastronomy that is in part the diet of shepherds and farmers, similar to the typical fare of ancient Roman society, and in part the nourishment of fishermen and sailors. Both aspects share one primary characteristic, the simplicity of preparation, with charcoal or wood being used to cook and flavor both seafood and meats. There is a relative poverty of ingredients that has led to the creation of nourishing and warming soups.
With the outstanding quality of the food products, especially the island’s extraordinary cheeses, as a base, the people have developed a mastery of the culinary art that has resulted in the spread of Sardinian restaurants, not only to the Italian mainland but also to other countries. Those establishments attract a clientele that wants to follow that same principle of profound simplicity in order to secure the full benefits in terms of nourishment and health of the Mediterranean diet. The pasta dishes and fish soups are excellent. Crustaceans are prepared in exemplary style, while the roasting of lamb and pork, especially, has been elevated to the status of a fine art. The small pig of Sardinia (porceddo), when roasted in the proper way, makes a meal a banquet. The desserts are just as simple, especially the dry pastries. Among them, the delicious sebadas, fritters enriched with acacia honey and fresh sour cream, are a typical expression of Sardinian cuisine’s high level of natural finesse. The wines are direct and simple. By nature, they are good, even if not of an extraordinary level.