A Taste of Italy
A whirlwind tour of Italy’s 20 regions and the culinary characteristics of each.
Italy is composed of 20 regions, each holding its own venerable culinary traditions shaped by geography, climate, and history. Milan-born Micol Negrin, who runs Rustico Cooking in New York City and is the author of the James Beard–nominated book Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking, provides a snapshot of each region’s culinary character.
1. Abruzzo A pork- and seafood-heavy region along the Adriatic Sea, Abruzzese dishes are often flavored with hot chili pepper, saffron, and fruity olive oil.
2. Basilicata A rural region tied to age-old peasant traditions, Basilicata cuisine favors the land’s bounty, including sweet and spicy peppers, mushrooms, wild asparagus, and wheat.
3. Calabria Carrying Greek, Arab, and Albanian influences, many Calabrian recipes are kissed with chili pepper, while deep-fried desserts are awash in honey.
4. Campania Though best known as home to the Naples-born Neapolitan pizza, Campania offers plenty of culinary delights. Campania produces some of Italy’s—and arguably the world’s—most flavorful vegetables and herbs; brings a diverse array of sea creatures to the table, including octopus, squid, cuttlefish, mussels, clams, and eel; and is famous for hams and salami infused with chili pepper, as well as numerous water buffalo milk cheeses.
5. Emilia-Romagna Any authentic Italian dish featuring balsamic vinegar likely traces its roots back to Emilia-Romagna, that vinegar’s birthplace. But this north-central region, one many food insiders consider Italy’s culinary soul, also features some of the nation’s most heralded foods, including Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as tortellini and other stuffed pastas.
6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia With Slavic, Austrian, and Hungarian touches, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s cuisine runs counter to traditional Italian, with popular ingredients including cabbage, the revered Prosciutto di San Daniele—which gets a salty, aromatic flavor from Adriatic Sea breezes—and brovada, a fermented turnip.
7. Lazio Dinner tables in the Lazio region, which includes Rome, feature lamb and pork, sheep’s milk cheeses, and pastas crafted—simply, yet artfully—from flour and water.
8. Liguria Some of Liguria’s cherished ingredients include porcini mushrooms, pine nuts, and anchovies, while focaccia bread is a notable regional creation.
9. Lombardy Rich risottos and polentas characterize Lombardy cuisine, while the prized Grana Padano cheese has been crafted in the region for centuries. The holidays, meanwhile, bring Panettone, a buttery bread first made in Milan.
10. Marche Classic Marche dishes revolve around thick and hearty seafood soups, grilled meats, and sheep’s milk cheeses aged in the area’s caves. A truffle-rich area, Marche is rich in the esteemed Tuber magnatum pico truffle.
11. Molise Molise cuisine embraces wheat and fresh vegetables, while chili peppers, garlic, and golden olive oil appear in many of this region’s signature dishes centered around rabbit, pig, lamb, and seafood.
12. Piedmont Perhaps best known for its chocolate trade, including the hazelnut-infused Gianduja, Piedmont features an array of meat-stuffed pastas, wine-laced soups, and antipasto options like grissini breadsticks.
13. Puglia Puglia’s kitchen staples include wheat, fresh vegetables, fava beans, and olive oil, of which Puglia, or Apulia (as it is also known), is Italy’s foremost producer. These treasured ingredients appear in a range of dishes, from handmade pastas to bruschetta and lamb entrées. Puglia, the region forming the heel of the Italian boot, is also known for its dessert pastries laced with honey, nuts, and dried fruits, which are inspirations from ancient Greece.
14. Sardinia Wild animals, including boar and mountain goat, are turned into hearty sauces, roasts, and stews, while lamb, the mountainous island’s favorite protein, is often served alongside wild fennel and sheep’s milk cheese.
15. Sicily This large Mediterranean island features a diverse and delectable blend of dishes claiming Greek, Arab, Spanish, and French influences. Sweet and sour often mix on the plate, while long-simmered meat sauces and Marsala wine are commonplace on the table. Notable Sicilian specialties include Bottarga, a salty tuna roe; Caponata, fried eggplants touched with vinegar and sugar; and famous almond paste cookies.
16. Trentino-Alto Adige Germanic and Hungarian influences make for hearty foods like beef goulash and pork stew, while apples, an abundant crop in the region, wiggle into an assortment of entrées and desserts.
17. Tuscany Simple and understated to celebrate the cleanliness of flavors, Tuscan favorites include soups composed of beans, grains, and greens, as well as protein-rich dishes like grilled steaks and pepper-infused beef stews. Dried beans, sheep’s milk cheese, rice, and saltless bread are incorporated into many dishes, a number of which are topped with fennel seeds or rosemary. The famed Italian region in the country’s midsection also retains a global reputation for its wines, predominantly bold reds.
18. Umbria Umbrians embrace the whole hog, some of which finds its way onto the center of the plate or in pasta sauces and accompanying sides. Black truffles and Castelluccio lentils are additional prized ingredients.
19. Valle d’Aosta Incorporating French and Swiss influences, the mountainous Valle d’Aosta cuisine features nutty polentas, braised meats, and rye and buckwheat bread.
20. Veneto Home to Venice, Veneto cuisine features seafood-infused soups and risottos, aged cheeses, cured meats, and braised beef.