Famous Italian Foods by Region

Say the words ‘Italian food’ to someone, and you’ll no doubt have them thinking immediately about all those staples of Italian food that we all know and love. Pizza, pasta, gelato, these Italian inventions have taken the world by storm and are known all over the world.

But many people tend to lump Italian food in one big bracket. This couldn’t be further from how Italian food really is. Italian cuisines vary enormously from region to region, and this variation is what makes eating Italian food in Italy so spectacular.

Eating a risotto in, say, Milan, will taste so much better because once, Italian locals and chefs couldn’t source ingredients from too far afield, so they had to make do with what they could get locally. And make do they did. Over generations, those local ingredients have been crafted into regional specialities, each one being refined and perfected over generations.

To entice you with some Italian cooking holidays that will get you perfecting these recipes, let’s break down Italian food by region.

Tuscan Cuisine

outdoor picnic and group

One of the most well-renowned regions in Italy when it comes to food, this land of rolling hills and stands of cypress trees has its reputation for a reason. In Tuscany, the cuisine stems from the tradition of cucina povera, or ‘poor cooking’. This means that like a lot of Italian cuisine, the focus is on simple dishes, done to a mind-bogglingly good standard.

You can expect thick pici pasta served with game such as wild boar, hares, or pheasants, incredible bread and olive oil, along with some of the world’s best wines from the legendary Chianti region.

The Italian tradition of cucina povera is evident in many dishes that you may never have heard of, such as panzanella. A type of salad that makes use of leftover bread, it’s a Tuscan staple that you can master yourself on one of our cooking holidays in Tuscany.

Sicilian Cuisine

ravioli and mushroom dish

From the land, to the sea. Sicilian food is all about the Mediterranean, and it exploits the riches of the sea as well as any cuisine in the world. It only takes a walk through one of the local markets to see exactly what that means. Stalls piled high with an endless variety of other seafood offers more than a clue to what you might taste on a trip to Sicily.

Meaty swordfish and tuna are some of the most popular on the island, but you won’t have to look far to snack on crisp calamari or red prawns, or for something a bit less fishy, there’s always those incredible risotto balls, arancini.

Because despite its island status, Sicily’s cuisine extends beyond seafood thanks to a steady stream of invaders, immigrants, traders and influences from Greece, Arabia, France, Spain and Italy. In fact, one of Sicily’s most iconic dishes, pasta alla norma, has no seafood ingredients at all. Made with aubergine, basil tomatoes and ricotta salata cheese, it’s a simple dish that is enjoyed by Italians everywhere, but has its roots in Sicily.

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Emilia Romagnan Cuisine

anitpasti board

This northern region of Italy is renowned for its indulgent, rich cuisine, as the locals make use of lots of pork fat, seasoning and fresh pasta in their cooking. Influenced by the Lombard (a German tribe that once dominated the region) it’s as hearty as Italian cooking gets, in fact Emilia Romagna is often cited as the heart of northern Italian cooking.

Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, all these classic Italian foods come from the region, and that’s before you’ve even got started on the pasta dishes.

Stuffed pastas like tortellini, or freshly layered up sheets to craft the ultimate lasagne barely scratch the surface of the endless variety of ways that the Emilia Romagnans combine rich, meaty sauces with perfectly fresh pasta. There aren’t many regions more suited to a cooking holiday in Italy.

Roman and Lazio Cuisine

At the heart of Italy, you’ve got the beautiful Italian capital of Rome and the surrounding region of Lazio, and a cuisine that combines seasonal ingredients in a simple yet effective way to produce dishes such as the wonderfully straightforward spaghetti alla carbonara, the incredibly rich and indulgent occo buco, and the unmissable porchetta.

In keeping with the ancient feel of the city, Roman cuisine is all about old-school traditions and cooking methods, and when the results are as good as they are, you can absolutely see why.

There’s not much better than retreating to the hills of Lazio to a sleepy medieval town, and mastering the artistry involved in creating authentic, delicious Roman food, but in an Italian cooking holiday in Lazio, that’s exactly what you can enjoy.

Neapolitan Cuisine

view of bay and lemons

Powerful wines from volcanic soils, fresh swordfish and squid from the Mediterranean, crisp, simple, but impossibly delicious pizza that surpasses any other in the world, velvety pasta dishes, all washed down with a bracing measure of limoncello – Naples is home to some of the best food, anywhere.

Naples is also the home of mozzarella, which makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that if you combine it with some fresh dough, fresh tomato sauce and fresh basil, you get a centuries-old snack that has taken the world by storm.

Of course, there’s more to Naples than just pizza, as you can find out as you wander the characterful streets, sampling the very best street eats and traditional foods that make Neapolitan cuisine one of the most addictive in Italy.

Here at Not In The Guidebooks, we offer a range of cooking holidays in Italy that will help you master a truly authentic, genuinely Italian style of cooking, all in beautiful settings with like-minded people, and plenty of world-class wine…

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