Understanding Northern Versus Southern Italian Cuisine
The Italian peninsula is home to a wide range of culinary ingredients and techniques, but for the most part, Italian cooking can be roughly divided into Northern and Southern types. Understanding the difference between Northern versus Southern Italian cuisine will help you gain a better understanding of the staggering diversity of Italian food.
Southern Italian cuisine contains many of the dishes and ingredients that are commonly thought of as defining “Italian food,” such as tomatoes, olive oil, peppers, capers, sardines, and others. Southern Italy contains such regions as Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, and Puglio.
For many people, pasta is synonymous with Italian food, and the South is the home of many great dried pasta dishes. Noodles can be found in literally hundreds of shapes and sizes, including long noodles such as spaghetti, stouter shapes like radiatore, and large sheets used in lasagna.
Southern Italy has always been poorer than the North, and the cuisine of the region reflects this difference. Beef is less commonly used in Southern Italian cuisine, with lamb, fish, and pork being the preferred ingredients. Not only are cattle more expensive to raise, but the terrain of Southern Italy is ill-suited to raising cattle.
However, many people may not realize that water buffalo are a common farm animal in Southern Italy. There are more than 300,000 buffalo in the country, with the majority in Campania. The milk of the water buffalo is used to make mozzarella di bufala. This cheese is widely used in Southern Italian cooking.
In Northern versus Southern Italian cuisine, the North tends to be more influenced by its European neighbors, such as France and Austria, as opposed to the Mediterranean. Northern cooking uses more butter as opposed to olive oil, and rice is a frequent ingredient in many dishes. While pasta is still eaten in Northern Italy, it does not play the central role that it does in the South.
Risotto is one of the most popular dishes from Northern Italy. This creamy rice dish, made using arborio grains, is cooked slowly, with small portions of water added to a pot of rice that is stirred almost constantly. Rice was first introduced to Italy by Arab merchants who brought it to Venice.
Another popular Northern dish is polenta, which is made from corn meal. Corn is American in origin, and was brought back to Italy from the New World. Polenta can be served as a side dish to many meals, or it can be a main dish on its own when served with other ingredients.
The terrain of the North is better-suited to raising cattle than the South, so beef features more prominently in Northern cooking. Veal is also more popular in the North. Bologna and prosciutto are Northern in origin, as are pesto, Parmesan cheese, and gnocchi.
Italy has made many great contributions to world cuisine, both from the North as well as from the South. Understanding Northern versus Southern Italian cuisine will give you a better grasp on the cuisine of this great country.