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Regional Cooking of Italy Features More than Just Pasta

Cookbook author Floria Parmiani explores Italian regional cooking.

Italy is distinguished by strong regional, historical and cultural differences. Its 20 regions (former independent states) are strongly individualistic. These regional divisions are especially manifested in food preparation. The most conspicuous differences are between the north and the south. In the north, butter is the prevalent cooking fat; fat noodles (made with eggs) are the pasta. In Tuscany and in the south, meals are cooked with olive oill, and tubular pasta, like macaroni and spaghetti, is used. Food in the southern regions is highly seasoned.

The true excellence of Italian food is in its vegetables and fruit. When asked the reason for the exquisite taste of these staples, Italians say it is because of the salt from sea mists, the different minerals of the land, the flowers, the climate, the soil and the absence of artificial fertilizers.

How about the distinct flavor of Italian food? It is in the art of cooking. Whatever Italians do is artistic: it is part of their heritage. Pasta, rice and vegetables are never overcooked. Italians cook their food "al dente" (slightly resistant to the teeth), and use high quality herbs, spices and olive oil.

Rice is very important in Italian cooking. The Po River Valley in Lombardy is the richest Italian agricultural region and the biggest rice producer in Europe. Rice grown in the northern region of Piedmont is superior to all other types grown in Italy.

Italy produces more than 40 varieties of pasta, usually made of simple dough. The highest quality of pasta is produced in the southern regions. This specialty derives from the purity of the mountain water. There are several kinds of pasta: Pasta for soup: Acini di pepe, anellini, conchigliette, semini di merlo, nocchette. Pasta to be boiled: Spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagnette, ziti, capellini, fusilli, perciatelli, lingue di passero, mafaldine, fedelini. Pasta for baking: Lasagne, occhi di lupo, conchiglie, penne, farfalle, tortiglioni, grosso rigato, cappelletti, spiedini, elbow macaroni. Pasta to be stuffed: Manicotti, cannelloni, ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti.

Polenta (cornmeal porridge) was a food of the first Romans. It was made from grain and served to nourish Roman soldiers. Boiled, it was eaten as porridge, or hardened as a cake. Modern day polenta remains a national dish in Italy, especially in the north. It is still boiled, baked, fried, and eaten warm or cold. Northern Italians are called "polentoni" for their extensive use of polenta in their cooking. The finest polenta is grown in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It is not the yellow polenta used in other northern regions, but a fine textured, white type, made from white corn.

Here are a few typical dishes of different regions. The recipes can be found in my cookbook, "Vegitalian."
* Piedmont: Bagna Cauda, rice with lemon, toast with hot melted cheese, garnished polenta.
* Lombardy: Rice with saffron, braised peppers, poached egg soup, pears with Gorgonzola.
* Northern Regions: Braised rice and peas, radicchio (the king of lettuce grown in Treviso), semolina dumplings with spinach, Mascarpone cup.
* Liguria: Pesto, semolina dumplings.
* Central Regions: Vegetable casserole, baked eggplant.
* Tuscany: Beans and pasta, Florentine vegetable soup, white beans with tomatoes, baked artichoke hearts frittata.
* Rome Regions: Noodles with butter and cheese, flakes of eggs and cheese, semolina cakes with butter and cheese, English soup (dessert).
* Southern Regions: Tomato sauces, deep fried Mozzarella sandwiches, marinated eggplant, cold eggplant, zabaglione.

Floria Parmiani is the author and publisher of Floria Publications:
* Poetry: Imagery and Reality
* Cookbook: Vegitalian, Italian Vegetarian Cooking
* Children: Classic Italian Tales/Novelline Italiane
* Youth: San Francisco in Colors
* Tel/Fax 1-800-439-7415
* 773 Limerick Ct., Sunnyvale, CA 94087

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