Northern Italy (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
Northern Italy occupies an area that stretches from the southern Alps south to the Po valley and from the northernmost coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Liguria west to the coast of the Adriatic Sea on the northeastern side of Italy. Northern Italian cuisine is distinguished from those of Central, Southern Peninsular, and Insular Italian by the predominant use of butter, cream, cheeses, rice, potatoes, baccalá (dried salted codfish), polenta (corn mush), wines used for cooking, hams, sausages, beef, chicken, and venison, and the occasional use of a much lighter olive oilroduced in limited quantities in the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Trentino, and Lombardyhan that of the south.
It is the culinary expression of eight regions where dumplings of all sizes and shapes have been prepared since at least the twelfth century B.C.E. Processed regional foods also include regional meat and fish specialties, such as Bresaola (Valle d'Aosta air-dried beef), Mocetta (Valle D'Aosta's air-dried mountain goat ham), Mosciame (Ligurian dried filet of tuna and dolphin), Missoltitt (Lake Como's sun-dried smelts), Gianchetti (blanched baby anchovies), Ciccioli (lard-rendered pork scraps), Speck (Alto Adige's air-cured bacon), Mortadella (baloney from Bologna), and several varieties of Prosciutto (air-dried ham).
Northern Italian cuisine favors mild-tasting, creamy, meat-rich, and nutritious dishes inspired by a territory that is an extended vineyard. It has also produced many dishes and specialties that originated with ancient Roman Catholic religious traditions. Besides creating Christmas and Easter specialties such as Panettone (Christmas fruit-cake), Colomba Pasquale (a dove-shaped cake prepared
during Easter), Uovo di Pasqua (chocolate Easter egg), Northern Italian cuisine also includes dishes that follow Catholic Church mandates regarding food including "no-meat-on-Friday" or "fat and meat during Carnival prior to Lent" with specialties such as Crostoli (fried, and sometimes twisted, ribbons of dough), also called Sfrappole, Fritole, Chiacchere, Lattughe, Nastri, Grostul, or Zeppole, depending on the regional dialect.
Favorite ingredients of this cuisine are wild foods such as frogs, snails, truffles, mushrooms, and nuts. Typical first-course dishes of Northern Italy include stuffed ring-or square-shaped pastaortelli, tortellini, tortelloni, ravioli, agnoli, agnolotti, pansotti, capelletti, and capellaccierved either in clear broth or topped with sauces. Northern Italy is also home to gnocchi (fingersized potato dumplings), lasagna, world-famous cheeses orgonzola, Fontina, Taleggio, Mascarpone, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Grana Padanond innumerable
Northern Italian desserts are creamy and rich rather than sweet: Zuccotto (Lombardy's cupola-shaped whipped
Food portions for Northern Italian meals are small or moderate. What is considered most important is the variety of courses and the type of dishes, not the amount of food. Classic meals are served either with wine or mineral water, which can be sparkling or natural. Over time, multicultural influences from abroad, especially of German, central European, or U.S. origin, have introduced the serving of beer (birra) or coke (coca) with certain specialties such as Wuerstel con Crauti (German sausages with sauerkraut) or pizza. Sweet beverages, sodas, or milk shakes may be graciously tolerated by Italians if they are served by foreigners with classic Northern Italian meals, but they are not recommended according to classic serving standards.
Northern Italy is comprised of several small geographically defined areas distinguished by specialty dishes that feature locally grown and foraged foods.
The Alpine Range Area
The Alpine Range Area contains portions of northern Piedmont and northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Aosta. In the south, the Alpine Range gradually opens onto a wide valley of well-tended fruit orchards and vineyards and an expanse of farmlands and plains.
Trentino-Alto Adige. Three cultural traditions (German, Italian, and Ladin [northern Italian and Swiss]), which at times have clashed politically, have produced a cuisine that offers an array of specialties made with potatoes, cabbage, barley, and rye or other foods procured by hunting or forest foraging. Specialties in Trentino-Alto Adige use snails, chestnuts, wild nuts, wild mushrooms, and meats from domesticated animals. The region's cuisine reflects the taste for wines and Grappa (brandy made from distilled grape skins; also regionally called "schnaps"), preserved and air-cured or smoked sausages and meats, slow-cooking stews and soups with barley, freshwater fish from volcanic lakes and glacial streams, lots of sauerkraut, dumplings of all sizes and shapes, dry and long-lasting rye breads, and simple fruit-rich desserts such as Strudel.
Specialty dishes of this region reflect the influences of German and Swiss cuisines and include Risotto al Teroldego (rice with red Teroldego wine), Spezzatino alla Pusterese (paprika-flavored beef stew), Tortel di Patate (potato pancakes), Torta di Mele (apple cake), Carre di Maiale con Crauti (pork shoulder with sauerkraut), Pollo al Cren (stewed chicken in horseradish gravy), and Camoscio alla Tirolese (stewed mountain goat Tirolean-style).
Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Both of these northeastern areas of Italy share a border with Austria, and lie near Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia. Both Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia are renowned for their vegetables such as radicchio (a red winter lettuce similar to chicory), fennel, and asparagus. Both regions are also famous for their sausages and hams, for example, a prosciutto from San Daniele, as well as a fruity sparkling white wine (Prosecco di Conegliano). Venice and Trieste, port cities on the Adriatic Sea, boast a thriving fishing industry.
Specialty dishes of this area reflect both the cultural influences of German and Slavic cuisines and the foods available from the land and sea. Some of the most notable dishes include Lasagna al Papavero (lasagna with a poppy seed stuffing), Suf (a watery corn mush), Cialzons (stuffed pasta pockets), Verze Impinide (stuffed cabbage leaves), Capriolo in Salmi (stewed deer), Us in Fonghet (eggs with porcini mushrooms), Risotto al Tagio (rice with eel and shrimp), Polenta e Osei (corn mush and roasted birds), Sardele in Soar (marinated and fried anchovies),
and Insalata di Radicchio alla Vicentina (Vicenza-style radicchio salad with bacon dressing).
Valle d'Aosta and Piemonte (Piedmont). These regions both fall within the Alpine Range Area and the Piedmont and Lombardy Plain Area, and share borders with France and Switzerland. This geographical proximity is reflected in similar methods of food production and culinary traditions influenced by French and Swiss cuisines. The cooks of Valle d'Aosta and Piemonte, like those of Trentino-Alto Adige, use mushrooms, truffles, berries, and nuts foraged on the southern mountain slopes.
Valle d'Aosta's recipes use Jambon de Bosses (cured ham), Bresaola (cured beef), Mocetta (mountain goat ham), chunky soups topped with mountain cheeses, stews made with game, for example, mountain goat, deer, hare, and pheasant, lard d'Arnad (bacon lard), frogs, snails, white and black truffles, fleshy and thorny cardons (or cardoons, relatives of the artichoke), rare ovuli mushrooms (egg-shaped amanita avoidea), celery, cabbage, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, and cold-climate grainsye, buckwheat, barley, and lots of corn mush (polenta). Piemonte is home to the world-renowned sparkling white wine, Asti Spumante, Savoiardi (ladyfinger cookies from the province of Savoia), Gianduiotti (chocolates made in Turin), and Fontina cheese.
Typical dishes of these regions include Grissini (thin bread sticks), Bagna Cauda (mixed vegetables with anchovy oil dip), Griva (meat loaf wrapped and baked in pork caul), Minestra di Riso, Latte, e Castagne (chestnut chowder with rice), Tajarin (very fine ribbon pasta similar to angel hair), Lumache al Barbera (snails stewed in red Barbera wine), Leper alla Vignarola (hare stewed in wine and grapes), Rane Ripiene (stuffed frogs), and Zabajone (egg custard with Marsala wine).
The wealthy, industrialized region of Lombardy is located within the Piedmont and Lombardy Plains Region and shares its eastern border with Switzerland. The cuisine of this region includes lots of rice, plenty of meat, some olive oil, brightly colored, expensive ingredients such as saffron and candied fruit, famous soft cheeses named for the town or area where they originateorgonzola, Taleggio, and Certosaake or river fish, and pasta pockets. Lombardy is also famous for its ice cream factories.
Lombardy's specialty recipes feature hearty, one-dish meals: Buseca (stewed tripe), Caseula (sausages, spare ribs, and ham hocks with stewed cabbage), Polenta Vuncia (corn mush with butter, cheese, and sage leaves), Luccio
Liguria, located in the southern portion of Northern Italy, borders France and touches the Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna areas as well as Tuscany, a region of central Italy. It is a coastal region and its port citiesenoa, La Spezia, and Imperiarovide its cooks with fish and other varieties of seafood. The copious use of locally produced olive oil is undoubtedly the most notable ingredient in Ligurian cuisine, an element that distinguishes it from the other regional cuisines of Northern Italy. It is used in raw, cooked, and fried dishes, for making pasta sauces with nuts and herbs, for moistening bread, and in desserts.
Ligurian cooking reflects its proximity to the food resources of the Ligurian Sea and the limited agricultural resources of its geography. Nevertheless, this region has given the world several popular dishes, for example, focaccia (olive oil bread) and pesto (a pasta sauce made of basil, pine nut, and garlic). Seafood common in Ligurian recipes includes breams (paraghi and saraghi), red mullets (triglie), herring (nasello), swordfish (pesce spada), mussels (muscoli), blanched baby anchovies or sardines (gianchetti, also called bianchetti), and air-dried filets of delfin or tuna (mosciame).
Typical Ligurian dishes include Trofie al pesto (twisted pasta dumplings with pesto sauce), Pansoti alla Salsa di Noci (pasta pockets filled with an herb stuffing and topped with walnut sauce), Moscardini alla Genovese (Genoa-style stuffed squid), Torta di Bietole (swiss chard quiche), Stoccafisso in Umido (dried codfish soaked and then stewed), Mitili alla Spezzina (La Spezia-style stuffed mussels), Castagnaccio (chestnut-flour cake moistened with olive oil), and several stuffed vegetable dishes, for example, stuffed artichokes or zucchini flowers.
Emilia-Romagna, with its eastern coast along the Adriatic Sea, is probably the culinary divide between Northern and Central Italian cuisines. It is centrally located and touches the regions of Piemonte, Lombardy, Veneto, Liguria, Tuscany, and the Marches. In addition to its plentiful seafood resources, which include sole, hake, herring, mullet, turbot, monkfish, grouper, clams, mussels, cuttlefish, and mantis shrimp, Emilia-Romagna is famous for its lasagna, ragu (a meat sauce), meat-filled tortellini, and Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano). The city of Modena is well known for its prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and several sausage specialties, which include Coppa (pork sausage), Pancetta (pork belly sausage), Cotechino (pork meat and rind sausage), Mortadella, and Zampone, pork leg stuffed with meat and rind. Parma is also famous for its prosciutto.
Typical dishes that incorporate Emilia-Romagna's specialties include Brodetto (fish and seafood chowder), Canocchie Al'olio e Prezzemolo (shrimp snappers in olive oil and parsley dressing), Anolini in Brood (ring-shaped pasta pockets in broth), Polpettone alla Bolognese (Bologna-style meat loaf), Erbazzone all'Emiliana (Emilia-style quiche of onions and greens), Cotechino in Galera (cotechino sausage encased in meat loaf and cooked in red wine), Asparagi alla Parmigiana (Parma-style asparagus with Parmesan cheese), Fagioli e Cotiche (beans cooked with boiled pork rinds), Bollito Misto (mixed boiled meats), and Lumache alla Piacentina (Parma-style stewed snails). Piadina, a thin, parched, unleavened bread wheel, is also a specialty of this region.
Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano
No discussion of Northern Italian cuisine can ignore two of its fine cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. Both must be matured very slowly.
Parmigiano Reggiano, usually called Parmesan cheese, has been made regionally since the early thirteenth century and has become a symbol of classic Italian cuisine. It is a semi-fat, hard, flaky cheese made of raw cow's milk, recognizable by its large, wheel-shaped forms, covered by a yellow wax rind, and marked with the dotted brand name, Parmigiano Reggiano. Commonly used as a grated cheese, it has a delicate, fragrant, and unique flavor that it imparts to foods. Under Italian law, Parmigiano Reggiano has a prescribed ripening period, usually about two years. It is produced according to traditional Parmigiano Reggiano methods in plants located in specific areas of Emilia-Romagna, which include Parma and Reggio-Emilia. Other Northern Italian locales that produce Parmigiano Reggiano are Bologna, Mantova, and Modena.
Grana Padano is cooked, cylindrical, semi-fat, hard, grainy cheese. First made at the beginning of the millennium by Cistercian monks in Lombardy, near Chiaravalle, it became known as grana (literally, 'grain') due to its grainy consistency. It is commonly used as a table cheese, but, like Parmigiano Reggiano, it is also used as a grated cheese. It is produced in the Po Valley and Delta region in Bologna, Mantova, Asti, Cuneo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Milan, Trento, Treviso, Venezia, Verona, Ferrara, Piacenza, Ravenna, and other cities throughout the area.
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