The sea is very important in Italian life so fish and seafood form a large part of the Italian diet. Geography and climate affect not only the type of seafood caught but also the ingredients used in cooking it. For example, in Venice, located in the cooler north of Italy, where rice is grown, seafood is commonly served with risotto while further south it would accompany pasta. Along Italy’s coastline, every region has its own variation of a fish soup, known by different names. In Liguira, it is called burrida; in Tuscany, cacciucco; in Venice, brodetto; on the Neapolitan coast you will find impepata di cozze e vongole (mussels & clams) and in Sicily, ghiotta Trapanese, a seafood broth served with couscous. If you are staying by the sea in Italy, you have to try antipasto di pesce (a starter of fish dishes) and the popular fritto misto, mixed seafood dusted in flour and deep fried, served with lots of lemon.
Moving east to charming Puglia, sometimes referred to as “the table of Italy” for its authentic produce and tastes. Probably the most popular dish in Puglia is orecchiette, a handmade pasta made from durum wheat flour and water resembling little ears. When cooked it retains its bite well and is traditionally dressed with cime di rape, a type of broccoli native to southern Italy and sprinkled with local pecorino cheese (watch my video recipe for making it here).
Despite being surrounded by water, Sardinia is not known for its fish; historically, from fear of invaders, locals preferred to live inland among the remote rugged mountains tending their sheep. As a result, meat features heavily in the Sardinian diet and excellent lamb, mutton, goat and pork dishes are common - try porceddu (roast suckling pig) flavoured with mirto, a native wild herb. The herb of the same name is made into a liqueur which Sardinians enjoy as an after-dinner drink.
If you are travelling to Tuscany and Umbria, then wild mushrooms and truffles are a must. Dishes in these central regions are rustic and hearty featuring a lot of game such as rabbit, hare and wild boar. For excellent meat, a visit to Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop in Panzano in the heart of the Chianti countryside in Tuscany is a must. Enjoy his excellent bistecca alla Fiorentina at his nearby restaurant.
Last but by no means least, is the capital of Italian gastronomy, Bologna – also known as “La Grassa.” If you are seriously into Italian food, a trip to this city and its region is a must. Who has not heard of prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, tortellini, ragu Bolognese - need I say more? Try the typical focaccia of the region known as tigelle or crescentine filled with cunza a traditional mix of pork fat, rosemary and garlic.