Italians have a red-hot passion for the greater things in life and that’s only fitting for the land of Ferrari and food movement that appreciates local produce. Fashion mongers from around the world head to Milan, history enthusiasts dwell in Rome’s glorious past, however, for connoisseurs of food, planning an Italian itinerary is a harder process than they might think. Should one take the northern route in search of the famous Turin white truffles and cheese fondues and Venice’s soft crab and black rice? Or just camp in the south to savor the piquant style of cooking which is dominated by tomatoes, peppers and garlic?
Flanked by the snow-capped Alps on one side, dotted by cobbled alleys, city boulevards and beautiful baroque buildings and piazzas everywhere, Italy is illustrious not just in terms of its history and architecture, but has a pedigree which runs back to centuries when it comes to food. We think no further than pizzas and pastas when it comes to Italy but there is so much more to food in this land that believes in slow food movement which celebrates the local produce.
Though a lot of tourists visit this beautiful island during summer, the temperament of Sardinia is quite blinkered. Seafood is precious in the coast, while lamb, sheep’s milk cheese and pigs are great inland. Sardinia is famous for its staple crunchy pane carasau (big circles of flat bread) and tuna here is consumed fresh, tempered with some olive oil or salt-cured to prepare bottarga (roe) and musciamme (filet). Much like prosciutto, tuna bottarga is added in dishes like pasta and risotto. To taste the best of Sardinia, pay a visit to Gallura on the northwest coast where Chef Rita Denza whips up a few tasty dishes like wood fire oven roasted fish, mussels in different sauces, well-fried sea anemones and spaghetti in sea urchin sauce. San Pietro’s Da Nicolo is open from Easter till September and is eminent for its Mediterranean and North African flavours. Round off your stay at Sardinia by sipping a cocktail at Niko Bar in piazza della Repubblica; look for mirto, a post-dinner drink which is an amalgam of berries and myrtle leaves.
Being the intersection of the Mediterranean, Sicily is a land of exotic ingredients like cinnamon, saffron, capers, almonds, blood oranges, lemons, citron and oregano. To get an authentic taste of Italy, pay a visit to the local markets such as Palermo and Vucceria. The street food scene in Palermo is wild. Watch out for panella, a sandwich made of roasted chickpea flour and also boiled octopus with a dash of lemon. If you are headed toward the eastern coast, the market in Cantania has the best of seafood including swordfish, silver-blue sardines, shelled shrimps and luscious tuna. The western coast of Sicily is festooned with flamingos and windmills. The island has some of the best vineyards which have revolutionized the Sicilian wine scene among the tourists; they stay in the estates, learn a thing or two about gardening and cheese making.
Everything from bread to seafood and vegetables is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil in Puglia. Cavatelliand orecchietteare the pastas found here and are mostly eggless. All breads are baked in wood fire ovens and Puglia produces some of the finest wines like Primitivo and Nero di Troia. To get a whiff of the local flavors, one must visit Taverna Li Jalantuumene, which serves the finest of food. Orsara di Puglia, a small medieval village has become a culinary epicenter because of PeppeZullo, whose culinary school, restaurant and vineyard focus on promoting the local cuisine. Further down the coast, a restaurant by the name Fornello da Ricci has the reputation of providing an exquisite dining experience with its rustic ambiance and menu. Some of the best dishes include roasted spring lamb and kid, ricotta gnocchi and handmade pasta in eggplant and mint sauce.
Some of the world famous dishes from Italy are from this region; think pizzas and spaghetti. Campania is popular for farmhouse cheeses like mozzarella and Marzano plum tomatoes. The classic pizzas are prepared under the dome shaped wooden ovens and pasta is always served al dente. Naples is the lifeline of Campania and has some of the best restaurants in the country. For delicious marinara pizzas topped with tomatoes, garlic and basil, dine at L’Europeo. If you are adventurous when it comes to food, the Neapolitan street food scene is an absolute gold mine, which conjures up delectable dishes like arancini (fried rice balls) and calzones (fried pizza stuffed with ham and vegetables). To indulge in a few vegetarian delicacies, dine at La Caveja in Northern Naples. From pancotto (bread with cooked greens) to broken candle pasta cooked in fatback and pecorino, the menu is a combination of veritable flavors.
If what you are looking for is home style of cooking, then Tuscany should be your choice of culinary destination. Unlike other regions of Italy, the approach to cooking in Tuscany is very Spartan. Steaks are served without sauce and soups are preferred to pasta. Plenty of extra virgin olive oil is synonymous to dressing of any kind. The predominant cheese available here is Pecorino sheep’s milk cheese. For wine lovers, there is a variety of wines to choose from including Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, and Carmignano.Cibrèo and the trattoria are the most expensive restaurants in Florence, which serves rustic Italian meals flavoured with loads of garlic, spicy chili and peppers.
This region is celebrated for its cured pork products like prosciutto, coppa, culatello, pancetta and mortadella. Also, handcrafted pastas such as tagliatelle, tagliolini, and tortellini hail from Emilia Romagna. The popular parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar originate from this area, and shelf varieties that we find in most supermarkets today would definitely take a beating in comparison to these. Situated right outside Parma, Osteria da Ivan serves regional classics such as culatello and rustic salami, tosone, and tortelli filled with greens. Nestled in a dairy farm, cheese connoisseurs can head to the Parmigiano-Reggiano Museum near Soragna. Gelatauro is well known for its delicious pastries and seasonal gelatos pertaining to flavors of nuts, candied fruit and jasmine.
The seafood caught from the Venetian waters is supposed to be the sweetest. The Rialto Market is a gathering of fishermen and cooks who have been there for nearly a millennium. From shelled crabs to live grey shrimps and fresh heaps of vegetables like wild mushrooms, squash, artichokes and white peaches, this market boasts of a range of fresh produce. After strolling through the market, break at Vini da Pinto, a wine and snack bar for cichetti, a Venetian variant of tapas. For dinner, stop at Al Covo for authentic Venetian dishes and desserts.
A home to the priceless white truffle, Piedmont is one of the most graceful culinary destinations of Italy. The white truffle tastes best when sprinkled over pasta, risotto and raw meat. Chocolates and pastries, including gianduja, a chocolate-hazelnut paste from grand Torino and other regional specialties like agnolotti egg pasta are very well received here. This region hosts many food festivals, one of which is La Salone del Gusto, a slow food festival held in Turin in October every alternating year. For the offbeat restaurants, head towards Monferrato area located north of Alessandria. For a taste of the world’s best gelato, head towards Grom which serves mineral water and milk based flavors of Venezuelan chocolate, Arabian coffee and Sicilian pistachios.