academia barilla  February 2007

Italian Gourmet Regional Cooking – Flavors and Hints

Hello again dear Italian Food Lover friends, and, as always, thank you [...]

Hello again dear Italian Food Lover friends, and, as always, thank you for your loyal readership! (And, if you haven’t already done so, check out our RSS feeds, eh?).

It seems that this weekend, the guests at my house couldn’t stop talking about Italian Regional Cuisine, and, as such, I thought it’d be nice to spend a few keystrokes here discussing Italian Gastronomy, Academia Barilla’s mission, and, well, the Italian regional culinary scene in general.

Italy and its regions

So, when we talk about Gastronomy, and in particular local or regional gastronomy, we’re really talking about the culture and art of gourmet food and drink.

Right now, I want to blurb a bit about a few gastronomic gems – those gourmet regional foods that truly define the culture and art of la bella Italia – that I feel truly define Italy for me.

Based on these foods’ dispersion throughout the world, it would be safe to say that they also typify Italian gastronomy for many others, as well.

Cannoli (Sicily)
These archetypal desserts are some of Sicily’s true culinary gems – fried sweet dough stuffed with a sweetened cheese mixture inside and topped with a healthy dusting of powdered sugar.

They were originally made in the zone around Palermo during the time of Carnevale (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday — right about now, in fact!) and due to their incredible taste and excellent audience, they’ve traveled throughout Italy and now throughout the world.

Some of my favorite treats from New York City’s famous San Gennaro festivals include NY-made cannoli… Perhaps I can coax Massimo and his team to drum up a great recipe for these sugar-filled treats in the coming future.

The Sangiovese Grape and its Tuscan Children
Sangiovese grapes are grown in many places in Italy, but in no region do they make such a huge impact as they do in Tuscany, where nearly all of the major DOCG red wines use Sangiovese of some sort as their base.

Indeed, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano are all comprised of at least 50% or more of the Sangiovese grape. Why is it so popular, you might wonder? Simple: the grape has been grown and made into wine in Tuscany for almost a millenium, and, well, if it has been working so well for so many years, why change a good thing? by the way, why do you think we keep selecting extra-virgin olive oil DOP from the Chianti area of Tuscany?

Tortellini (Emilia-Romagna)
These excellent pasta are usually ring-shaped with a whole in the center and an incredibly tasty stuffing inside (that is generally comprised of meat, prosciutto, cheese or a mixture of all three).

They are a typical pasta dish from Emilia-Romagna in general, but were born in the great pasta shops of Bologna and Modena (and don’t forget Parma, either!), where they are sold by weight and are made in the thousands every day, usually by only one or two people. Fresh, handmade and unbelievably tasty, Tortellini are truly a pasta dish that exemplifies the freshness and hand-made-ness of the Italian gastronomic tradition!

Trenette al Pesto (Liguria)
Liguria is known for its excellent Pesto, a sauce made from none other than garlic, small basil leaves, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pine nuts, among other spices and ingredients that differ from kitchen to kitchen.

I am trying to ask Massimo for his incredible variations on Pesto – including some that use pistachio nuts, cilantro and more – but in the meanwhile, I will mention how incredibly traditional this sauce, and their accompanying Trenette pasta (very similar to linguine) are served with boiled potatoes and green beans to become a truly Ligurian dish. Yum! Of course, we suggest to use Academia Barilla’s Riviera Ligure extra-virgin olive oil DOP, just to pair with the local flavors from Cinque Terre.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Emilia-Romagna)
We’ve devoted considerable time to Aceto Balsamico, as of yet, and, without a doubt, it has been worth it (ps – we’ll be devoting more to this excellent product in the coming weeks, as well!).

But, have you ever considered drizzling this dazzling liquid over ice cream? Or simply serving it the traditional way over Parmigiano-Reggiano chunks that you’ve broken off with a cheese knife? Have you tried Mario’s tips on how to taste balsamic vinegar on its own? Personally, one of my favorite ways of indulging a bit of 25 year Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is over a filet mignon…mmm!

Bagna Cauda and Polenta (Piedmont)
We haven’t touched much on Piemontese cuisine, but I promise that we’ll take a look at this wonderful region in the coming weeks. One of their true gastronomic specialties – Polenta - is made with ground cornmeal and broth.

It is an excellent substitute for Pasta for these Northerners, and they typically serve it with Bagna Cauda – a “hot sauce” of garlic, butter and anchovy paste that is very tasty and very traditional. I think it is best served over polenta, but many family members and friends enjoy it simply as a dipping sauce accompanying steamed vegetables.

Have we discussed your favorite traditional gastronomic treat from Italy?

What defines Italian gastronomy for you? Let us know in the comments section below!

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