the Authentic Italian issue

Northern Regions Where: The top of Italy’s boot. To the north this mountainous area is bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, and to the south, by the sea … and the remainder of Italy. More provinces and more diversity are found here; and this is the coldest part of Italy. MainGrain(s): Corn and rice,with potatoes, barley, chestnuts and buckwheat on backup. Wheat, though much more common now, was once less traditional in these parts. In contemporary times, the style tends towards the varieties we grind into all-purpose flour as opposed to the chewier, higher-protein, durum wheat types. Specialties Made from It: Risotto. Polenta. Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the northeast, loves barley, including a risotto- like, savory barley porridge called orzotti . Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, abutting Austria, loves its buckwheat, including a short, flat buckwheat flour pasta, pizzoccheri (often layered with cabbage, potatoes, melted butter, sage and fontina cheese). Meanwhile, in Valle d’Aosta, influenced by Switzerland and France, potatoes, along with polenta, usually take the place of pasta or bread, and chestnuts are used in both savory and sweet dishes. Throughout this mountainous region, deeply hearty game and poultry stews are served over polenta. As one heads down towards Central Italy, pastas appear more frequently, typically fresh ones containing eggs and made from all-purpose flour. Other Players: Expect a relative lack of tomatoes in the chillier North, plenty of cheese (even fondue, usually centered on fontina) and the addictive, oh-my-God goodness of white truffles. Central Regions Where: The middle part of Italy’s boot,where the country becomes peninsular, with the Ligurian and Mediterranean seas to the west and southwest, and the Adriatic to the east. Main Grain(s): Wheat, with corn and rice playing more minor roles as backup. Chestnuts and potatoes do show up, however, and are beloved.And some parts of the central areas are devoted to the starchy

“ In any nation that is geographically diverse, food is going to vary from one region to another. But because Italy, a relatively small country (the U.S. is 32.5 times as large in square miles), is extreme in its astonishingly varied topography and weather, the culinary traditions are unusually, splendidly diverse.”

landlocked Umbria, it’s frequently lard. Nowhere is this more evident than when we examine the staple starches Italians love and, to this day, rely on. (And nobody, let it be said, but nobody, does a staple starch better, with more zest, variety and flat-out goodness, than the Italians.) Southern, Northern and Central Italy: One might expect the three main staple grains of wheat (as in pasta), rice (as in risotto) and corn (as in polenta) to align neatly with these areas. Well, not so fast. Yes and no, as you’d expect from this deliciously contentious country. Within the broad embrace of these zones are 20 very particular regions. Look a little more closely and you’ll find constituencies where carbohydrates most Americans do not think of as particularly Italian are beloved (chestnuts, potatoes, buckwheat, barley, chickpeas). And consider the gnocchi, beloved in all of Italy; these little dumplings can be made from wheat or corn or potatoes.

It is true that in these comparatively well- off and interconnected contemporary days, inter-regional mingling is promiscuous; clearly, not just in Naples do Italians (and tourists) eat pizza alla Napoletana . Even while cooks and eaters like me revere the regional differences, those differences fade with travel, exposure to the Internet and prosperity. Polenta and risotto, once the more or less exclusive property of the North, can now be enjoyed throughout the country — indeed, throughout the world. Still. Differences there were, and are, and I say, note them and celebrate them. And eat them. With hunger, with pleasure and, perhaps, with a little reverence. Here, then, is an overview of the whats and wheres in the glorious forms of these staples, elevated as they are so beautifully, in Italy.



Made with FlippingBook - Online magazine maker