Before Italy became a unified nation, in 1861, it was a loosely joined confederation of 20 different regions, each with its own culture and cuisine—among other characteristics. The pastas of Apulia were different from the pastas of Tuscany, and so were the antipasti, vegetables, and desserts, and American Italophiles would have had to travel there to enjoy them.
Now, like many other global cuisines that were first introduced to the United States in their simplest and most generic forms, Italian food here is also becoming regionalized. And, as is often the case with other foods around the world, many Italian regional specialties are focused on plants, such as grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonanimal sources of protein.
For more on Italian regional cuisine, see below.
Tuscany was one of the first regions to be celebrated for its food internationally. Now that’s being joined by Sicily, Sardinia, the Piedmont, Liguria, and the cities within them, moving in lockstep with the increasing availability of imported regional products such as prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar from Modena in the Emilia-Romagna, and Calabrian chiles. Many of these foods are deeply rooted in the cucina povera tradition of peasant food—simple and delicious, relying on fresh, local produce to make them special.
Here are some trending Italian regional specialties to consider for your menu:
- Caponata—The lusty food of Sicily is typified by this flavorful vegetable relish made with zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, capers, and olives
- Bagna Cauda—A signature of the Piedmont, this “warm bath” of olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and cream is the perfect, fondue-like dip for crudites
- Bolognese Sauce—A rich pasta sauce named after the principal city in the Emilia-Romagna, in which a small amount of meat is gently simmered in milk to keep it tender, then finished with tomatoes and other vegetables
- Fregola—Similar to couscous but larger and more roughly shaped, this toasted semolina pasta is often served with clams or seafood in its island home of Sardinia
- Gnocchi—A staple of Rome (the capital of Lazio), these pillowy dumplings of rices potatoes or cheese and semolina are delicious with a wide variety of sauces and menu formats
- ’Nduja—One of Calabria’s most famous and beloved foods is this soft, spreadable spicy sausage that brings on the heat with local chili peppers. It can be served as part of a meat board or used to dress fresh pasta
- Pasta e Fagioli—The pasta and beans of the Abruzzo can be served as a soup or a stewlike entrée, and is especially appropriate for vegetarians
- Pesto—Verdantly green and fresh, pesto is the signature sauce of Liguria, where it’s used to dress pasta, fish and vegetables, stirred into soup, and used as a dip for bread
- Polenta—Tuscany is one of several northern regions that claim this ground cornmeal porridge its own; like pasta, polenta can be served with a sauce, as a side dish with proteins, or fried or baked to create a crispy platform for other foods
- Risotto—Lombardy is right in the middle of Italy’s rice-growing stronghold, and home to this creamy rice dish that has hundreds of different variations
- Tiramisu—The most well-known of sweets from Veneto is this elegant dessert that layers espresso-dipped ladyfinger cookies with a marsala- or rum-flavored cream filling made with mascarpone cheese and beaten eggs
- Zeppole—Also known as “St. Joseph’s pastries,” this sweet treat from the heel of the boot in Puglia is made from fried or baked pastry dough, sugar-dusted, and filled with cream
Source: Datassential SNAP reports, 2018
The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.