Traditional Italian dishes reflect the farming culture of the people based on the regional climates and geography, and therefore the products and the palates of the inhabitants are diverse. A dish that originated in one region may taste different in another and can even be prepared differently from place to place. For menu purposes, Italy can be divided into eight regions:
Liguria and Coastal Tuscany. Cuisine here is based on vegetables, is shaped by fishing and emphasizes fresh herbs. The food is simple and predominantly vegetarian. Pesto, the intensely aromatic paste of basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and olive oil is native to Liguria. The fishing industry, and the cultivation of olives and herbs that grow in the mountains define Ligurian cusine
The Po Basin ( Emilia-Romagna,Veneto, Southern Lombardy) is the area known for rice specialties, such as risotto. Farming delivers milk, cream and meats, especially ham and sausage as well as dishes paired with beef and veal. Here the use of butter is more common than olive oil.
The Alpine Regions (Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Nothern Lombardy, South Tirol, Trentino, Friuli-Venezia Giulia.) Though each valley has its own specialties, generally the cuisine, based on butter, bacon, cheese and bread, is simple yet hearty. Fish here is from the mountain brooks not the ocean.And white truffles are the specialty of Piedmont.
Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche. Simplicity and heartiness characterize the cuisine of these regions. Tomatoes and legumes play a key role and the people here eat a lot of meat, prepared grilled or on a spit. Instead of pasta they eat white crunchy crusted bread. Fish chowders are prevalent along the coast while in the inland mountainous regions, sea and river trout and carp are staples.
Latium and Sardinia. Rome is found in Latium and hearty, robust specialties dominate, such as meat that is stewed or roasted with lard and bacon. Coffee is very important here. The Sardinia and Latium regions share a love of sheep milk products: pecorino and ricotta cheeses.
Abruzzi, Molise and Apulia. Together with olive oil from Apulia, spicy peppers are used in simple and original regional specialties.Vegetables and homemade pasta play important roles, as well as fish.
Campagna and Basilicata. Here simple ingredients are used in spicy and interesting specialties of which pizza is a good example. (Pizza originated in Naples, located in Campagna.) The region is also known for its pasta diversity, exemplified by the different types of noodles used.Vegetables, tomatoes and cheese are part of every meal. Basil, pork, sausage and spicy chili peppers flavor the cuisine.
Calabria and Sicily. Here sheep and goat farming is important in the production of cheeses. Along the coast, the fishing industry, and in the interior, pork and sausages, represent the basics of local cuisine. Tomatoes and eggplant dominate the vegetable dishes. Rich sweets and dishes containing cinnamon and raisins are offered for dessert.
Source: Regional Italian Cuisine by Reinhardt Hess and Sabine Salzer, Barron’s
Regional cuisine North, Central and South
Using precise regional distinctions may be too elaborate for American cooks. Therefore, many Italian cookbook authors make it easy and simply define three broad areas of Italian cuisine that may be useful for operators to plan a menu around—the North, Center and South. Here are the representative foods from each.
Cuisine here features soup, lamb, veal, game, wild mushrooms, white truffles, risotto, fresh egg noodles, polenta. Along the coast recipes are abundant with seafood, herbs, butter, cheese, sausages, roast game, buckwheat bread, meat.
Vegetables, olive oil and fish rule the kitchen and the pasta is made with durum wheat (without eggs). Finifish, shellfish and mollusks are relished in season. Vegetables, especially tomatoes, grow well, as well as garlic and herbs. Flavors should be light, bright and vivid.Warm breads, pizza, pizella and calzone appear with an array of toppings. Pasta is the star here, adorned with anything from simple black pepper and cheese to complex sauces. Meat and seafood are dressed simply. Simple, less-sweet desserts finish the meal.