The culinary history of Italy has many similar connections to my previous article about Chinese food culture. Both countries are bordered by many neighboring countries and have only recently (in modern history terms) been united as a central governing country. The previous provincial centres which formed China also had similar counterparts in Italy, with each region having its own customs, traditions and of course cuisines.

Externally, Italy borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. Each of these countries has influenced the flavors of those border towns’ cooking styles. The temperature in Italy also causes different crops to be in season from the North to the South. Though the climate is usually mild, the North can experience severe winters, with the South enduring hot and dry summers. Recent years have seen terrible heat waves in Italy and other parts of Europe. Due to these alternate climates, Northern Italy is abundant in foods only growable in cold climates and also features a lot more meat recipes than their Southern Italy counterparts.

Italian cuisine has also been heavily influenced by the political atmosphere throughout the ages. Around 570 A.D., many of the inhabitants of Northern Italy had to flee to outlying islands to escape the Lombard invasion. It was not until after 1000 A.D. that these people, who had been the ones to form the town of Venice, could return to the mainland and at this point agriculture flourished. From this time, until the 16th century, art, society and politics also boomed, and cities were founded such as Venice, Verona, Genoa, Florence, Pisa, and Milan. The nobility of these cities were extremely wealthy and records of the time tell about magnificent feasts.

Though not long after, due to a shifting of focus in Europe towards England, France and Spain, Italy lost a lot of its power and became splintered and ruled by competing nations. Though politically, it didn’t unite again until the 19th century, each part of Italy kept its traditional cuisines and customs.

In the mountainous regions which stretch into the Alps, came what we know today as Risotto. This is still one of the most common ways rice is prepared across Italy in modern times. Risotto is basically rice which is boiled in a usually creamy broth, consisting of vegetables and meat or fish. The favored rice to use in making risotto is a short-grain, high-glucose variety, which gives it a stickier consistency. The first recorded instance of Risotto in Italy was around the 16th century.

When tracing the  history  of Southern  Italian  recipes, it is quite a difficult task. For example, when looking at the word “parmigiana”, which we all know from its popular chicken or veal varieties, the word translates to “from the North” in Italian. In fact, this dish originated in Southern Italy, with both Sicily and Campania claiming first rights. For those who are unfamiliar with parmigiana, its traditional form developed in the 19th century in Italy, as eggplants and tomato were just becoming popular. The eggplant is fried in oil, then cooked with tomatoes and cheese. Modern variants, such as chicken or veal parmigiana were later created by Italian communities abroad, who also changed the style to use breadcrumbs to cover the main ingredient before covering in tomatoes and cheese.

Studying the roots of any Italian recipe is an interesting adventure and allows us to better appreciate such dishes when we eat them in present day.

Source by James A Bruce