What to Eat: in Northern Italy

In Italy food is more than a question of quelling an appetite it is much more about a lifestyle and a reflection of the culture and artistic nature of its people. The love and appreciation for the quality of ingredients however basic means that somehow even the poorest among them know how to cook and eat well. This kind of knowledge and passion comes from a culinary heritage that produces some of the finest food around. Northern Italy is a diverse and fascinating region where the spirit of the people can be illustrated by their eating habits. Because they generally love to eat and cook flavourful food at home they would expect nothing less when eating out, regardless of whether the establishment was a fancy restaurant or a more humble establishment.

The Italian pride means that for the most part this is what they will get! Traditionally for Italians breakfast is a light affair with good coffee and perhaps a cornetto or croissant as we more commonly know it. However, come lunch or dinner time more serious fare is on offer and you can expect to be served four courses albeit smaller in size than some other cultures have the custom. First the anti-pesto or appetizer which may typically be a plate of cold cuts called Salumi served with perhaps a bruschetta bread topped with something delicious like tomato and garlic or a preparation of vegetables in oil. The first course or primo may consist of soup, pasta or risotto. The second course secondo is usually meat, fish, seafood or game and you might order a contorno or side dish of salad or vegetables which will complement the main.

Finally, the dessert or dolce rounds off the meal and such sumptuous treats us Tiramisu, fruit or gelato or perhaps good cheese are typically served. Each region of Italy boasts its own cuisine developed over considerable time.

What many people regard as typically, Italian fare comes primarily from southern Italy, such as pasta with tomato sauce, garlic or pizza.

However, in the north they use more butter and cream in the sauces as well as tomatoes and pasta may be left aside in favour of polenta or risotto. A trip around some of the regions of northern Italy will reveal the varied and delicious ingredients and dishes to be found. In Venice a history connected to the spice trade leaves a legacy of amazing flavour attached to some of the humblest of foods. Be sure to try the scampi, crab or squid from the Adriatic or the oft derided liver and onions. Lombardy as a region favours butter over olive oil using it to good effect in dishes, such as Osso Buco a dish of sliced veal sauteed with the bone marrow. Also featuring veal is a version of the schnitzel called cotoletta alla milanese. The abundance of lakes here too, means trout and perch are used in the pasta dishes.

Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta is famous for its white truffles with the city of Alba serving as Italy’s truffle centre. Roast meats and hearty soups are also favourites often served with slices of polenta. Gorgonzola cheese also comes from Piedmont. The area of Liguria includes Genoa where many ancient Seafarers returned from the New World years ago carrying tomatoes, potatoes and peppers all staples of Italian cuisine. On the coast this region is also famous for its seafood as well as pesto made from pine nuts, basil and olive oil. Liguria is also home of the focaccia a flat and tasty bread topped with herbs. All these regions help to make Northern Italy one of the most diverse and delicious places to eat!