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     Understanding Italy's regional cuisines
       Source: "Foods of the Worlds: The Cooking of Italy," Time-Life Books.

    Italian food is much, much more than pasta and tomato sauce. It's a patch- work quilt of cuisines, with each patch representing a region of the country.

    Generally, the style of regional cuisines can be divided into north and south. The north is the country of pasta bolognese (the noodles of Bologna), the flat ribbon type, often cooked fresh at home, usually made with eggs. The south is the territory of pasta napolentana (the macaroni of Naples), most often manufactured commercially in dried, tubular form and sold in stores.

    In the north, butter is the most common cooking fat. In the poorer south, dishes are cooked with cheaper ingredients - olive oil instead of butter.

    But there are variations even within the north and south. Here are some of peculiarities of Italy's regional cuisine:

    In Milan, slow cooking is the thing. Boiled dishes are simmered, in covered dishes, for a long time.

    The dishes of Genoa and Liguria seldom use spices, relying instead on a great variety of herbs, especially sweet basil. The cuisine centers around the abundance of seafood: squid, sea bream, red mullet, mackerel and sea perch.

    Venice also relies heavily on seafood and seasonings. You might have a meal of fish with mussels and crayfish, seasoned with a mixture of curry, a touch of tomato extract, marjoram, nutmeg and capers. Also, liver and onions - which the Venetians claim to have invented.

    Around Bologna, you can expect to dine on a rather heavy cuisine rich with fat. The region is known for its hams, sausages and cheeses.

    In Florence and Tuscany, great attention is paid to raw materials of the highest quality, cooked with a minimum of sauces and seasonings. One of the simplest and best dishes is trippa alla fiorentine, tripe stewed in chicken or beef stock with herbs and vegetables and served with grated parmesan cheese.

    In the region of Rome, the dishes are robust, like a porchetta: suckling pig stuffed with herbs and roasted whole.

    In the mountainous Piedmont region, the area abounds with goat, chamois (beef), white hare and wild boar, which are featured entrees of the area. Dishes featuring risotto or polenta might be flavored with fontina cheese or truffles.

    Naples is most famous for its pizza.

    Though situated near each other, the cuisines of the islands of Sicily and Sardinia are quite different.

    Sicily, an open country, grows its food on wheat farms and in truck gardens, vineyards and citrus orchards. The pride of Sicilian cooks is caponata, diced eggplant with peppers, tomatoes, onions and celery to which pine nuts are added. Sardinia, a pastoral land, raises almost a third of all the sheep in Italy, and its cuisine features sheep roasted whole on spits over outdoor fires.

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