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  Corkscrew Issue 44, September 2006   
Italian Cooking and WineItalian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
Issue 43, Summer 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 45, October 2006

Italian Cooking and Wine

Among the most famous and rich ones of the world, Italian cooking exalts the simplicity of ingredients in a triumph of flavors in which wine is always an excellent companion of the table

 Talking about Italian cooking is not easy. The richness and vastness of this tasty gastronomy is such as to practically make incomplete every definition or description. Among the most famous and appreciated cooking of the world, Italian gastronomy - an immense heritage result of the culinary cultures and traditions of its regions, as a matter of fact, each representing a world on its own - benefits of the richness and diversity of the ingredients which typically distinguish every area of the boot: sea, mountains, hills, lakes and plains. It certainly is also the result of cultures which have had a particular sensibility for food, not only a way to ensure survival in its essential form, but also a way to get pleasure from the things the land could offer. Simple ingredients but however having an invaluable richness and with which it is possible to make refined dishes, such as pasta and its endless ways to dress it, and pizza.


Spaghetti with tomatoes,
capers and oregano: Mediterranean's aromas of Italian cooking
Spaghetti with tomatoes, capers and oregano: Mediterranean's aromas of Italian cooking

 Italian cooking can be defined as a group of local and regional gastronomical cultures and traditions that - thanks to the common use of many ingredients - have contributed to create a model and a style identifiable as “Italian cooking”. The gastronomical cultures of every region has also undergone the influence of ancient people who lived there in ancient times and who introduced both the use of many ingredients as well as techniques and specific dishes, which have become with time both typical and identifying. Good examples are offered by the importance of cereals and legumes in the regions in which lived Etruscans - in particular Umbria and Tuscany - or by the strong influence of Arab gastronomical culture in Sicily, as well as the influence of French cooking in the North-Western regions of Italy. Besides that, it was finally added the indispensable “ingredient” represented by history, which in the course of time has improved - as well as completely removed - the use of ingredients, cooking techniques and taste.

 Among the many ingredients characterizing Italian cooking, there is also wine that, not only it was - and still is - always present in the table as a companion to the meals, it is frequently an essential ingredient in the preparation of dishes and sauces or for marinading some ingredients before cooking. Wine has always played a very important role in Italian cooking, a role which is of course shared with other and fundamental ingredients, such as olive oil and pasta. Thanks to the diversity of the territory and the richness of the resources found in every region, Italian cooking offers an extremely vast gastronomical repertoire, from land cooking - expressed by the richness of vegetables, cereals and legumes - to fish cooking, from the endless culture of bread and buns, of which the most famous son certainly is pizza, and the imaginative and tasty pastry cooking. A gastronomical style appreciated not only in Italy, but also the synonym of “tasty eating” all over the world.

 

The Ingredients of Italian Cooking

 Among the many ingredients which have made Italian cooking famous and appreciated in the world, a place of honor certainly goes to pasta. Short, long, in its countless and almost impossible shapes, pasta is an ingredient which is present in countless and practically endless recipes. The type of pasta which mainly identifies Italian cooking is spaghetti, traditionally prepared with durum wheat flour. The type of flour used for making pasta also distinguishes the area and the region of origin: durum wheat flour in southern regions; plain wheat flour for central and northern regions. Traditionally, in northern and central regions of Italy, plain wheat flour is worked with eggs, sometimes, in some region of central Italy, with water only. In southern regions, durum wheat flour is typically worked with water. In Italy pasta is also produced with flour obtained by other cereals, such as spelt and barley, as well as flour obtained by legumes: famous is the pasta made with chickpea flour. In Valtellina - a mountain area in northern Italy - are famous the typical pizzoccheri, a kind of pasta shaped in short ribbons and produced with buckwheat flour.


 

 In the preparation of the so called main courses, despite it indisputable dominion in the table of Italians, pasta is not the only ingredient used for this purpose. In fact, in Italy cereals are widely used as well, in particular rice - typically cultivated in the northern regions - with which, thanks to its extreme versatility in the cooking, is the protagonist of many recipes, including the famous risotto and its endless interpretations. Typical of the regions of central Italy are the other cereals and legumes, in particular Umbria and Tuscany, where spelt, barley, wheat, lentils, chickpeas, beans, broadbeans and chickling vetch (grass pea) are the absolute protagonists of tasty soups: a very ancient tradition of Etruscan times. The recipes of Italian cooking, thanks to the richness of the products of the land, make a wide use of vegetables of any kind, including the vegetables which were introduced in Italy from America centuries ago - bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes - they are so widely used as to be now considered as “typical”. A classic example is tomato, an ingredient which is directly associated to pasta and with which are being prepared tasty sauces used for its dressing.

 Talking about the use of vegetables in pasta sauces - as well as for some meat recipes - three of them are to be considered the base for most of them: onion, carrot and celery. These three vegetables, properly minced or grossly cut, added to olive oil and allowed to sauté, represent the base for countless dishes and sauces. Vegetables are also used for the preparation of specific dishes, in which their role is of primary importance. A complete list of vegetables used in Italian cooking would be however incomplete because of the tens of varieties used, to which are also added the typical vegetables of each region. Among the most typical ones are mentioned eggplant, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, spinach, onion, turnips and beets. Dishes of Italian cooking are richly aromatized and flavored by aromatic herbs such as rosemary, sage, fennel, basil, parsley, garlic, mint, thyme, marjoram and oregano. Also the use of spices is pretty common: pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron the most typical ones.

 Not only from the garden the fantasy of cooks take its ingredients. The woods are in fact another important resource of Italian cooking and from which are being harvested mushrooms, asparaguses and countless wild herbs, as well as berries and fruits which, in past times more than in recent ones, were used in the preparation of many recipes, in particular dishes based on meat, a very common tradition, for example, at the time of Etruscans, who were also used to add honey. Meat is mainly used in the cooking of the internal areas, the ones far from sea coasts and lakes. The most common meats in Italian cooking are bovine, pork and ovine, as well as poultry. In particular, with pork and boar meat are being prepared many cold cuts, which are also ingredients of many dishes as well as making a food on their own typically served with bread or buns. In mountain and hilly regions, it is also common the consumption of game, in particular boar, venison, deer, rose and wild birds.

 Thanks to the long coastline, the regions bordering the sea count in their gastronomies a rich selection of recipes based on fish. The varieties of fish used for the preparation of dishes changes from region to region, as each of them prefers specific fishes also according to the species mainly present in their seas. The presence of lakes and rivers in the Italian territory allows the regions far from the sea to bring fish on the table, as well as dry fishes kept in salt, such as cod and stockfish. As for condiments, the main role is played by olive oil, generally used raw or as a base ingredient for cooking, present in every region of Italy thanks to the remarkable presence of olive trees. Despite olive oil represents the main condiment in every area of Italy, in the northern regions of Italy is also used butter, a characteristic almost unknown in central and southern regions. Among fats used in cooking, an important role is played by pork lard, which is also used for frying.

 

The Dishes of Italian Cooking

 The richness of Italian cooking is such that any attempt to provide a complete list of the recipes is certainly presumptuous. The richness of the many folk cultures that in every region are still strong associated to the traditions of the past, including the culinary ones, make practically impossible the definition of “Italian cooking”. It can be however defined a “national” style universally recognized as the interpretation of cooking in order to make dishes in a way which can be identified as “Italian”. This aspect can be better understood with one of the most common ingredients of Italian cooking: pasta. The most typical and common way to cook pasta in Italy - both fresh and dried - is to boil it al dente and therefore to pour it on part of the sauce, mix and then add the remaining sauce. Another typical way for cooking pasta in Italy is to stuff it with meat or vegetable fillings, therefore boil it as usual, or to cook it in the oven by enriching the recipe with more or less complicated and tasty sauces.

 Another characteristic of Italian cooking is the way with which it is prepared a particular recipe in which rice is the absolute protagonist: risotto. This tasty recipe - all Italian - provides for the slow and progressive stewing of rice in a liquid, generally broth, to which are added the ingredients suggested by fantasy. As for meat, in Italy it is prepared by using many techniques: roasting, broiling, braising, stewing and sauteing, techniques which are also used for fish. Before being cooked, meat and fish can also be marinated in wine or vinegar, to which are added spices and vegetables. Among “main courses”, soups are very common, generally served in place of pasta, or as it would be properly called, in place of pastasciutta. The soups of Italian cooking are made with all of its typical ingredients, in particular cereals and legumes, most of the times enriched with meat. A particular mention should go to bread and its countless derivatives, including pizza with its endless variants always offering a special and tasty meal distinguishing Italy, its culture and cooking, everywhere in the world, Italy.

 

The Matching with Wine

 In Italy it is believed the matching of wine with dishes must follow the concept of regionality, that is the food of a specific region is to be matched with the wines of the same territory. This principle - which obeys to a traditional rule only - does not have any technical conformation. Thanks to the richness of wines and grapes found in every region, it is very likely that one or more wines of a region can be matched to the dishes of the same land. This rule, which is frequently used in Italy, should not be considered as mandatory or absolute, as it is possible to create excellent enogastronomical matching also with the wines of other regions that - in many cases - are even more harmonic that the ones made with the wines of the same region. In fact, it should be remembered a correct enogastronomical matching is always formulated according to the organoleptic qualities both of the dish and wine, no matter the region they are from.

 For example, saying that pasta or risotto must be always matched with a white wine, is a rule having no technical confirmation, as it is not rare the matching with other style of wines, including red. The main factor for the matching with pasta is represented by the sauce, therefore a rich and robust meat sauce can be matched to a red wine having the same relative structure. The same rule is valid for fish as well - generally considered the ideal companion of white wines - which can be well matched to a red wine. On this regard it can be considered the famous and rich livornese fish soup cacciucco, being so complex as to make most of the white wines anonymous. The same considerations are also valid for recipes based on meat, in which will be evaluated the type of meat, cooking technique and condiments. A subject on its own is pizza. Despite in Italy it is frequent the matching with beer, this famous and tasty recipe is excellently matched to wine, the way suggested by tradition. Also in this case it must be considered the ingredients used as condiments, including the base that, as it is made with flour, its basically sweet taste will tend to prevail over the condiments. This characteristic suggests the use of a slightly sparkling or sparkling wine, including a classic method one, which will not disappoint the palate of connoisseurs.

 




 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 44, September 2006   
Italian Cooking and WineItalian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
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