Fresh Fridays
August 7, 2015
Vol. VII No. 16
Italian Table
A traditional potluck lunch in Bari Vecchia, the Old Town of Bari, Puglia.
In This Issue

Spotlight on Italy 

Outside of Italy, Italian food can seem to be mostly pizza, pasta, and gelato. While these three foods can be found all over Italy, there is so much more to Italian cuisine! Italians take great pride in their regional specialties, from olive oil to cheese, as well as the fruits, vegetables, and grains grown at local farms. 


Aside from regional differences, Italian food is also shaped by historical class differences. Before the economic and social disorder that ensued during World War II, Italian cuisine could be divided into two types: cucina povera, or the cooking of the poor, and cucina alto-borghese, or the cuisine of the upper classes. Cucina povera was regional, based on local produce, and very simple; it was by no means poor quality food, but a kind of cooking that made the most of available ingredients. 


The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is an excellent representation of cucina povera. The most inexpensive dishes utilized foods from the garden (fresh herbs, beans, vegetables, and fruits) and nearby farms (wheat for pasta and bread, corn, rice, olives for olive oil, and grapes for wine). Farm animals were valued as continuous resources for eggs and dairy, and rarely butchered, so meat and poultry were used only sparingly to flavor dishes. Desserts were reserved for special occasions. 


While this describes the lifestyle of most people throughout Italy for centuries, ingredients and dishes varied greatly from region to region. For example, people living in coastal regions enjoyed more seafood. Up north, bean soups, stews served over polenta, risotto, and hearty vegetables such as radicchio were more common. The Middle East influenced southern cuisine, where fava beans, hot peppers, eggplant, and flatbread were popular.


One way to get a sample of regional differences is through Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) products. The law dictates where and how these products are produced, to preserve traditional methods and help consumers avoid knock-off products. PDO products can be found all over Europe, but over a quarter of them are from Italy. The most popular Italian PDO product by far is olive oil; almost every region has its own! Below are a few other delicious examples.


Regions of Italy 

White Asparagus (Veneto): White asparagus grows underground; its pale color comes from a lack of sunlight. It is still tender and flavorful, especially in Veneto, where the colder climate is ideal for growing it. Venetians typically top boiled white asparagus with chopped hard-boiled eggs, a drizzle of olive oil, and pepper.


Balsamic Vinegar (Emilia Romagna): Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, or Balsamic vinegar from Emilia Romagna (Modena and Reggio Emilia), is thicker and richer than other balsamic vinegars. It is produced in a series of barrels and can be aged for over 25 years! In Emilia Romagna, it is used simply, drizzled on salads or risotto, to allow its incredible flavor to stand out.


Basil (Liguria): Genoa, a city and province in Liguria, is known for its fragrant and flavorful basil. It is also the birthplace of Pesto Genovese, traditional Italian pesto made from ground basil, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garlic, and olive oil.


Farro (Umbria): Farro is a type of wheat used whole, or ground to make semolina flour for what some consider the most delicious pasta in the world. In Umbria, the whole grain is traditionally used in soups and grain salads with seasonal vegetables.


Buffalo Mozzarella (Campania and Lazio): Made from water buffalo milk, Mozzarella di Bufala is creamier than cow's milk mozzarella. Caprese salad is a traditional dish in Campania that celebrates the cheese by simply layering fresh slices with basil and tomatoes.


Blood Oranges (Sicily): Richly colored and wonderfully sweet, blood oranges are thought to be native to Sicily. Sicilians use them in fruit and green salads, to make dressing, and squeezed into fresh blood orange juice.


Today, regional Italian cuisines are becoming more alike, thanks to better transportation and refrigeration to move food around the country. However, Italians still take great pride in their traditional regional specialties. Try some of the recipes below, and savor the quality of the ingredients and simple preparation like a true Italian.


Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe. 


In its simplest form, Italian bruschetta is made by toasting bread, rubbing it with garlic, and topping it with extra virgin olive oil and salt. This recipe turns it up a notch with seasonal summer squash. 


Recipe and photo courtesy of Positively Good For You.


Pasta Salad


This summer pasta salad recipe, like many Italian recipes, is easy to make and relies on quality ingredients. Leftovers make a great lunch for work or school.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Barilla


Fave e Cicoria


Fave e ciccoria (fava beans and chicory) is a popular dish in Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot. It takes inspiration from Egyptian bean purées across the Mediterranean. Allow extra time for soaking the dried fava beans.


Recipe and photo courtesy of Elizabeth Minchilli.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be. 

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:     

 Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)        





Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being.       



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The Food of Italy
by Waverly Root

To read this book is not just to learn the proper preparation for lasagna and risotto, but also to encounter the Medicis, to witness an opulent banquet for two, and to learn the fables surrounding the origin of tortellini. 


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