One of the most beloved ethnic cuisines in America and around the world, Italian cuisine is also one of the richest and most complex.
Italian cuisine is geographically diverse; the dishes of each region are all unique in terms of ingredients, cooking methods and complexity.
Generally speaking, the main regions of Italy are Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Abruzzi and Campania.
Each area has its own culinary history and contributes a unique approach to Italian cuisine as a whole.
Piedmont is located in the north of Italy, closest to its French border. Perhaps this proximity to France is what makes the cities of Alba, Asti and Turin pay extraordinary attention to the quality of their cuisine. Alba is home to the white truffle, and the city is quite proud of its prized export. Asti produces some of the finest wines in Italy, including Asti Spumante and vermouth, and Turin is home to some of the best outdoor markets in Italy.
Lombardy, also in the north, shares its border with Switzerland. Milan is the hub of more than just fashion in the Lombardy region. This bustling city is well known for exquisite veal and seafood, as well as the finest risotto.
The Veneto region lays claim to the most romantic city in Italy. Asiago and Treviso shouldn't be dismissed, however; Asiago is known for the production of cheese, and Treviso is a melting pot of European and Mediterranean cuisines due to its proximity to the sea. Venice, of course, is one of the finest cities on the planet in which to dine.
Emilia-Romagna is home to Bologna, Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia. Parma has given the world the gift of fine Parma ham, while Modena is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar.
Tuscany is the region in Italy best known for the finest wines and olive oil. Red-meat is prolific in Tuscan cities, such as Florence. Tuscan cuisine favors Chianti, beans and innards.
Abruzzi's proximity to the sea provides cities such as L'Aquila the finest seafood. Abruzzi is also the only saffron-growing region in Italy.
Campania is a region that has been historically invaded many times by Arabs, Greeks and Romans. The cuisine in Campania is rich with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and seafood. Many consider the cuisine in Campania most similar to the Italian food available in the U.S. Campania's largest city, Naples, is home to an amazing street market, the Public Market, that encompasses many blocks.
Northern Italy has adopted the cooking methods of a colder climate, therefore risottos, gnocchi and polenta are common staples. In the south, rustic peasant cooking triumphs. Olive oil, vegetables, pasta and pizza are key ingredients to their cuisine.
Western Italy, such as Liguria, is known for fish and preserved dishes, while northern Lombardy commonly uses rice, corn, Gorgonzola, Mascarpone, Taleggio cheese and Ossobucco.
The region of Lacio, where Rome resides, divides northern and southern cuisines, but in a way, the flavors of all the regions in Italy converge in Rome.
Sicily, one of Italy's islands, has a diverse cuisine that includes rice, couscous and sweet delicacies. On the other hand, lamb, vegetables and cheeses are the stars of Sardinian cuisine.
So what connects all these regions to create a national cuisine? An amazing passion for producing fine foods from the freshest ingredients available.
If the only Italian you've ever had is pizza or lasagna, take the time to expose yourself to the many regional cuisines Italy has to offer. The world of Italian cooking is thrilling and expansive. Trust me, you won't be sorry you did.