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Itinerary: 10 cities to taste Italy’s most famous dishes

In occasion of Expo Milano 2015, the world fair on food and nutrition, here is a journey through the origins of Italian dishes and this country’s rich culinary tradition.

A trip back in time to discover the origins and places where Italian traditional culinary delights were created for the first time. An itinerary to discover Italian regions through a selection of Italy’s most famous and scrummy dishes that whet your appetite.

 

Teglio and its pizzoccheri. Lombardy

Pizzoccheri is a typical dish from Valtellina, a valley in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. It is widely known that many historical figures and writers visited the small town of Teglio to taste pizzoccheri, the local dish, and immortalize them with famous poems. Pizzoccheri are flat ribbon pasta almost 10 cm long made with buckwheat flour and cooked with cheese, vegetables, butter, garlic and sage. In the restaurants of Valtellina many chefs have created a different version of the traditional recipe to cover the taste of buckwheat. If you want to try the original recipe, just go to Teglio.

Genoa, the Riviera di Levante and its trofie with pesto. Liguria

Trofie with pesto are the traditional dish of Ligurian cuisine. The history of trofie, which are made with flour and water only, dates back to the XI century, when the cooks who went to the Crusades had some dough left between their fingers. Here is why trofie have their typical twisted shape with tapered ends. If the riviera di Levante is the birthplace of trofie, pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa, in the Prà district. The use of herbs in Liguria dates back to the Middle Ages, when only the nobles bought spices. Pesto is prepared by crushing the ingredients, including basil, with a circular motion of the pestle in a wooden mortar. Today pesto is the symbol of the city of Genoa. Here, in the alleyways near the harbor, you can find local restaurants that serve scrummy trofie with pesto.

Bolonia and its lasagne. Emilia Romagna

This traditional, worldwide renowned dish of Bolonia, northern Italy, was created for the first time in the Baroque era. The opulence of this dish celebrates the richness of its hometown and the different nationalities of the students who attended the Università di Bologna. Although according to the original recipe lasagne is made with a filling of spinach, bechamel, Parmesan cheese and ragù, there are many versions of this dish.

From Forlì to Rimini, piadina. Emilia Romagna

If you want to try the original piadina, you have to go to one of those small kiosks scattered throughout the region between Forlì and Rimini. Here, in every town piadine have different shapes and fillings. This dish is similar to Asian flatbreads and its etymology is uncertain but probably its name refers to wooden cutting boards. Every town has its own version of the piadina: the one that is made in Forlì is thicker, that of Rimini is really flat and that of Montefeltro is tastier because it is made with peppered dough. If you want to discover the different versions of this traditional Italian dish all you have to do is travel and try them.

Florence, Arezzo and their ribollita. Tuscany

Ribollita is the traditional Florentine vegetable soup and it’s very much Italian peasant food. It is an extremely versatile dish: it respects the seasonality of vegetables even if the original recipe includes autumnal ingredients such as beans, beets and black cabbage, native to Tuscany. Tradition has it that its name – that literally means twice cooked – is derived from the fact that the vegetable leftovers of an entire week were cooked on Friday and then boiled over and over again with stale bread and oil during the following week. It is impossible not to eat a ribollita if you go to Firenze or Arezzo. So, if you go thereabouts, enjoy this good and healthy dish.

Amatrice to taste the real amatriciana. Lazio

The small medieval town of Amatrice, in the province of Rieti, Lazio, is the birthplace of the spaghetti with the amatriciana sauce. The ingredients used to make this dish are all local: guanciale and pecorino cheese of Amatrice. Originally, the amatriciana sauce didn’t contain tomatoes, only at the beginning of the eighteenth century people started to cook it with tomato sauce. Don’t say that the spaghetti with the amatriciana sauce have Roman origins, otherwise you would make a terrible mistake: the shepherds of Amatrice, who moved to Rome for the transhumance, made their dish known. So, if you want to eat the original pasta with the amatriciana sauce you have to go to Amatrice, not Rome.

Naples and its pizza Margherita. Campania

The word “pizza” appeared for the very first time in Naples in the Seventeenth century, when an oven-baked flat bread seasoned with cheese, fish and oil was called like that. According to a popular legend the archetypal pizza, pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, the colour of the Italian flag, in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Neapolitan pizzas is round, it has a thin sheet of dough and a thick crust. Thanks to the cheapness of its ingredients, pizza is one of the most popular dishes in the whole world. The Brandi pizzeria, the restaurant where the pizza Margherita was created still exists and you visit Naples, you can eat the real Neapolitan pizza looking at the plaque that commemorates the invention of this dish.

Bari and its orecchiette with turnip tops. Apulia

Orecchiette are one of Apulia’s traditional varieties of pasta. With their concave and round shape, which is inspired to the trulli roofs, handmade orecchiette are smooth inside but uneven outside, in order for the filling – usually turnip tops – to be held within the orecchietta. This recipe was invented in Bari, where in the XII century it is recorded that a baker passed his business to his daughter particularly good at making the “recchietedde”. Apulian tradition has it that the orecchiette have different dimensions: the biggest ones are better if seasoned with vegetables, the smallest ones should be flavoured with sauces.

Caltanissetta and its cannoli. Sicily

The legend has it that cannoli have been invented in Caltanissetta, in Arab the “city of women”, due to the harems of the Saracen emirs. Here, at the time, women prepared exquisite dishes, including cannoli with ricotta, almonds and honey, in honour of the sultan’s manly qualities. Later, the invention of the cannoli was attributed to cloistered nuns. Gastronomes are sure that this opulent sweet has Arab origins because it is made with spices and has flavours similar to those of the Arab and Greek cuisine. Caltanissetta is therefore the “city of cannoli”, the perfect place where to taste this waffle stuffed with sheep ricotta, candied fruits, chocolate and chopped pistachios.

From many Italian regions, tiramisù. 

Tiramisù, the most popular sweet in Italy, has not only one birthplace. The origins of this delicious coffee-flavoured sweet are often disputed between many Italian regions and there are plenty of accounts about tiramisù. From the history of pastry chefs from Siena who created it for the greedy Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo de’ Medici, to the cooks of the “El Toulà” restaurant in Treviso, who had to invent a sweet to lift up (in Italian the verb is “tirare su” from which the name tiramisù is derived) the clients of a nearby brothel, this sweet is undoubtedly Italian. This worldwide renowned sweet, suitable for every occasion and made of ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with scrumptious mascarpone cheese is the quintessensce of the Italian culinary tradition.

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