When people think of Italian cooking, most think about pasta and pizza pies. However, there are so many more dishes and influences that inspire those dishes. The history of the Italian people, as well as Italy's geographical location, both contribute to the types of food. Italian culture is shown through its cuisine.
There are about 20 regions in Italy and different types of food can be found in each one. Long ago it was difficult for Italians to travel to other regions within Italy. This resulted in distinct styles and ways to prepare food in each region as few people were exposed to other types of cooking. So even though Italy does not seem to be a very large nation geographically, it still has a wide range of flavor.
Northern and southern Italy are very different in climate. The south has very warm weather while in the north the weather is cold. Dry pasta, like spaghetti and rigatoni, is found more in the southern areas because it is easier to dry in warm weather. Since it was more difficult to prepare dry pasta in the north, pastas like tajarin, pappardelle, and tagliatelle were more popular. Other types of pasta popular in the north were stuffed pastas like ravioli.
The climate also affected the types of food and plants that could grow in Italy. Some plants, like olive oil, grew better in warm weather, so in southern Italy olive oil was used a lot. Olive trees did not grow well in the northern areas where it was cold. Butter and lard were used in place of olive oil.
Tomatoes are another kind of plant that grows better in warm climate. In southern Italy cooking tomatoes are used heavily along with red sauces. Broccoli raab and eggplants are two other types of plants that grow well in warmer weather. Vegetables that thrive in colder climates like in the northern areas are black leaf kale, radicchio, cardoons, and cabbage.
Along with climate, economy plays a role in Italian cooking. Another staple in Italy older than pasta and pizza is polenta. It is commonly used today, but long ago it was popular among the poor in Italy. Polenta was easy to make and prepare in Italy.
The countries that border Italy like France and Austria also has an influence over Italian cuisine. Other foreign influences include Spain, England, and Arabic countries. These countries occupied specific areas of Italy throughout history.
With all the different kinds of Italian food it is important in the Italian culture to savor and enjoy the different tastes. Meals are an important way for Italian families to bond by sitting down to a ten course meal that could last around three hours. Since getting the tastes is important and because there are so many courses, the size of each plate is much smaller.