A whirlwind tour of Italy’s 20 regions and the culinary characteristics of each.
Italy is composed of 20 regions, each holding its own venerable culinary traditions shaped by geography, climate, and history. Milan-born Micol Negrin, who runs Rustico Cooking in New York City and is the author of the James Beard–nominated book Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking, provides a snapshot of each region’s culinary character.
1. Abruzzo A pork- and seafood-heavy region along the Adriatic Sea, Abruzzese dishes are often flavored with hot chili pepper, saffron, and fruity olive oil.
2. Basilicata A rural region tied to age-old peasant traditions, Basilicata cuisine favors the land’s bounty, including sweet and spicy peppers, mushrooms, wild asparagus, and wheat.
3. Calabria Carrying Greek, Arab, and Albanian influences, many Calabrian recipes are kissed with chili pepper, while deep-fried desserts are awash in honey.
4. Campania Though best known as home to the Naples-born Neapolitan pizza, Campania offers plenty of culinary delights. Campania produces some of Italy’s—and arguably the world’s—most flavorful vegetables and herbs; brings a diverse array of sea creatures to the table, including octopus, squid, cuttlefish, mussels, clams, and eel; and is famous for hams and salami infused with chili pepper, as well as numerous water buffalo milk cheeses.
5. Emilia-Romagna Any authentic Italian dish featuring balsamic vinegar likely traces its roots back to Emilia-Romagna, that vinegar’s birthplace. But this north-central region, one many food insiders consider Italy’s culinary soul, also features some of the nation’s most heralded foods, including Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as tortellini and other stuffed pastas.
6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia With Slavic, Austrian, and Hungarian touches, Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s cuisine runs counter to traditional Italian, with popular ingredients including cabbage, the revered Prosciutto di San Daniele—which gets a salty, aromatic flavor from Adriatic Sea breezes—and brovada, a fermented turnip.
7. Lazio Dinner tables in the Lazio region, which includes Rome, feature lamb and pork, sheep’s milk cheeses, and pastas crafted—simply, yet artfully—from flour and water.
8. Liguria Some of Liguria’s cherished ingredients include porcini mushrooms, pine nuts, and anchovies, while focaccia bread is a notable regional creation.
9. Lombardy Rich risottos and polentas characterize Lombardy cuisine, while the prized Grana Padano cheese has been crafted in the region for centuries. The holidays, meanwhile, bring Panettone, a buttery bread first made in Milan.