When we talk about Italian food, we tend to think pasta with red sauce, spaghetti and meatballs or pizza. However, Italy is a large country, with many different regions with their own gastronomic specialties. Northern Italian cuisine, in particular, is very distinct from its southern counterpart, but no less delicious!
The most notable difference between food in Northern Italy and the rest of the country is a greater emphasis on butter, rice, corn, and less use of olive oil, pasta, and tomato sauce. This is because it’s closer to the dairy regions of Austria and the Alps than the Mediterranean influences of the southern coast. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a bowl of spaghetti up north, but you’ll be more likely to see regional specialties such as risotto or polenta, as well as a greater focus on game meats then seafood.
Risotto, a dish of rice cooked in chicken stock until soft, is a particular favorite of diners everywhere. Filled with plenty of butter and Parmesan cheese, risotto is a creamy indulgence that can be filled with many additions to suit the season and your tastes. Although it has a reputation of being difficult to cook, it’s actually quite simple, albeit a bit time-consuming. The key is to stir boiling chicken stock into the rice in stages. Once the stock is absorbed, add another ladleful until the rice reaches your desired consistency. To finish, mix in lots of Parmesan and butter.
Polenta is another Northern Italian favorite. Eaten as both porridge and as a solidified slice; this ground cornmeal dish is best eaten with lots of butter and cheese mixed in. As porridge, it’s a delicious base to tender braised meats, particularly the game meats that are common in the region. If allowed to cool, it’s hard enough to cut into slices, and then fry in butter or olive oil. It can then be topped with sauces or even eaten plain.
Fonduta is also popular up north, perhaps due to the influence of fondue from bordering Switzerland. Made with Fontina Val D’Aosta – the cheese derives its name from the Valle D’Aosta region – fonduta is a hearty food, perfect for cold nights in the mountains.
The next time you’re thinking Italian, don’t stop at the typical spaghetti and meatballs. Beyond the staples of tomatoes and basil is a rich and varied culinary landscape ready for exploring. By expanding your culinary horizons, you can discover a whole new region. Start your exploring in your kitchen today