I swear this is not some 1950s article about being newly married where I write about the trials and tribulations of cooking Italian food for my husband. It’s more a humorous recount of yesterday’s culinary fiasco and the nuances of regional cuisine in Italy. In short, my northern Italian beau thought I made pizza upon a quick first inspection of a lasagna fresh out of the oven. “Pizza!” is also the first word my new mother-in-law jubilantly called out when she saw my creation via Skype. More on that in a minute.
Both of us are big foodies and cook quite a lot. I enjoy cooking and it certainly has nothing to do with fulfilling wifely responsibilities. Three years together and he knows its better to call for take out if something is not to his liking (usually when he’s in the mood for junk food). After deciding to jump back on the Whole30 bandwagon following a gluttonous month away, most of which was spent in Italy, I thought crostini to start and lasagna with a bottle of red was the best way to go out with a bang on the last fattening night.
I grew up in New York where everyone has tried cooking Italian food at one point or another. But cooking Italian food in the States centers more around cooking Southern Italian dishes with American twists. Many Italians living in the States descend from the southern hemisphere of Italy. And things considered Italian in the U.S. do not really exist in North Italy. If I say biscotti (should be called cantucci), talk about The Sopranos (this gets the worst reaction), meatballs (don’t even), sundried tomatoes or capers, I see a furrowed brow on my husband’s face. I don’t know if its due to that weird northern/southern divide that exists in a lot of countries. You know that thing where people living in the North think they’re better and more sophisticated? And where those from the South think Northerners are snotty pricks with a stick up their a$$? 🙂
Could be that everyone thinks the food they grew up eating is best. I find Italians are more loyal to their respective regions. I find the same to be the case with Americans. I’ll always say I’m a New Yorker before I say I’m American.
Where did I go wrong with my attempt at cooking Italian cross border lasagna? Adding ricotta to lasagna is not done in northern Italy if eaten at all. My other indiscretion was adding a few pieces of mozzarella to the top, typically only grated Parmesan is used. Anyway, he thought it was pizza on first glance because of the melted cheese. We happened to be Skyping with his Mom about yesterday’s terrible earthquake. Fortunately his parents live well north of the epicenter. The phone call ended with my husband telling both of us that he’d cut the tray in triangular slices instead of squares. Hahahahahaha (insert stone-faced emoticon). P.S. My husband and his parents are the warmest people you’ll meet, it was all in jest and we had a great laugh about it. It still tasted good and he ate two helpings.
Differences in Northern and Southern Cooking
So what are some of the main differences between Northern and Southern Italian cuisine? First I’ll specify that Northern regions are considered Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto etc. Whereas Southern Italy consists of regions including Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, and Puglio etc. I haven’t even spoken about Central Italy. Back to some of the differences:
- The North tends to be more influenced by its European neighbors, such as France and Austria. The South by Mediterranean and Arab influences
- Northern cooking uses more butter as opposed to olive oil, mainly due to climate differences
- Rice is a frequent ingredient in many northern dishes i.e. risotto. Pasta is still eaten in Northern Italy but does not play the central role that it does in the South
- Southern Italian cooking uses tomatoes far more than northern Italian cooking does and typically things like sardines, peppers, olives are more common in the south
- The concept of eating fish before Christmas does not exist in northern regions and meatballs are only on restaurant menus in the North to appease tourists or appear new age
- Southern Italy is less suitable for raising cattle compared to the North. Northern cuisine will have more beef and veal incorporated in dishes whereas the South more seafood due to proximity to coastline
- ALL Italians in Italy think Fettuccine Alfredo is the perfect example of everything that’s wrong with America