The Evolution of Italian Cucina
detailing the two distinct styles of Italian food evolution, simple cooking to the more exotic formulas.
The Varied Delights of Italian Food
The evolution of Italian cuisine as we know it today has been greatly influenced by historical class structures, and by the variety of cooking from each of the twenty-one very distinctive regions of this food-loving country.
As we journey through the various regions, we are tempted by the marvellous ingenuity of the citizens to take a simple tomato, herb, olive oil and make them into a glorious dish. The further south we go, the more the use of tomatoes whilst up in the northern sections of this fantastic country we come across rice dishes and polentas. Of course there are always the varied cheese and meat and poultry dishes with vegetables playing a large part of what is served.
From such a perspective, Italian cooking can be divided into two general types: ‘cucina povera’ which literally translates to ‘cooking of the poor’ and is strictly regional. Food bought at the local market, fished in local waters, hunted on nearby land or grown in local gardens. Recipes were simple, basic. Food in these regions was for nourishment, and yet with the creative use of a wide variety of herbs, the dishes became flavourful and pleasing to the eye. Daily meals consisted of one dish but served with chunks of home baked bread and a bottle of local wine, they became a feast.
In the North, rice has been a staple of the Milanese diet since the 15th century and the risotto giallo or alla Milanese (rice seasoned with saffron) has not changed in over two hundred years. Polenta which is a dish made from cornmeal is a staple in the Veneto area whilst from the south of Italy, spaghetti seasoned with tomato sauce or olive oil is still to be found cooking merrily in many a farm kitchen and local trattoria.
On the other end of the scale is the ‘cucina alto-borghese’ cooking done in the kitchens of the landed gentry and rich merchant families of Italy. This has evolved not only through regional roots but through the cosmopolitan nature of this class of people who ate for pure enjoyment, and the crossing cultures of foreign invaders who occupied different regions and left their mark – the French in Piedmonte, the Lorraines in Tuscany, the Bourbons in Napoli and Sicily, and the Austrians in Lombardia and the Veneto. By influencing food trends in various regions, these peoples created a more refined and imaginative way of preparing foods. In their kitchens, cooks may have prepared spaghetti with a tomato sauce but would have enlivened it with little meatballs, sliced livers, boiled eggs or even baked it in a sweet pastry shell. Rice may have been served as a ‘bomba’ – in a mold with a ragu of meat and mushrooms.
Nowadays with all the changes in the mores of society, a vast blending in the classes has taken place. With this has come significant changes in both types of cuisine, to the point that we, ourselves, are enjoying a sophisticated version of the ‘cucina povera’ in all its glorious simplicity whilst the ‘cucina alto borghese’ has been lost in the swirling mists of an era when plentiful supplies of time, domestic help and wealth existed together.