WINE AND FOOD -
Italian regional cuisine
The mistaken belief that regional cooking in Italy as we see it today dates back to Antiquity is fairly widespread. The presence of what Braudel termed “intruders” from the New World among the ingredients of many regional Italian recipes in fact requires them to be dated much more recently, particularly if one considers that many ingredients from the Americas did not become readily available throughout Europe until the end of the 18th century. The few regionally identifiable recipes described in documents from the 14th and 15th century to have survived, tend to limit themselves to a description of the single dish rather than dwell on the procedure that goes into the making of it. It was not until the 18th century that regional differences in Italian cuisine began to take shape, and it took a further century for the ‘regionalisation’ process to reach completion.
"It was not until this process was complete, in the first decade of the 20th century, that academics of food and popular traditions were able to have a clear picture of Italian regional cuisine "1.
Just in the same way that it is a generalisation to talk of “Italian cuisine” as a whole, it is hard to find a cuisine that is identical from one part of Umbria to another. Possibly the only common denominator of Umbrian cuisine is the simplicity of the preparation methods and the fact that it relies exclusively on local farming produce. Understandably, this strong reliance on local produce is common to many Italian regions, given that local cuisine has evolved mainly from peasant cooking traditions – simple dishes made from seasonal ingredients or dictated by religious festivities. It should come as no surprise that a given dish, or dishes prepared using the same ingredients (in Umbria there is an abundance of olive oil, pork, chicken, eggs and vegetables), appear across the region with different names – even between neighbouring villages – or with slightly different secondary ingredients.
Another factor that has conditioned the evolution of regional cooking in Umbria is the traditionalist palate of its inhabitants. When they go out for a meal, Umbrians tend to prefer food that is familiar to them, which is why the region’s restaurants display little variety in their menus. This characteristic traditionalism extends also to celebration dinners and banquets – events for which Umbrians are prepared to delve deep into their pockets in order to invite tens, sometimes hundreds of friends and family. The menus on these occasions will once more feature dishes from traditional home cooking, only greater in number.
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