Italy is renowned for its fantastic cuisine and many people will be familiar with some of its best-loved dishes, such as pasta, pizza and gelato. Yet each region of Italy boasts its own speciality and, as all food lovers will agree, it is a must to try them while you're there. A hiking or biking tour is a great way to immerse yourself in the country's atmosphere and truly experience its culture. After a day of exercise, you can look forward to sitting down, relaxing and enjoying a good meal. Ask the waiter or waitress for their regional recommendations and, of course, a local wine to go with it.
12 Great Regional Dishes of Italy
Tasty Orecchiette pasta served simply
Puglia: Orecchiette pasta
Pulgia is a great place to enjoy a hiking or biking trip. It is one of Italy's flattest regions (which is great if you're a novice on the bike), as well as being very fertile (perfect for seasonal foods). Wheat and olive oil are produced in abundance in Pulgia, and this makes pasta a favourite for locals. Orecchiette are "little ears" of durum wheat pasta, often made in this region without egg.
Lombardy: Risotto alla milanese
Hiking around Lake Como in the Lombardy region offers many opportunities to sample the local cuisine and wine. Did you know that this region is home to a wealth of rice paddies, which is where Carnaroli and Arborio varieties are grown? It won’t surprise you to know that this region, in northern Italy, is the home of risotto. In Risotto alla Milanese, the traditional ingredients include beef marrow although this is not always used these days because of dietary reasons, and saffron. Bagna Cauda. Pic credit: Fernando Lopez Anido
Barolo: Bagna caôda
Barolo is a region in Piedmont, which borders France and Switzerland. The regional dish is Bagna caôda, which means "warm dip". The dish is based on an emulsion of slow-cooked chopped garlic, oil and butter. Anchovies and peeled walnuts are added and cooked down until it forms a salty-garlicky paste. This is usually served in a terracotta pot accompanied with artichoke, endive, sweet pepper and onion for dipping. Why not sample this while hiking in Barolo?
Umbria: Tagliatelle with truffles
Umbria borders three other Italian regions; Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche, and it definitely makes the most of a wonderful, natural larder. Game, including wild boar, is often found on menus and they love to include fungus in their dishes. The famous black truffle grows just below ground level in forests all over Umbria, while even more prized is the tartufo bianco (white truffle) that grows in late autumn. Tagliatelle with truffles is a simple dish that offers a taste sensation. Fresh, pasta strands are tossed with butter and a little grated Parmigiano to taste, and as much truffle as you can find/afford. After a long day of hiking in Umbria, you should definitely treat yourself!
Naked ravioli, or gnudi
Tuscany: Gnudi with ricotta and spinach
Tuscany is traditionally a farming region and the food reveals the use of local ingredients. Gnudi are "naked" ravioli, i.e without the sheet of pasta that usually encloses them, so it’s just the filling that you get. They are served with spinach, ricotta (sheep's milk cheese), flour and egg and usually accompanied with a dressing of olive oil, sage and pecorino cheese. There are plenty of opportunities to sample this delicious dish on a hiking tour in Tuscany.
Abruzzo: Maccheroni alla Chitarra
Abruzzo lies to the east of Rome and boasts a rugged landscape with a focus on farming. There are many dishes associated with this region and most include local meats. One of the best is Maccheroni alla chitarra, which is created by pressing pasta through an instrument called a “chitarra”. The result is long, thin noodles rather like spaghetti. The pasta is usually served with a tomato-based sauce, flavoured with peppers, pork, goose, or lamb.
Ricotta salata is a popular ingredient. Pic credit: Paoletta S.
Calabria: Macaroni with pork, eggplant and salted ricotta
The cuisine in this region, which is located in the "toe" of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, typically offers a lovely balance of meat and vegetables. Macaroni with pork, eggplant and salted ricotta is a speciality and combines several of Italy’s southern classic elements; Melanzane (eggplant), cured meats such as capocollo (pork neck), and ricotta salata (salted ricotta, a dried, pressed sheep's milk cheese which gives the dish a salty kick).
Pizza Napoletana . Pic credit: ElfQrin
Campania: Pizza Napoletana
Campania is in sunny south-western Italy and is renowned for its stunning coastline, ancient ruins and the bustling city of Naples. The region is all about the carbs, especially the white flour of a pizza base - perfect after a day of hiking or cycling. Pizza Napoletana is usually served in Campania as a thick-rimmed pizza and is often cooked in a wood-burning domed oven. The topping comprises of cow's milk mozzarella, tomato sauce and perhaps a couple of other toppings. Imagine great flavours yet wonderful simplicity. The Amalfi Coast is a treat, especially if you like to combine daily hiking, a beautiful coastline, and fine foods.
Located in northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna stretches from the Apennine Mountains to the Po River in the north. Many of the pasta dishes we know today have their classic Italian roots in the region of Emilia-Romagna. One great example is the baked, layered lasagne, yet another great dish to try is Cappelletti (stuffed "little hats"), tortellini and tortelloni.
Tangy frico. Pic credit: DorothyP61N1
Friuli Venezia Giulia: Spiced frico cheese
The north-eastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia borders Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. As you might expect, the cuisine in the Italian region has many influences and offers something of a hybrid style. The frico cheese is based on the local cow's milk cheese. It is cooked almost to melting point and then sugar and cinnamon are added before it is served cubed, or on toasted bread. The dish is a warming balance of spice, salt and sweetness. You can visit Friuli on a biking tour between Venice and Porec.
Lazio: Spring lamb with salt-cured anchovies
Located in the heart of Italy and boasting the country’s capital city of Rome is the region of Lazio. Lamb with salt-cured anchovies is a favorite regional dish, especially in the countryside around Rome. This simple but delicious dish is created by cooking chopped lamb in a pan with oil, garlic, sage and rosemary. It is then seasoned with salt-cured anchovies.
Sicily: Pasta with sardines
Pasta con le sarde is a delicious contrast of sweet and salty. The dish is often made on this Italian island with bucatini (pasta tubes), and served with fresh sardines, wild fennel, raisins, pine nuts and saffron. You can try pasta with sardines and other tasty dishes while hiking in Sicily.