Italy is renowned for its fantastic cuisine and many people will be familiar with some of the best-loved dishes, such as pasta, pizza and gelato. Yet each region of Italy boasts its own speciality, which, for a food lover, is a must-try. A walking or cycling holiday is a great way to immerse yourself in the country's atmosphere and to experience its culture. After a day of exercise, you can sit down, relax and really enjoy a meal. Ask the waiter or waitress for their regional recommendations and a local wine to go with it.
12 great regional dishes of Italy
Puglia: Orecchiette pasta
Puglia is a great place to enjoy a walking or cycling holiday. It is one of Italy's flattest region (great for easier cycling days), as well as being very fertile (great for seasonal foods). Wheat and olive oil are produced in abundance in Puglia and this makes pasta a favourite for locals. Orecchiette is "little ears" of durum wheat pasta, often made in this region without egg.
Lombardy: Risotto Alla Milanese
Walking holidays in Lombardy offers many opportunities for sampling the local cuisine and the wines. 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 are beef marrow, although this is not always used these days because of dietary reasons, and saffron.
Piedmont: Bagna caôda
Piedmont is an Italian region that 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 on a cycling holiday in Piedmont?
Umbria: Tagliatelle with truffles
Umbria borders three other Italian regions, Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche, and 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.
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 but 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." Check out our adventure of the week in Tuscany and also read about walking the hill towns of 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.
Calabria: Macaroni with pork, eggplant and salted ricotta
Typically, cuisine in this region, which is discovered in southwest Italy occupying the "toe" of the country’s boot-shaped peninsula, 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), which is a dried, pressed sheep's milk cheese to give the dish a salty kick.
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 (perfect after a day of walking or cycling), especially the white flour of a pizza base. 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 cow's milk mozzarella, tomato sauce and perhaps a couple of other toppings. Imagine great flavours yet wonderful simplicity. The Amalfi coast walk is a treat, especially if you like to combine daily walking, a beautiful coast and fine foods and wine.
Located in northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna stretches from the Apennine Mountains to the Po River in the north. You can walk through the foothills of the Apennine on a walking holiday in Lombardy. 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.
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 is served cubed or on toasted bread. The dish is a warming balance of spice, salt and sweetness. You can visit Friuli on a cycling holiday 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 favourite regional dish, especially in the countryside around Rome. The 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. See this adventure of the week.
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 – with fresh sardines, wild fennel, raisins, pine nuts and saffron. Try pasta with sardines and other tasty dishes on a walking holiday in Sicily.