The geography of Italy, as well as its neighboring countries, Slovenia, Austria, and Switzerland, inevitably determines and shapes the lands it showcases. Italy’s southern border is shared with the southern French perimeter. The wonderfully-rich gastronomic repertoire of the northern Italian regions lies in the varied and deep influences it receives from these neighboring countries. This is definitely proven by the regions of Giulia Venezia-Friuli, Veneto, Adige Alto Trentino, Lombardy, Aosta d’Val, Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria.
Basil and oregano take the place of sage and rosemary as quintessential Mediterranean herbs; stock or wine and butter substitute tomato sauces and olive oil; frying and boiling are given preference over slow brazing and stewing methods, leading to dishes that are more indulgent and robust in the northern areas due to the colder and more rigid climate in contrast to the sun-soaked South.
In the most northern regions, the excellent cattle breeds largely present primarily contribute to the production of high-quality meat and cheeses. Moreover.
But now let’s explore each area and discover the unique features they have to provide!
Liguria is a region in the north-western part of the Mediterranean culinary culture, specifically known for its unique shape resembling a thin half-moon, rolling outwards but limited to the southernmost regions, not including the northern areas.
1. Trofie with Pesto Sauce
Trofie Pesto is a traditional dish that exemplifies the Ligurian identity, characterized by the use of freshly ground Genovese basil and olive oil. The pasta used in this dish is typically cooked al dente and is a spiral-shaped type. It is almost exclusively eaten with Genovese pesto, making it a true symbol of Ligurian cuisine.
To explore more local delicacies, take a look at our article on the most renowned Ligurian cuisine.
Emilia-Romagna is likely the one area in Italy that contains the majority of the internationally acclaimed Italian cuisine and dishes, categorized as the second most southern region of Northern Italy due to its extensive utilization of Mediterranean components.
2. Bolognese Meat Sauce
Originally from the town of Bologna, Bolognese alla ragù is a timeless symbol of soul-satisfying, nourishing, and hearty cuisine. Typically, this slow-cooked meat-based tomato sauce, flavored with red wine and laurel, is savored during long Sunday lunches. It can require up to 3 hours of simmering, and is often made with either lasagne or tagliatelle.
Piemonte, a countryside and manufacturing area with a genuine alpine character, delineates a significant part of the southern French boundary in the northwestern region of Italy.
Butter, fat, cheeses made from mountain milk, and truffles, have certainly impacted its gastronomy due to the extensive utilization of the magnificent Alps. This connection is derived from its location at the base of the mountains, which originates from the Latin term Pedemontium (at the foot of the mountains), the region’s name.
3. Alba Truffle
The truffle species known as Tuber magnatum pico is a white truffle with a pale golden outer layer and a spongy, textured and distinctively sharp, aromatic, and earthy flavor. It is the most prestigious type of truffle that is native to the town of Alba in Piemonte, Italy.
These precious culinary gems, whether grated over a creamy risotto or blended into egg-tagliatelle, enhance any humble and simple dish with a sophisticated taste. Growing up to a diameter of 9 cms, they are a prestigious symbol of Italian haute cuisine.
Alba’s town is known for its culinary aficionados as the home to one of the best and priciest restaurants in the world, Piazza Duomo.
4. Warm Anchovy and Garlic Dip
Factually, cauda Bagna is frequently consumed, and it proudly represents the symbol of friendship and conviviality in the traditional peasant food. This traditional stew from Piemonte is made with fresh seasonal vegetables and garlic, accompanied by anchovies.
On a chilly winter evening, in front of the fireplace, a delightful tradition to enjoy is usually placed at the focal point of the table and served in terracotta containers, known as dian, into which each person dips their individual portions of bread.
5. Panna Cotta
Panna cotta is one of the most renowned desserts in Italy, made simply with gelatin and sugar, milk, and cream, which confers a delicate and simple wobbly texture to it.
In Piemonte, the Langhe region, a Hungarian lady is rumored to have created panna cotta. It is one of the nation’s most beloved sweet treats, usually accompanied by a raspberry coulis or a caramel sauce, because of its uncomplicated nature and delicate texture.
Aosta Valley, one of the five autonomous regions in Italy, is a tiny region tucked up in the north and surrounded by the Alps. It has a strong cultural and linguistic identity, with little in common with other regions in terms of culinary culture and construction. This is largely due to its unique geomorphology, making it a symbol of pure Alpine perfection.
6. Valdostana Fondue
Shared among companions – once more, as a representation of affection and camaraderie, fonduta possesses a significant ceremonial significance: it is commonly presented in a cast iron container that is heated by a candle and positioned at the focal point of the table. Similar to numerous recipes in the Alpine gastronomy, the primary notable hallmark of its Alpine cuisine is unquestionably embodied by cheese fondue, created with the regional Fontina cheese.
7. Salted Dried Beef
Motsetta or mocetta is a traditional cold cut made from the meat of cows’ thighs, which has been incredibly preserved and aged using ancient techniques.
In order to enhance the delightful explosion of flavors, make sure to accompany it with regional red wine! Conventionally consumed on dark bread with butter and a touch of honey, mocetta is thinly sliced into almost weightless pieces when it is prepared. Preserved in salt and allowed to rest in a cool location for approximately 90 days, mocetta is flavored with garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, and sage.
8. Polenta Concia alla Valdostana
Polenta is a nourishing and delicious dish that is made by combining locally sourced cheeses such as Toma and Fontina with water and milk in which flour maize is cooked to give it a wonderfully creamy consistency and a sharp kick. This dish is seasoned with Concia, making it a staple in the Valle d’Aosta region.
Polenta can be enjoyed either grilled or fried, then sliced and allowed to cool. It can be relished as a hearty side dish with stewed meat or savored on its own as a main course.
Lombardy is one of the richest and largest regions in Italy. It is known for having one of the most diverse cuisines in the country, which is influenced by ancient settlements and a wide variety of landscapes. In fact, the early inhabitants of the region were the Germanic tribe, Longobards, which is why Lombardy has substantial influences from Germanic and Swiss gastronomy.
9. Milanese-style Risotto
The most likely iconic dish from the city of Milan is probably Milanese alla Risotto. This creamy and simple risotto will blow you away with the first forkful; the secret lies in the perfect combination of a few simple ingredients, such as saffron, Parmesan, white wine, and butter.
10. Blue Cheese
If it is in a more developed state, Gorgonzola has the capability to exhibit a soft and velvety texture or a sharper and more brittle consistency. Safeguarded by the PDO certification, Gorgonzola is acknowledged as one of the most favored and globally acclaimed cheeses due to its unique blue streaks and strong aroma.
The cheese Gorgonzola was mistakenly invented by a young cheesemaker who was greatly distracted by the sight of his beloved daughter and mixed two different curds, thus forming a strange type of cheese. According to folklore, this event was clearly serendipitous. Although the origins of Gorgonzola are still widely debated, it is believed that the cheese originated in the town of Gorgonzola.
11. Italian Christmas Sweet Bread
Last but not least, this dome-shaped sweet bread from Lombardia, adorned with delectably dried fruits, boasts a dark golden and slightly more firm crust and a tender, bread-like consistency on the inside, making it a true culinary emblem of Italian Christmas.
The tradition and folklore of panettone, tying families together, keeps as timeless a symbol to the present day, originating from the Renaissance.
Moving east, we come across the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige, which reflects the lasting cultural legacies of the northern half of the region, where the Italian way of cooking is influenced by similarities with German linguistically and ethnically.
12. Bread Dumplings
Undoubtedly, the first thing that comes to mind is canederli: large gnocchi made with stale bread soaked in milk, eggs, and smoked bacon, which can be savored in a broth or seasoned with butter and cheese.
The term “Semmelknödel” is an Italian adaptation of the German dish, representing the original concept and etymology while being rooted in German culture, thus showcasing the pride of Italian culinary at that time.
13. Apple Strudel
Despite its wide association with Austria and Germany, there is evidence that Turkish origins are actually behind this cake. Another typical dish from Trentino, which many people also associate with German-speaking regions, is apple strudel.
The baklava, which went through various changes to its present form, was made by the Turks, who governed Hungary and extensive regions of the Balkans during the 1600s, referred to as apple strudel.
Among the regions of Italy, apple strudel is particularly popular in Trentino-Alto Adige, thanks to the extensive apple farming.
14. Tirolean Strauben
Strauben are large and thin snail-shaped pancakes made from a mixture of butter and sugar, milk, eggs, and flour, with the addition of a magic touch that gives an extra boost of flavor to the Grappa-flavored small glass. These sweet pancakes are a typical specialty from the Südtirol region.
The term “Strauben” refers to their typical coiled shape, which is usually prepared during local street festivals and traditional village fairs. This term originated from the German word “straub,” which means twisted.
Incredibly versatile and unique, these pancakes are topped with delicious berry jam or sprinkled with a generous amount of icing sugar, whether!
The region of Veneto, historically dominated by the city of Venice, established solid trades with the Arabs, who introduced various types of fish, rice, spices, and foods. Veneto is chiefly famous for its large production of fresh seafood and wine, with the northern part of the Adriatic Sea curving around it.
15. Baccalà alla Vicentina
One of the most popular fish dishes is Vicentina alla baccalà, which is essentially dried or salted cod that has been preserved. It is a culinary symbol from the city of Vicenza.
The antipasto can be enjoyed with delicious garlic-rubbed croutons. Vicentina alla Baccalà is typically served with white polenta, which is derived from white cornmeal and tends to be more delicate and softer than the standard yellow cornmeal. The fish is slow-cooked for hours with the addition of milk to mellow its strong flavor.
16. Risi e Bisi
Bisi e Risi is a traditional pea risotto that is incredibly creamy and made simply with a few cubes of smocked bacon, sautéed with Parmesan, butter, and peas, giving it an initial burst of flavor. It originates from the cities of Venezia and Vicenza.
In the 19th century, people would cry out on the streets of Milan against the Austrian occupiers, representing the equivalent of Verdi’s “Viva” in Venetian, which symbolized the Italian tricolor flag with three ingredients: strawberries, peas, and rice (fragole e bisi e Risi).
A straightforward yet tasty meal with a significant historical significance.
The quintessential Italian dessert, tiramisù, is considered the king of all desserts, despite its recent origins. In fact, it first appeared in cookbooks in the 1960s as an original recipe for a base made with drenched biscuits Savoiardi, topped with a generous layer of soft mascarpone cream, and infused with coffee, sugar, and egg yolk.
Although the original recipe does not include liqueur, this versatile dessert can be made in various ways with coulis berry, tiramisù, pistachio, and white chocolate, making it simply irresistible!
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a region that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it is located in the northeastern part of the country, bordering Slovenia, showcasing strong influences from Slavic and Germanic cultures.
18. Frico with Potatoes
A potato pie made with local Montasio cheese is the major landmark of the cuisine from the region, known as patate le con Frico. The potatoes are initially cooked with onions, and when added, they become nice and soft with a crispy golden crust.
Frico, a dish that can be eaten almost anywhere in Friuli, especially in the provinces of Udine, Pordenone, and the dolomites, is often enjoyed with a glass of red wine to enhance the experience and create a memorable meal.
19. Triestino Stew
This hearty meat stew is the northern Italian reinterpretation of the meeting point between the culinary cultures of Hungary and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Gulyás, a wandering tribe of Hungarian shepherds who developed a technique for conserving and carrying meat by simmering it for extended periods in a flavorful sauce created with wine and seasonings, indeed the fundamental meal of the Goulash.
Goulash can be served with rice or polenta and eaten by itself. The recipe for this dish, which is characterized by the use of paprika, began to spread widely to the surrounding countries when it appeared in the 19th Century, absorbing local culinary customs.
This humble and simple bean and cabbage soup, made with the traditional local name “garbi capuzi” for pickled cabbage, is a true source of pride for the locals of Trieste and a symbol of old gastronomic traditions.
The locals demonstrate their passion for preserving the authenticity of their cuisine, which is evident in how the recipe for this dish has remained unchanged for 500 years, dating back to the 16th Century. To prepare this dish, small cubes of pork are initially sautéed with garlic, then simmered for a few hours until it is ready to be eaten. The broth and beans, along with the cabbage, are then added, along with a few small laurel leaves.