|Photo by: Henglein and Steets/Cultura/Getty Images/Getty Images|
by Antonio Carluccio, The Daily Telegraph, October 20, 2016
I was born in Vietri sul Mare, near Salerno, and I’ve travelled up and down the country for the past 40 or 50 years. I’m a lover of sublime yet simple regional food, particularly from small trattorias – run by mama, papa and the entire family – where dishes are created using local produce. I am not a huge fan of Michelin-starred establishments because I don’t believe that a star or two or a thumbs-up from a food critic necessarily makes a good meal.
Memorable meals I have had, for example one I ate in Sicily at Da Vittorio restaurant in Menfi, feature produce that is fresh. There, fish isn’t refrigerated with ice; it’s caught, gutted, filleted and thrown straight into the pan where it is cooked beautifully and simply.
One of the joys of visiting Italy as a tourist is sampling and savouring the wonderful ingredients and produce specific to each region. Regional specialities can be purchased at food markets, delightful places to visit where you will be tasting – and possibly buying – some of the country’s best products. My favourites include the Rialto in Venice, the Porta Palazzo in Turin, San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence and the Campo dei Fiori in Rome, or in Napoli and Sicily where every village has a market. If you’d like advice on where to eat, ask the vendors. They, more than anyone else, will know where the best place is to go for fresh fare.
What I find fascinating about Italy is the provenance of good food and discovering where to source the best of everything. For example, the best rice with which to make a beautiful risotto is Acquerello which is produced in Livorno Ferraris. I’ve visited all the Italian regions in my search for the best pasta and I’ve found it in Campania, Puglia and Emilia-Romagna. Good olive oil can be found in special places, such as Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria or Garda for the lightest of tastes, or Puglia, Calabria and Sicily for more intense flavours.
Meanwhile, Italian wines have improved beyond recognition in recent years. With more than 1,000 grape varieties and with wine territories in 20 regions with rich soil and favourable climate, they now easily compete with the best in the world. The Veneto and Lombardi valleys produce a sparkling wine, which has nothing to blush about next to the haughtiest French champagnes.
People from Napoli in the south live on vegetables and fish and the local cuisine is spectacular. But all over the country, you’ll find markets which offer sumptuous fruit. It’s incredible to be able to buy a ripe, white-flesh peach, which has been grown amongst rows of vineyards. Bear in mind that the classic finish to a meal in Italy is not pastry or cheese as in England, but a ripened fruit with all the sweetness of the sun.
If you should avoid anything, it’s the restaurants which boast that they serve molecular gastronomy or other such modern non-sense. I was once served an oyster drizzled with melted chocolate. When the chef was asked what he had in mind with it, he said he wanted to shock customers. Well, he certainly succeeded – but not in a good way. As always, the best thing to do is ask where the locals eat. But failing that, I’ve selected some of the great regions in Italy to sample wonderful local delicacies and specialities to whet your appetite.
1. Treviso– Radicchio
Treviso and the entire area north of Venice is a special place for radicchio, “spadone” or the “radicchio tardivo di Treviso”. The underground water is what gives chicory its sweet flavour and lovely maroon colour. Compared with other radicchios, including the round chicory of Chioggia and that of Castelfranco Veneto, the Treviso is more expensive because of the complicated cultivation process it undergoes. In Treviso, you may even find Grappa made with radicchio. Try and visit between September and October, as that is when the leaf chicory is at its best. Also, look out for risotto with radicchio – delicious.
Telegraph Tours offers an exclusive three-day Prosecco festival accompanied by wine critic Susy Atkins, which takes in Treviso and Venice, from £995 including return flights and transfers. Telegraph Tours (03331 222 036; telegraph.co.uk/tt-susyatkins ). Departs June 9-11, 2017.
2. Piedmont – Peppers
Peperoni or pepper, which is originally from South America is popular all over Italy, especially in Piedmont. Here they have developed Quadrato di Asti, a large, square, very meaty pepper, mostly used for bagna cauda (a dipping sauce) but also for stuffing or frying. When I was growing up, my mother used to cut them into small strips and fry them – and they would caramelise. Add garlic, vinegar and salt and you have a delicious starter or side dish. Italians are so fond of peperoni that they hold regular festivals of peppers in Cuneo or Asti.
Great Rail Journeys (01904 521 936; greatrail.com ) runs an eight-day Gastronomic Piedmont tour, from £1,445 including accommodation, first class Eurostar rail travel, some meals, guided tours and a wine tasting. Departures between April and September 2017.
3. Liguria – Anchovies in oil
Salt-cured anchovies that are hand-filleted and preserved in oil, also known as Alice and Acciuga, are loved by Italians. The biggest producer of anchovies can be found in a valley between Liguria and Piedmont where they are kept in wooden barrels and sold in markets. Anchovies can be eaten raw and fresh. Acciugata is a Ligurian sauce made by dissolving fillets of anchovies in olive oil. In Camogli, they hold an annual festival of fish, Sagra del Pesce. The fishermen prepare the fish, including anchovies, and fry them on an open fire in a pan measuring 10 metres in diameter, with tons of olive oil. This festival attracts all northern Italians..
An eight-day Trails of the Cinque Terre and Liguria from Explore (01252 883 758; explore.co.uk ) starts from £1,099 including accommodation, some meals and flights. Departures between May and October 2017.
4. Puglia, Calabria and Campania – Antipasti
Puglia, Calabria and Campania are the vegetable gardens of Italy thanks in part to the areas’ fertile land. A huge variety of vegetables is produced and transported seasonally up to the north. The industry of preserved vegetables is enormous because Italians like to have a few pickled bits and pieces for antipasti, preserved in vinegar or salt and oil. They are very appetising - and can be eaten as a snack or as an accompaniment to roasts and barbeques. These pickled vegetables can even made into fritters. My favourite is sundried tomato fritters, which make for delicious snacks year-round.
Cox & Kings (020 3811 0749; coxandkings.co.uk ) offers an eight-day Puglia and Basilicata tour, starting from £1,195 b&b including flights and wine, cheese and olive oil tastings. Departures between May and October 2017.
5. Sicily, Campania and Calabria – Oranges
The sought-after Bergamot used for flavouring Earl Grey tea, liqueurs and scents can be found in Sicily, Campania and Calabria. These areas have sub-tropical temperatures and well-drained organic soil. Oranges are served with a salad of smoked herring and they are also used to make orange flower water and jam of every kind, which are all staples of the Italian pantry.
An eight-day Highlights of Sicily from Kuoni (01306 855 334; kuoni.co.uk ) starts from £ £1,459 including accommodation, some meals and flights. Departures between May 2017 and October 2018.
6. The Amalfi coast – Lemons
The spectacular Amalfi coast is famous for its Limoncello (a lemon liqueur). The peculiarity of the citrus world is the cedro, or citron, which is a huge lemon with thick skin and very little juice inside. It is caramelised and used for desserts. The perfume of lemon and orange blossom is known as zagara in Italian, a most delightful scent..
Titan (0808 250 7986; titantravel.co.uk ) runs an eight-day Sorrento and the Amalfi coast tour which starts from £1,049 b&b including flights. Departures between April and October 2017.
7. Campania , Sicily, Puglia and Lazio – Artichokes
Artichokes are actually a flower and are one of the most beautiful and most loved vegetables in Italy. An extraction of the juices produces a substance full of iron which is used to make a liqueur called Cynar, drunk as an aperitif, digestif or diluted for long drinks. 98 per cent of the crops are exported both in preserved and fresh forms. In the Rialto market in Venice in springtime, you can find already peeled hearts of artichokes, which are called Castraure.
An eight-day Pompeii, Herculaneum and Classical Campania trip from Andante (01722 713800; andantetravels.co.uk ) starts from £1,895 full board. Excludes flights. Departures between April and October 2017.
8. Emilia-Romagna – Pork and cheese
Athough every region produces its own pork speciality, the area most famous for pork is Emilia-Romagna, where Parma ham originates. There are many other regions which produce commendable meats, for example Calabria, where chacuterie is made and the Calabrese and Abruzzi regions where people use lots of chilli and fennel seeds to produce wonderful salamis. In addition to Parma ham, Emilia-Romagna is famous for Parmesan, a cheese produced exclusively with milk from the area. Every Italian region has its own cheese speciality, either made from cow’s or goat’s milk. Cheese is a big tradition and Italy has around 400 varieties. According to Charles de Gaulle, a nation with that many cheeses would never lose wars. Italy doesn’t have more varieties than France, and admittedly, has lost some wars, but the cheeses are exceptionally good and different, like Mozzarella and Parmesan to mention two.
Adagio (01707386700; adagio.co.uk ) has an eight-day Bologna – La Grassa tour, from £1,399 full-board including flights. Departures between March and October 2017.
9. Trento – Mushrooms
Being a lover of mushrooms, I ought to know the best places to find them in Italy. It is a common pasttime in season to forage for mushrooms. If you were visiting the area of Trento between August and October, visit the Piazza Vittorio, where you will find the biggest variety of wild mushrooms. Preserving mushrooms is a big business, particularly porcini, which can be used year round, in sauces for pasta, risotto and polenta. One of the most interesting places to visit is Borgotaro where they hold the Porcino Mushroom Festival in September.
Exodus (0203 131 2941; exodus.co.uk ) offers an eight-day Dolomites, Lake Garda and Venice Ride, with some time in Trento, starting from £1,199 b&b including flights and bike hire. Departures between April 2017 and September 2018..
A photo posted by Riccardo Grigoletto (@riccardo_grigoletto) on Oct 20, 2016 at 6:41am PDT
10. Modena - Balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar which is now en vogue, has been fashionable in Italy for at least 300 years. Balsamic vinegar is from the region of Emilia-Romagna, specifically the area of Modena. Old ladies and mothers would look after many barrels, stored in the lofts of their houses, where they are allowed to ferment and develop. They use various sized barrels from a capacity of 10 litres to 100 litres. Initially balsamic vinegar is grape juice, which is cooked down to a thick consistency, which then receives acidity from a fungus, transforming the sugars into vinegar. It is also used as a medicine (hence “balsam”) for colds and other ailments. Every family had an old bottle aged 25 years, at which point concentration is at a maximum.
A five-day Bologna, Parma and Ravenna tour from Riviera Travel (0330 029 3848; telegraph.co.uk/tt-bologna-tour ) includes a visit to a traditional artisan to sample Modena’s balsamic vinegars, starting from £619 b&b including flights, guided tours and tastings. Departures between April and July 2017.
Pjmenta Street Market on Largo Sant'eufemia in ModenaCredit: ALAMY
Vegetables by Antonio Carluccio is published by Quadrille (£25). To order your copy, call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk .
Follow the latest Telegraph Travel newsREAD MORE ABOUT:
This article was written by Antonio Carluccio from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.