Italy has two main culinary zones
The wine and olive zone, which lies around Umbria, Linguria and the south.
The cattle country, where the olive tree does not flourish – Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and Veneto – but where milk and butter are widely produced.
However, there is an exception with the region of Tuscany which uses both butter and oil in its cooking because both cattle and olive trees are in abundant here.
The Umbrian inlands are famous for pork, and the character of the cuisine is marked by the use of the local fresh ingredients, including lamb, game and fish from the lakes. Spit-roasting and broiling is popular, and the excellent local olive oil is used both in cooking and to pour over dishes before serving. Black truffles, olives, fruits and herbs are plentiful.
All along the Italian Rivera excellent trattorias can be found which produce amazing fish dishes flavoured with the local olive oil. Pesto sauce flavoured with basil, cheese and pine nuts comes from this area, along with other excellent sauces. Fresh herbs are widely used in many dishes, including famous pizzas.
Tortellini and lasagna feature are widely seen, along with many other pasta dishes, as do saltimbocca and other veal dishes. Parma is famous for its ham, prosciutto di parma, thought to be the best in the world. Balsamic vinegar is also produced here.
Milan is home to the wonderful risotto named after the city and also the Milanese Soufflé flavoured strongly with lemon. Veal dishes are specialties of the region. The lakes of the area produce a wealth of fresh fish. Rice and polenta are popular, but pasta also appears in many guises. The famous sweet yeasted cake Panettone is a product of this region.
Polenta is served with almost everything here. Pasta is less in evidence, with gnocchi and rice more favoured. Fish, particularly shellfish, is in abundance and especially good seafood salads are widely available. There are also excellent robust soups and risottos flavoured with the seafood and sausages of the area.
Tuscany has everything – splendid fish, hills covered in vineyards and fertile plains where every conceivable vegetable and fruit grows. There is plenty of game in the region, tripe cooked in a thick tomato sauce is popular, along with many liver recipes; beans in many guises appear frequently, as well as pot roasts, steaks and full-bodied soups, all of which are well flavoured. Florence has a wide variety of specialties, while Sienna boasts the famous candied fruit cake called Panforte di Siena.