History of Italian Cuisine
Ask most people outside of Italy what their favorite Italian food is and you'll most likely hear a common listing of pizza, spaghetti, and lasagna. While most of us recognize pizza and pasta as Italian cuisine, the rich history of Italy proves that the food is much more than dough and tomato sauce. Pulling from Roman, Greek, and Arab influences, Italian cuisine evolved many times over before it became the popular foods known around the world today.
Worldly Influences on Italian Cuisine
Rome controlled the area that is now Italy for many years, bringing in Greek influences and importing foods from all around the world. The Romans had a penchant for exotic ingredients and spices, which allowed for a large variety of foods to be prepared and ingredients such as ginger, pepper, sugar, and other spices to make a debut in Italian cuisine. After the Romans lost control of Italy, other influences from France and Austria were able to make their way into Italian foods.
Northern Italy was the region dedicated to trading luxury items and the area grew wealthy because of it. This helped create a difference between northern and southern Italian cooking. The southern tip of Italy was poor, and many people had to figure out how to create foods that were filling and inexpensive. While the northerners were making fresh pastas from egg and cream, the southerners were perfecting the art of creating dry pasta and macaroni.
The Origins of Pizza and Pasta
Much of what the world knows as Italian food has its roots in southern Italy, especially Naples and Sicily. The working class and peasants holds the claim to fame on creating pizza and pasta. Historically, pizza was not served with tomato sauce but rather rubbed with oil and served with fish. Once tomatoes were brought to Italy, pizza makers started creating red sauce pizza topped with fish or other meat. In the 1800's it wasn't uncommon to see pizza sellers on the side of the road in Naples. This tradition has continued, although the pizza is now sold in small shops and pizzerias as opposed to carts lined up in the street.
Macaroni is a term used when describing hard shaped pasta pieces. It was the peasant's food, along with pizza, because it was inexpensive to make and had a very long shelf life. Italy even exported macaroni to other countries needing cheap, long-lasting food. Some researchers have found documents that appear to mention the use of macaroni in Italy as early as the 12th century. Spaghetti is another type of dried pasta, and was historically served with fish and olive oil with garlic. Spaghetti Bolognese didn't become the norm until tomatoes were introduced to Italy.
History and Modern Times
Today many of the historical culinary influences of the Romans and Greeks are still apparent in Italian cooking. Fish is still a large part of the diet, and Italians still focus on serving foods that are in season and grown locally, just like they did in the past. People from all over the world can credit Italy, specifically Naples and Sicily, with creating two of the most well-loved Italian foods, pizza and pasta.