When it comes to pasta, everyone almost immediately thinks Italian. And therefore it’s no surprise that when you search the recipe websites, Italian recipes or at least Italian-influenced dishes predominate. In fact, pasta with meat-heavy and tomato-rich sauces is pretty much a stereotype associated with the country of Italy. Yet tomatoes didn’t become prevalent in the sauces used with pasta until sometime around the nineteenth century, and it’s even possible that pasta itself originated in China. But pasta dishes have been described in Italian writings for centuries, so even if this food didn’t originate there, it arrived very early in Italian history and was adopted with enthusiasm.
Different regions of Italy have always produced different types of food, and this is partly why an Italian recipe can vary so much when it comes to pasta. Recipes that originate in the northern regions will reflect early German and Roman cultures, while the south was more influenced by Arab trade, which carried Mediterranean influences quite widely.
The northern dishes will consist of more pork recipes, fish, sausages and cheeses. Foods of central Italy tend more toward ham, sausage, tomatoes and tortellini. To the south, you’ll also find tomatoes, with olives, peppers, garlic, artichokes, zucchini and capers.
The e-rcps.com website, which features Italian recipes with some Middle Eastern recipes as well, has an entire Italy-related section called “Pasta Recipes Listed by Region.” Here you can see all these differences illustrated in the recipes you choose for the different areas. For example, a recipe from Lombardy, a northern area, is “Pasta with Cheese and Green Cabbage,” the cabbage showing early Roman influences, whereas a typical recipe from Campania to the south would be “Vermicelli with Hot Pepper and Anchovy.” Italian food isn’t nearly as uniform as North Americans tend to portray it, and tomatoes are not always the primary ingredient.
The first thing most people think of when contemplating Italian recipes is tomatoes. Yet that’s not entirely fair to the distinctive cuisine of this country. Italian food was rich in variety and regional tradition long before the tomato entered the picture in the early 1800s. People interested in Italian pasta might find it interesting to explore beyond the tomato-laden dishes, and learn some of the other food traditions that have existed throughout Italy’s history.