Although many of associate Italian cuisine with pizza and spaghetti and Olive garden, it has a rich history that suggests so much more than that. Nearly 2,000 years ago Italian cuisine established its reputation during the Roman Empire. There are records of food preparation dating back to the first century B.C. but those are scarce because today there is only on surviving cookbook from that time period.
When the Roman Empire fell, the diversity of Italian food spread because as individual states, the fallen empire had more leeway to establish traditions and identities. These states quickly began to develop their own cooking styles, for example one region established their own way of forming a meatball.
What the Different Regions Developed:
In the south they developed mozzarella and provolone and many different interesting citrus fruits. People from the southern region embraced hard boiled spaghetti much like the spaghetti we all know and love.
The north developed Tuscan beef which is simply beef grown in the Valdichiana region of Italy. Opposing the southern region, the northern preferred to cook their spaghetti as soft egg noodles.
Naples is famous for pizza, while Milan is known for their risotto which is similar to rice with added ingredients of meats and vegetables. Tortellini has a history in Bologna.
The coastal regions of Italy developed delicious seafood dishes because the meat was readily available and abundant. A small island off the coast of Italy named Sardinia began to incorporate sea food delicacies in their dishes, while in Sicily, the food was heavily influenced by North African cuisine. Islands in the south other than Sicily were greatly inspired by Arab cuisine especially in their use of spices in sweets. The Sicilian ice-cream cake called cassata was Arab inspired.
Although all of these regions developed and perfected an abundance of foods that we have all come to know and love, they did not do it on their own. Italian cuisine was largely influenced by outside sources, which Italian chefs would consider a gift. It greatly improved their food. At the birth of Italian cuisine, Greek cooking methods were incorporated in the preparation of food. In order to get ingredients that would innovate the Italian kitchen, ships went across the world, even as far as china to bring back edible goods. Ingredients such as wheat, wine, exotic ingredients and spices were all brought back to Italian kitchens and were incorporated to better the flavor and authenticity of Italian cuisine.
Pasta, a trade mark ingredient in many Italian dishes was rumored to be Chinese brought back to Italy by a Vietnamese immigrant. That is false though, it was actually brought back by Marco Polo who rediscovered it. Pasta was first eaten during Roman and Etruscan times. It turns out that this pasta that Polo discovered so long ago is actually similar to the pasta that we eat today. It is made with the same durum wheat except back then it was cooked in an oven and not on top of a stove in a pot of boiling water.
Today each region of Italy has their own distinct cuisine that differs slightly from the other regions. They all have different rich history that made them how they are today.