Visitors to Italy are almost always taken with the abundance of cafes, pastry shops, and restaurants, many with alfresco seating. Italian cookery is justly famous. It was the fourteen-year-old Caterina de Medici, princess of Florence, who in the sixteenth century married the French Dauphine, and triggered the French concentration on food preparation. She brought with her to France three chefs and Italian recipes. At that time, tomatoes, which originated in the new world, had not gained favor.
Today Italian cuisine is built around pasta and tomato paste, polenta, olive oil, and veal. The pasta comes in dozens of forms, each with its own name. There are cappeletti (little caps), conchiglie (conch-shaped shells), farfalle (tiny bow ties), pater nostri (elbow macaroni), tagliatelli, lasagna, and ravioli, to name a few. Add spinach and you have verde, green pasta.
Think of Italian cooking and think of onions, shallots and garlic, anchovies and black olives. The usual Italian cheeses are the grating cheeses but there are also the blue cheese, Gorganzola, the mild Bel Paese, and a number of lesser known varieties.
Italian cooking is regionalized. Pasta and tomato sauce characterize Southern Italy. Spicing is used throughout Italy: parsley, sweet basil, marjoram, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, oregano. Thyme, mint, fennel, juniper berries are also a part of the culinary scene. Food from Bologna in the north is rich with butter and cream, subtle and more complex than in the south.