Southern Italian Cuisine
Southern Italian cuisine originates in the regions of
Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia:
The Mainland – Southern Italian Cuisine
The mainland regions of southern Italy share a similar history
and therefore exhibit some overlapping influences in their cuisines. Yet there are many distinctive features as
Abruzzo has a long history which it shares with neighboring Molise, as the two
were part of the same region until 1963. It has been known by a number of names since Roman times but the name
Abruzzo has been used since the region became part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Abruzzo-Molise became
part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
The cuisine revolves around meat, vegetables and pasta, with lamb being a popular
ingredient. Favorite spices include saffron and chillies, and the locals drink a spicy herbal liqueur known as
Like Abruzzo, Molise has been populated for thousands of years, and features a
number of well-reserved Roman-era ruins, including an arena that rivals the Colosseum. The people are descended
from the Samnite and Frentani tribes who successfully battled the Romans, but fell to the Germanic Goths in 535
AD and the Lombards in 572. They were annexed to the Duchy of Benevento, then invaded by the Saracens in 860
AD. After a period of incorporation by Apulia and later Abruzzo, Molise joined a unified Italy in
Agriculture is an important industry, producing broad beans, olives, potatoes,
wheat and wine. Sheep farming is a traditional occupation, but there is little fishing. A high percentage of
the population has university degrees. The cuisine is similar to that of Abruzzo.
The original inhabitants, members of three ancient Italian tribes, were colonized
by the Greeks during the 8th century BC. By the 4th century BC, the region was part of the Roman republic. In
the Middle Ages, Campania was ruled by the Byzantine Empire and Lombards, until 1130 when the Normans unified
the small independent states of southern Italy into the Kingdom of Sicily. In 1282 French-ruled Campania became
the Kingdom of Naples, but was later reunited with Sicily as part of the Two Sicilies under the Bourbons. It
became part of unified Italy in 1860.
High-quality produce of Campania includes artichokes, citrus fruits, fennel,
peppers, potatoes, spring onions and tomatoes. Fresh fish and seafood are plentiful. The region's pastas are
made from durum wheat.
Neapolitan cuisine was transported to the New World with its immigrants. Popular
Neapolitan dishes include pizza, calzone and spaghetti. Neapolitan cheeses include caciotta, mozzarella
(buffalo), provolone and ricotta. Babà, pateria, sfogliatellae struffoli, and zeppole are popular desserts, and
Campania is famous for its wide variety of wines.
The region was known during Roman times as Lucania, after invaders of the 5th
century BC. The Greeks occupied both coastlines during the period of Magna Graecia but later allied themselves
with the Romans. Eventually the Lucanians rebelled against Rome, were subdued for a period of time, then rose
up again and contributed to its eventual fall in 88BC.
Basilicata was one of the least developed regions of Italy but has become
significantly richer in recent times due to the discovery of oil.
Key ingredients of Basilicata's cuisine include pork, either roasted or made into
sausages, mutton, lamb, pasta from durum wheat and spicy peperoncini. Amaro Lucano, a bitter digestif, is from
this region, but consumed throughout Italy.
Apulia was originally colonized by Illyric (Balkan), Italic and Greek settlers.
It was later conquered by the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Goths, the Lombards, the Byzantines and the
Normans. Under the Normans, Apulia became a province of the Kingdom of Sicily, then of the Kingdom of Naples.
From the late 12th century, it was controlled during various periods by the French, Spanish, Austrians, Turks
and Venetians. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Agricultural products include almonds, cereals, figs, grapes, olives and tobacco,
and livestock (sheep, pigs, cattle, and goats). Fishing is plentiful and the region produces a large range of
manufactured products. Like much of Italy, services and tourism are fast becoming the main industries of the
In the north, garlic, onions, fresh vegetables and legumes feature heavily in the
diet. Dried pasta made from durum wheat flour is a specialty of the region. Apulia is also Italy's largest
producer of olive oil.
The original inhabitants of Calabria were Oscan-speaking Italic tribes. But
Greeks soon settled in the region and it later became part of Magna Graecia in the 6th and 5th centuries BC,
during which time it prospered. Calabria was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, then by Goths,
Byzantines and Arabs. In the 1060s the Normans incorporated Calabria into the Kingdom of Sicily. Calabria was
then ruled from Naples until unification with Italy.
Calabria is traditionally an agricultural region, and crops include wine, citrus
fruits, olives and chestnut, as well as the imported prickly pear cactus. Calabrian cuisine is typically
southern Italian/Mediterranean, with an emphasis on protein (pork, lamb, goat and fish), pasta, fruits and
vegetables. There is also a tradition of curing and preserving foods. Calabrian desserts are typically fried or
baked. Some Calabrian vineyards have the distinction of dating back to the ancient Greek
The Islands – Southern Italian Cuisine
Italy's two large islands have likewise suffered tumultuous
histories. Their experiences are similar yet the islands remain unique, in both their cultures and their
Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, has
been inhabited for many thousands of years, with human remains dating back to 250,000 BC. The Nuragic
civilization dates back to 1500 BC and continued until the Roman era. The Shardana people from the eastern
Mediterranean also settled in Sardinia and gave the island its name. Beginning around 1000 BC, Phoenician
mariners established several ports of trade on the Sardinian coast. In 509 BC, the island became a province in
the Carthaginian Empire and in 238 BC was annexed by the Romans.
During the Roman period, Sardinia was inhabited by the 18 distinctive peoples.
Later it was conquered by the Vandals of North Africa, then reconquered by the Byzantines and settled by
Iranian Alans. During the eighth century, Arabs and Berbers began raiding. After the Muslim conquest of Sicily
in 832, the island was divided into four separate districts, which eventually became four independent
monarchies. At various times, these fell under the sway of Genoa and Pisa. In 1297 James II of Aragon became
the King of Sardinia and Corsica and many Sardinians still speak Catalan as a result. Sardinia was incorporated
into the newly created Spain, joined a united Italy in 1861, but in 1948 was granted a constitutional autonomy,
with its own regional government.
Rock lobster, scampi, squid, tuna, sardines and other seafood and fish figure
prominently in Sardinian cuisine, along with suckling pig and wild boar, hearty stews of beans, vegetables and
thickened with dry bread, and fresh herbs. Sardinians favor dried bread, which is served with tomatoes, basil,
oregano, garlic and strong cheese.
The original inhabitants of Sicily are thought to be three distinct groups: the
Sicani in the east (possibly from Spain), the Elymians in the northwest, thought to be Aegean (Greek-Turkish),
and the Sicels (from Liguria) who forced the Sicanians to the middle of the island around 1200 BC. About 750
BC, the Greeks began to colonize Sicily, followed by the Romans, the Germanic Vandals and Goths, the
Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the German Hohenstaufen Dynasty and the French Angevin Dynasty.
In 1282 an insurrection known as the War of the Sicilian Vespers resulted in the
deaths of the entire French population. In 1302, Sicily was ruled by Spain, then the French House of Savoy, and
the Austrian Habsburg Dynasty. Next came Charles of Spain and Napoleon's Bourbon Kings, until Sicily became
part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
All of these invaders contributed to Sicilian cuisine. The Greeks introduced
varieties of olives and grape vines, and the Arabs brought oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugar
The island produces a variety of noted cuisines and wines, to the extent that
Sicily is sometimes nicknamed God's
Kitchen. The ingredients are typically tasty yet
affordable. Healthy savory dishes utilize locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, including apricots,
citrus fruits, raisins, artichokes, aubergines, beans, olives, onions and tomatoes, eaten with fresh sea
foods like tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, swordfish, sardines and octopus.
As in other regions of southern Italy, pasta plays an important part in Sicilian
cuisine, as does rice. Sicily produces some unique cheeses, such as pecorino (from sheep's milk) and
caciocavallo (from sheep or cows). Popular spices include saffron, nutmeg, clove, pepper, and cinnamon, some of
which were introduced by the Arabs. Meat dishes include goose, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkey, which gained in
popularity during the Norman and Hohenstaufen periods.
Sicily is also famous for its sweets, ice creams and pastries. Cannoli,
biancomangiare, biscotti ennesi, braccilatte, buccellato, ciarduna, pignoli, bruccellati, sesame seed cookies,
cubbaita, frutta martorana, cassata, pignolata, granita and cuccìa are all Sicilian
If you've ever dreamed about learning to cook Italian food in
Italy, visit Italian Cooking
Vacations to learn more.