Italian Cuisine: Buon Appetito!

Le Vigne Winery is the culmination of a love of food, wine and family shared by owners Walter & Sylvia Filippini. Growing up in Lake Como, Italy, Chef Walter developed a passion for cooking and the kitchen at an early age. Some of his fondest memories as a child were time spent alongside his mother (Mama Jole) preparing simple, delicious and fresh recipes which featured ingredients grown in the vegetable garden of his parents’ home.

In this month’s blog post, we take a deeper dive at the fascinating history and regionality of Italian Cuisine and how it continues to be celebrated by Chef Walter at Le Vigne.

Italian Cuisine is widely known and popular the world over; its characteristics are in its simplicity, focus on few ingredients, simple preparation but always using ingredients of the highest and freshest quality. Italian food is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and south of the Italian Peninsula. It is abundant in taste and is one of the most popular and copied around the world, none the least here in the United States.

The country now known as Italy did not unite until the 19th century but it can claim traceable roots back as far as the 4th century. Through the centuries, neighboring regions, conquerors, high-profile chefs, political upheaval and the discovery of the new world have all played a role in developing Italian cuisine. Regionality in Italian cuisine started to form after the fall of the Roman Empire as different cities and regions began to form across the country. Fast forward to today and every city and region in Italy is known for a unique dish or style of preparation. Some of our favorite examples of that are:

Milan (Northern Italy) – whilst the question of who invented Risotto remains unsolved it is generally agreed that it hails from the city of Milan. At its simplest, risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish, rich with the flavors of the stock used in it’s making, as well as saffron, parmesan, butter and any of the hundreds of ingredients that match so perfectly with it such as scallops, lobster, truffles, veal, mushrooms, squid ink, sausage and pumpkin to name but a few. A favorite at the Filippini’s house, Chef Walter enjoys making Veal Ossobuco and Risotto alla Milanese on those cool nights to enjoy with family and friends. The succulent braised veal hind-shank pairs well with silky saffron risotto.

Bologna / Modena (Central Italy) – Both Bologna and Modena , cities in Italy’s Emilian-Romagna region, claim to be the birthplace of Tortellini. This timeless treasure of Italian cuisine not only has a delightful name and delicious reputation, but also a curious and mythical framework on how it came to be. Legend says that Venus, the goddess of love, spent a night at a local inn in the region. While there, the Innkeeper caught a glimpse of the enchanting goddess and was so struck by her inspiration that he immediately went to the kitchen and crafted a pasta which was sculpted in the shape of Venus’s navel. One dish that stands out with Chef Walter is a Tre Colori Lasagna alla Bolognese. A dish he enjoys making with his mother’s recipe, Mama Jole’s traditional beef ragu.

Napoli (Southern Italy) – Pizza as we know it today (dough topped with tomatoes and cheese) was invented in Naples. Before the 1700’s, flatbreads existed but were never topped with tomatoes which is now a defining characteristic of pizza. Tomatoes were brought to Europe in the 16th century by explorers returning from Peru. Whilst many Europeans believed tomatoes to be poisonous, the poor peasants of Naples were documented as using them in the late 18th century. The Marinara pizza also has it roots in Naples. A pizza made with no cheese, it was traditionally prepared by “la marinara” (a seaman’s wife) for her husband when he returned from fishing the Bay of Naples. From his time working at Pizzeria Da Mimmo in Citta Alta di Bergamo, Chef Walter learned to make a traditional Neapolitan dish, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. A classic artisanal spaghetti with tomatoes, EVOO, gaeta olives, capers, garlic, anchovy filets and peperoncino (Calabrian chili flakes).

Apulia Region (South Eastern Italy) – Burrata is a global cheese, but its story originated in the 1920’s in the southern Italian city of Andria, under the shade of Castel del Monte, a majestic castle built in the 13th century by Federico II di Svevia, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Burrata was born out of a need to minimize food wastage; the cream coming from the dense layer formed on top of the morning milk and the leftover stretched curd mozzarella which was mixed inside the cream and used as the filling for Burrata. Ensuring no food is wasted is something Chef Walter learned as a young child. Chef Walter has a passion for learning, and enjoys cooking dishes from all of Italy. Family friends Zio Nicola and Donna Gemma of the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery taught him how to make Riso Patate e Cozze, a traditional speciality from Bari the capital of the Apulia region. This deliciously aromatic dish includes baked carnaroli rice layered with mussels and potatoes.  

Sicilia (Island off the “Toe” of Italy) – Besides Tiramisu, there is no more popular a dessert than Cannoli. Believed to have come from the Palermo and Messina regions, its translation in Sicilian is “little tube”. Cannoli is a serious business for bakers in Sicily as the quality, standards and reputation of their business is often judged solely based on how good their cannoli are. Traditional cannoli recipes consist of a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet and creamy ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate chip filling. Another staple in Sicilian cuisine and a favorite of Chef Walter’s is Caponata Siciliana. With an origin possibly during the Arab conquests of the 9th century, this silky sweet and sour appetizer consisting of eggplant, tomato, celery, onion, green olives, capers and pinenuts  pairs well with Le Vigne’s Cuore della Vigne Tuscan blend.

There are many other regional specialties in Italy that include Pasta e Fagioli (beans and pasta) from Veneto, White Truffles from Alba, Polenta from Valle d’Aosta, lentils from Castelluccio, Ribollita from Tuscany, stuffed olives from Marche and the many wonderful cheese’s from the Lombardy region – all of which we look forward to sharing in more detail with you in a future blog post.

Chef Walter has always dreamt of opening a traditional Italian family restaurant called Ristorante Le Regioni D’Italia. A place to develop and share recipes he has learned throughout his almost fifty years in the kitchen at home and in some of the finest restaurants and hotels. His passion pushes him every day to achieve perfection with his cooking, to continue producing better dishes and to always continue to learn. Each month the menu at Le Regioni would focus on foods and recipes from a specific Italian region. Until then, we look forward to hosting you at Le Vigne winery where you undoubtedly will come across a regional specialty on Chef Walter’s Take & Bake meals, weekend patio luncheon or one of our many wonderful events where you will be transported to Italy through our food, our wine and our hospitality.

Buon Appetito!

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