Although Italians are known throughout the world for pizza, pasta, and tomato sauce, the national diet of Italy has traditionally differed greatly by region. Prior to the blending of cooking practices, it was possible to distinguish Italian cooking by the type of cooking fat used. Butter was used in the north, pork fat was used in the center of the country, and olive oil was used in the south.
Staple dishes in the north consisted of rice and polenta. In the south, pasta was most popular. Particularly during the 1980s and 1990s the southern dishes of pasta and pizza became popular in northern Italy. Pasta is more likely to be served with a white cheese sauce in the north and a tomato-based sauce in the south.
Italians are known for their use of herbs in cooking, especially oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and sage. Cheese also plays an important role in Italian cuisine. There are more than 400 types of cheese made in Italy. Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese, and Asiago cheese are among the best known throughout the world. Prosciutto ham, the most popular ingredient of the Italian antipasto (first course) was first made in Parma, a city that also gave its name to Parmesan cheese. Prosciutto or Parma ham is a dry-cured ham that is usually thinly sliced and served uncooked; this style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.
Although I remember my grandmother Josephine Colosi making pizza at Christmas time each year, we mostly ate pizza as a treat when we’d eat out at restaurants or drive-in movies. And it was more from the Bongiovanni side of the family that we got our traditional weekly meal of spaghetti. This seems to fit, because the Bongiovanni family was from the south and the Colosi family from the north.