By Glenn Rigby
Italy is known for its gourmet food. Pasta, risotto, polenta, olive oil, and focaccia, among many other foods, are some of Italy's trademarks. However, Italy is divided into separate cultural, political, and culinary regions.
In the wealthier north, a golden, fruity olive oil is used, whereas in the south you are more likely to encounter an oil made from the dark green olives of Sicily. Sicily is rife with seafood and filling pasta dishes, utilizing black or green olives or eggplant. Let us not forget dessert: the cassata and cannoli!
In the north, influences from the neighboring countries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia are found in the cuisine. Spices, including paprika, poppy seeds, cinnamon, cumin and horseradish are found in abundance in the northeast, as well as sausage and polenta.
There really is too much to say about the wide array of foods, ingredients and dishes that Italy is known for.
Sauces, pastries, cheese, foie gras… Mmm – that's France! Have you ever asked yourself: "Hey, what's Bearnaise?" If so, here's the answer: It is a relative of hollandaise, using a reduction of vinegar, tarragon and shallots that is finished with egg yolks and butter. Yum! And the sauce list goes on and on.
Foie gras is the oversized liver of a force-fed goose or duck (goose is preferred). Because the specially bred fowl are not allowed to exercise, the livers become huge and fatty. One classic presentation for hot foie gras involves first studding the liver with brandy-soaked truffles, putting a bay leaf on top, wrapping the whole in bacon and then in a pig's caul — the fatty membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. Both foie gras and truffles are characteristic of the cooking of the Périgord region.
Let's go Morocco: Moroccan cuisine is rich in spices, only natural when you consider the ages-old spice trade from Arabia to North Africa. Spices here are used to enhance, not mask, the flavor of food. The following spices are among the most commonly used.
* Anise seed
* Sesame seed
* Black pepper
And because I like dessert so much, here is a favorite of Morocco:
This traditional savory pastry is made in three layers: a layer of shredded chicken is topped with eggs which are curdled in a lemony onion sauce and further topped with a dusting of sweetened almonds. The whole is enclosed in tissue-thin pastry called warka and topped by a layer of cinnamon and sugar. It is believed that this fine pastry (similar to the pastry used for Chinese spring rolls) came from the Persians, who likely learned to prepare it from the Chinese.
By Glenn Rigby