The main thing to remember about Italian cuisine," says a Florentine chef introducing his cooking courses for foreigners, "is that it doesn't exist. First, because the term cuisine is French, but more important because in my country, thank heaven, we have no uniform way of cooking."
He might have added that "Northern Italian cuisine" was invented abroad, apparently to indicate restaurants that do not serve pizza or spaghetti and meatballs smothered in tomato sauce. To suggest anything more than arbitrary links between the regional dishes of northern Italy--the braised beef and creamy risottos of Piedmont, the seafood and herb-inspired touches of Liguria, the pasta and pork delicacies of Emilia or the schnitzel and dumpling fare of Alto Adige, for instance--is little short of heresy. The same could be said of the southern regions where, however, the avors of the Mediterranean remain generally more intact than elsewhere.
On analysis, la cucina italiana is a miscellany of regional, provincial, local and family dishes that vary from season to season and cook to cook. It is a deliciously random fund of little treasures, of recipes rarely written down but passed intuitively from one generation to another, modi ed according to the produce available and enhanced by knowing hands.
Still, there is no denying that some cooks have attempted to standardize the fare. You can nd spaghetti alla carbonara on menus in Milan and costoletta alla milanese in Rome, peperonata in Verona and polenta in Palermo. All healthy citizens regularly eat pasta in some form or other and nearly every village north and south has a pizzeria. But the variations from place to place are in nite, and as any experienced gastronome will insist, you have to travel to the place of origin to taste the foods and wines of Italy together at their authentic best.