Italian food has evolved through decades of political and social changes, with its recipes being traced back even in 4th century BC. Major changes took place with the origination of the New World that helped to shape the Italian cuisine with introduction of the items like tomatoes, potatoes, bell, maize and pepper, which are the main parts of the food although they were not introduced until 18th century. Italian food is not only very regional, but is also considered to be very seasonal with high demands placed by people for fresh seasonal produce.
Dishes and ingredients differ by region. There are many dishes that have now become both regional as well as national. Many recipes which were regional, have now evolved in different styles across the country. Wine and cheese are a major part of the food, playing a variety of roles both nationally and regionally. Coffee, or more specifically espresso, has likewise become an important part in cultural food of Italy.
Italy is a place with great variety, and food is another aspect of the diversity of the Italian culture, resulting largely from geographical differences and peasant heritage. Italian food consists of the fat, rich, baroque food of Bologna. Parmigiano, based on butter and meat; the tasty, light, mozzarella, majorly based on olive oil, spicy cooking of Naples and seafood.
The explanation of this is hidden in its history; the great variety of cuisine styles of Italy result from its great history. Divided for a long duration into several princedoms, duchies, states and kingdoms and often hostile to each other, the political unification did not took place in Italy until 1861. Many inhabitants have occupied the Italian territory in last three thousand years and each of them contributed their local traditions. And the natives, as well as the Greeks and Etruscans, left influences that are still seen today.
In many homes, the traditional Italian dishes are kept for events like weddings; whereas the regular menu includes only the first and the second course, which is coffee and side dish. One important thing of Italian food is that the first course is generally more filling dish and consists of either pasta or risotto, both rich in carbohydrates. Present day Italian recipes also include a single course, providing proteins and carbohydrates at the same time; like legumes and pasta.
The most famous Italian recipes are spaghetti and pizza. Differences in the omnipresent pasta is another example of multiplicity of Italian recipes. Hard boiled spaghetti in the south, egg noodles in the north, with every possible variation in shape and size.
Italian meals generally contain 3 or 4 courses. Meals are often seen as a time for friends and family instead of an immediate sustenance or just for the purpose of eating because one is hungry. As such, regular meals are generally longer as compared to other cultures. During free days, many family feasts last for long hours.