Unveiling Italy's Pre-New World Cuisine - Taste Italy's Past 👨‍🍳

The nature of Italian cuisine before the discovery of the New World was primarily based on simple, local ingredients. The primary staples included olive oil, cheese, bread, and a variety of vegetables and herbs.

Step Back in Time: The Richness of Renaissance Italy's Cuisine 🍇🍷

During the Renaissance, the Italian food culture was influenced by the Greeks and Romans. Wealthy households often indulged in extravagant banquets with dishes like roasted peacock and swan. However, the common people ate much simpler meals. For example, in Tuscany, the diet was primarily vegetarian, and meals were often composed of legumes, vegetables, and bread dipped in olive oil.

Seafood was also prevalent in coastal areas like Sorrento. The Mediterranean Sea provided a bountiful supply of fresh fish, shellfish, and other seafood, which were often used in traditional Italian dishes.

Before Tomatoes: A Peek into Pre-Columbian Italian Food 🌾🍞

Before the introduction of New World foods like tomatoes, corn, and potatoes, Italian cuisine relied heavily on grains such as wheat and barley. Pasta, made from durum wheat, was a staple in many regions, although it was often served without sauce, as tomatoes had not yet been introduced.

Meat was less common in the diet, especially in inland regions where livestock farming was not as prevalent. Instead, dishes often featured locally sourced fish or wild game.

One of the most common dishes that used these ingredients was a simple pasta dish.

As you can see in this post, the pasta is flavored with olive oil and a variety of Italian herbs, showcasing the simplicity and richness of pre-Columbian Italian cuisine.

Herbs played a significant role in pre-Columbian Italian food. Ingredients like basil, oregano, and rosemary were commonly used to flavor dishes. Additionally, fruit such as lemons, oranges, and figs were popular dessert items or were used to create sweet sauces and syrups.

Tuscany vs. Sorrento: A Tale of Two Italian Culinary Histories 🍝🍋

The regions of Tuscany and Sorrento had distinct culinary traditions. Tuscan cuisine was often described as "cucina povera" or "poor cooking" because it was based on simplicity and the use of fresh, local ingredients. A popular Tuscan dish was Ribollita, a hearty soup made with bread and vegetables.

In contrast, Sorrento, with its proximity to the sea, had a cuisine rich in seafood. Dishes like Spaghetti alle Vongole, pasta with clams, were common.

Traditional Ribollita

You will need:

  • chopped onion1 large onion, chopped
  • chopped carrots2 carrots, chopped
  • minced garlic3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • chopped kale1 bunch of kale, de-stemmed and chopped
  • cannellini beans1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • vegetable broth4 cups of vegetable broth
  • torn Tuscan bread1 loaf of day-old Tuscan bread, torn into pieces
  • olive oil2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepperSalt and pepper to taste


  1. Start by heating the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped onion, carrots, and minced garlic to the pot and sauté until the vegetables are softened.
  3. Add the chopped kale to the pot and continue to sauté until the kale is wilted.
  4. Add the cannellini beans and vegetable broth to the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer.
  5. Add the torn pieces of Tuscan bread to the pot and stir well to combine.
  6. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes, until the bread has completely broken down and the soup has thickened.
  8. Serve the Ribollita hot, with a drizzle of olive oil on top if desired.


This soup is traditionally served reheated (ribollita means 'reboiled' in Italian), so feel free to make it a day ahead and reheat before serving.

Learn more about 🍲 Traditional Ribollita Recipe or discover other recipes.

Exploring the history of Italian cuisine offers fascinating insights into the country's culture and traditions. Whether it's the simple, rustic dishes of Tuscany or the seafood-rich meals of Sorrento, the culinary history of Italy is a testament to the nation's ability to create delicious, satisfying food from the simplest ingredients.

Let's take a closer look at the regions that have significantly influenced Italian cuisine.

These regions, each with their unique culinary traditions, have shaped what we know as Italian cuisine today.

Valentina Moretti
Language, Education, Travel, Italian Culture

Valentina Moretti is a language teacher from Florence. She helps travelers learn essential Italian phrases and understand the local slang, making their travel experience more authentic.