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Lazio, Italy

From antiquity forward, people have been drawn to the Lazio region because of the prospect of work in or near its most important city, Rome, which has almost always been seen as a place where the poor might be able to change their fortunes. As people migrate to an area, they bring their tastes in food with them, helping to shape the local palate. The traditional dishes of Lazio are no exception. In Italian culture, food has always been the anchoring point around which love and laughter orbit, and good food holds the power to wander freely across class distinction

Today, the region of Lazio is often seen as the center of Italian culture. Bordered on one side by the Tyrrhenian Sea and cradled in almost the very center of Italy, this region has long been looked to as the nexus of important Italian cultural elements: food, wine, politics, architecture and art are all present in abundance. With the provinces of Viterbo and Rieti to the north of Rome, and Latina and Frosinone to its south, the mountain-to-sea terrain offers a rich variety of landscapes, the growing and producing conditions close to ideal. Oxtail, veal, pork, lamb, spaghetti, gnocchi, bucatini, garlic, tomatoes, truffles, potatoes, artichokes, olives, grapes, buffalo mozzarella, and pizza ... the cornucopia is overflowing.

Historically the seat of power for the greatest empire the world has ever known, Lazio has developed food that is great example of how the simple dishes of the poor working classes (farmers, miners, craftsmen) have informed and influenced the cuisine of the upper classes. Add to this a heavy influence of Jewish culture, and an amalgam of delightful - sometimes unexpected - flavor combinations emerges. Pork with potato dumplings. Artichokes stuffed with mint. The process has been evolutionary, fusing the basic with the indulgent, the readily available with the rare, the "at-hand" with the Kosher. Very little is wasted in Lazian cooking, and the results are nothing less than extraordinary.Rome's open-air markets offer a stunning variety of fresh produce on a daily basis.

The Lazio region continues to draw people to it, though contemporary visitors are by and large concerned less with politics than their ancestors and more with the history, art and architecture of the area, and of course, the remarkable food. Viterbo is home to a June cherry festival in the village of Celleno where local cherry dishes entice foodies from all over the world. Viterbo's three prominent lakes also make it a coveted vacation destination for Europeans in general. Rieti's Monte Terminillo draws avid skiers in the winter, and its hearty potato-based dishes (such as gnocchi) provide plenty of energy for the downhill runs. Rome offers countless tourism opportunities, and amazing food everywhere. Many make the pilgrimage to Latina just for the remarkable mozzarella di bufala, a mozzarella cheese made from water buffalo milk. Frosinone's Santo Stefano village is host to the Sagra degli Antichi Sapori (or "Festival of Ancient Flavors") each year, celebrating local dishes like minestra di pane e fagioli, a hearty bread and bean soup. Everywhere you look in Lazio, you'll find the comfort of great recipes and people who appreciate not messing with good ingredients combined well.

Regardless of your motives for traveling there, the Lazio region of Italy has something to tempt every palate. But you need not travel all the way to Italy to discover Lazian cooking. Some form of it has probably been right under your nose most of your life. Take, for instance, the best known and most humble of pastas: spaghetti. Almost any bit of this or that leftover - vegetables, herbs, oils, cheeses, cream, meats - can be combined with each other and with spaghetti for a delicious meal that can range from light to hearty, depending on what you add to the recipe. Experiment with earthy flavors to produce your own favorite spaghetti combinations. With the right ingredients, you and your family can taste the delights of Roman cuisine without ever leaving your home.