If Italian food to you is just about pizza and pasta, then you are sincerely mistaken. There is a lot more than that! You have a whole range of soups, salads, sandwiches, cookies, meat dishes, and the list seems endless. While the Colosseum and Leaning Tower of Pisa, amongst several other popular sites would give you a visual retreat, the lip-smacking dishes of Italy would not fail to satisfy your taste buds.
Pizza, the most sought after fast food all over the world, has its roots in Italy. The main USP of this dish is the variety of toppings that go into its making, from vegetables to cheese, meat to spices.
It has found a prominent place in global cuisine and is known by several names in different countries. Of the Italian varieties, the most common ones include Neapolitan pizza having toppings of mozzarella and tomato.
Pizza Quattro stagioni is another preparation comprising four sections, each one standing for a particular season of the year. Like artichokes for spring, tomatoes represent summer; mushroom stands for autumn and harm or olives for winter.
Pizza pugilese has tomato, onions, and mozzarella. In contrast, pizzetta, 3 inches long, has sauce and cheese, among several other ingredients. They could be spicy, tangy, creamy, and juicy, though the overall cheesiness and crunchiness remain present in every pizza type.
The list of Italian pizzas are endless and some of them require to be mentioned in detail. This Neapolitan pizza type has mozzarella cheese, San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and virgin olive oil as its main ingredients. The flavor varies from sweet to tangy, cheesy to saucy.
Its popularity heightened after Queen Margherita of Savoy developed a particular liking for this pizza that she was served during her visit to Naples. Raffaele Esposito, the chef behind this unique pizza that had colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (cream), and green (basil), named it in honor of the queen.
Another pizza worth talking about is the Quattro formaggi made by melting together four different cheese varieties. Mozzarella is the main one, followed by Gorgonzola. The other two depends on the region where it is being prepared, parmigiano-reggiano, and fontina being the most preferred choices.
Though mostly served as a white pizza, with just tomato sauce spread at the base, this cheesy delight in the recent time is often topped with tomatoes, and basil leaves.
Panzanella, a Tuscan salad eaten mostly during summer, has stale bread, tomatoes, and onions as its main ingredients. Cucumber, basil, lettuce, carrots, boiled eggs, and mozzarella enhance its flavor. Seasonings of vinegar and olive oil take the dish’s taste to another level. Its name is a combination of two words, pane, meaning bread and zanella, translating to a deep plate used for serving the dish.
Refreshing and delicious, the addition of many veggies gives it a varied taste with a tinge of tartness. You could eat it as a meal along with a glass of chilled wine or even add it as a part of your sides.
Bruschetta is a popular Italian antipasto or side dish having grilled bread as its main ingredient. It is rubbed using garlic and has toppings of olive oil and salt. The present-day dish includes tomatoes, beans, veggies, cheese, cured meat, and basil that spread lavishly over the bread.
Originating in Italy as early as the 15th century, the purpose of developing it was to make good use of stale bread. The taste is an amalgamation of too many things, toasty bread, earthy, sharp tinge of garlic, and the tomato’s sweet and tart flavors. Though mostly eaten as an appetizer, if having it as a main meal, team it with a cheesy salad and refreshing glass of wine.
Besides being a variety of pasta, lasagna is also a casserole dish made by stacking layers of pasta and filling it with cheese, vegetables, and ragu (beef-tomato sauce). Seasonings of basil, oregano, and garlic, alongside toppings of grated cheese, intensifies its flavor to the fullest. Finally, it is baked, cut into squares, and served warm.
This cheesy delight may be on the spicier side if hot sauces fill the layers. Team it with a bowl of salad or a glass of wine to refresh your taste buds.
Riso translates to rice, which partially sums up the contents of the dish. It is a rice platter cooked in a vegetable, chicken, or fish broth until it attains a thick, creamy texture. Additional ingredients like butter, parmesan cheese, white wine, and onion intensify its taste. Of the various risotto varieties, the most prominent one is risotto alla milanese, yellow rice having saffron as its main component. Risi e bisi is another risotto kind prepared with rice and peas.
It is oven-baked flatbread closely resembling the pizza dough in appearance and texture. One can eat it as sandwich bread or as sides with a vegetable or meat platter. Its history dates back to the Ancient Roman period. The first half of its name, focus means “hearth,” justifying its traditional preparation method.
Toppings of olives, basil leaves, cheese, and grated parmesan enhance its taste and aroma. One popular focaccia kind is focaccia al rosemary, where dried rosemary leaves are added to the dough or even sprinkled on top as a garnish.
A famous Lombard cuisine, this one is prepared by braising veal shanks in meat and vegetables. Garnishes of gremolata or green sauce give it an earthy, peppery taste. It generates a juicy, rich, and delicious taste, melting into your mouth in an instant. Sides of polenta or risotto, when teamed with ossobucco, make for a sumptuous meal.
Carpaccio, a raw meat platter, was invented in 1920 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of a Venetian bar. It earned its name after the famous painter Carpaccio noted for implementing red and white tones in his work, perhaps alluding to the beef’s redness that was traditionally the dish’s main ingredient.
Besides beef, other meat varieties like veal or venison or fish types like salmon and tuna go into carpaccio’s preparation. Garnishes of onion, capers, parmesan, and chopped parsley complete the dish. The richness of the meat teamed with the various spices makes it all the more lip-smacking.
Arancini is a fried ball made by coating rice with breadcrumbs and deep-frying it, the outcome being a crispy, crunchy snack. Fillings of cheese, peas, ham, nuts, and parsley mixed along with the rice enhance its deliciousness to the fullest. Every bite of it would instantly melt in your mouth, with the taste ranging from cheesy to nutty, spicy to herby.
Arancini refers to orange, which the dish replicates when it comes to its color and size. Of the several regional variants, one of them is the Arancini al ragù that is cone-shaped with a meaty filling.
It is a pencil-sized breadstick made from baked bread. Dry and crispy, they are often topped or sprinkled with sesame seeds, cheese, garlic, or butter and eaten as appetizers or as a dessert if garnished with icing, cinnamon, or sugar. A cheese or spicy deep would serve as a perfect accompaniment with it. They are even sold ready-made in most bakeries and supermarkets.
It is a dry-cured thinly sliced ham, served uncooked, also known as prosciutto crudo, different from prosciutto cotto, its cooked version. Often served as a starter, it usually goes as a topping with grissini or even teamed with figs, melons, or cooked vegetables. It even serves as stuffing in sandwiches or pizzas. The taste ranges from sweet to meaty, buttery to salty.
This dish is about a pan-fried veal cutlet wrapped in prosciutto seasoned in sage and sautéed in white wine. Saltare means to jump, and bocca translates to the mouth that defines the dish’s taste. The delicate flavors of veal, coupled with the sweetness-smokiness of ham and the herby and peppery taste of sage, certainly jump into your mouth instantly. Sides of green vegetables like a pea platter go as accompaniments with this dish.
Polenta is a north Italian dish prepared by cooking coarse cornflour in water. Yellow maize is the main ingredient of Polenta. However, before the 16th century, buckwheat, spelt, and rye substituted corn since it had not come to Europe then. It is served hot as porridge or even cooled, solidified to a loaf, and finally grilled, baked, or fried. Fish, meat, mushrooms, and tomatoes, often go as sides with this dish. Polenta has a firm but creamy texture, with the sweet, earthy flavor of corn dominating.
This one is a sliced sandwich with two triangular-shaped bread, one on top of the other, without the crust. The typical stuffing includes prosciutto, tuna, and olive. They are not just a quick bite for breakfast or lunch but also sold in most bars as a snack.
It is an Italian salad prepared with sliced fresh mozzarella, basil, arugula, and tomatoes, seasoned with olive oil and salad. Like pizza margherita, this one too has the Italian flag’s colors, mostly served as a starter dish. You can even add it to pizza or pasta or as a filling for a sandwich. Named after Capri, the island where it is thought to have its roots, the dish has several variations. Olive oil may be replaced with balsamic vinegar or pesto, while roman lettuce often substitutes basil.
It is a nutritious soup prepared with leftover bread and vegetables like beans, potatoes, celery, chard, beans, and carrot. Ribollita means to reboil; that is how people prepared the dish in the past, by reheating the previous day’s leftover soup. It is said to have originated as early as the Middle Ages when servants accumulated the bread-trenchers soaked with food from their master’s tables and reboiled it for dinner.
It is a grilled Italian steak, made with veal. This dish’s history is as ancient as the city Florence itself from where it got its name, though the exact details remain unavailable. However, it was often prepared in bonfires and served roasted to the large population during Saint Lawrence’s feast day. Seasonings of just salt and pepper help one experience the meat’s juicy flavor. While serving it hot, you could sprinkle a little more salt and pepper for an added flavor. A glass of wine, cannellini beans with olive oil dressing, or a bowl full of salad go as accompaniments.
Carbonara is one of Italy’s popular pasta dishes, mostly made with spaghetti. However, other varieties include bucatini, linguine, fettuccine, and rigatoni. Penne may also be a choice of pasta since it is known to hold the sauce well.
The pasta is then tossed and seasoned in a rich, creamy sauce made with Roman cheese, pepper, egg yolks, and cured meat, mostly pork. There are variations in the ingredients like broccolini, leek onions, broccoli, green peas, and mushrooms outside Italy. Rich, creamy, soft, and delicious are the primary flavors of this dish.
Suppli, a close cousin of Arancini, is a fried crispy, cheesy snack made with rice ball, tomato sauce, and a piece of mozzarella cheese stuffed within. The batter is dipped in egg and given a coating of breadcrumbs, and finally fried. When broken into pieces, the mozzarella hangs out like a string resembling a telephone cord, thus making it alternately called suppli al telefono.
A famous street food originating in Rome in the 19th century, these rice meatballs came for a reasonable price as they had fillings like ground chicken liver and cheese. Eventually, they were available at friggitories or shops selling fried foods. However, at present, they dominate the menus of most Italian pizzerias, served as a starter.
Italians call their meatball dish polpette, having beef or pork as its main ingredient, with occasional additions of poultry or meat. Other things that go into the batter include black pepper, olive oil, chopped garlic, parsley, bread crumbs, cheese, and eggs. They are mostly about the size of a golf ball, while in Italy’s Abruzzo they appear as tiny as marbles. Every bite of it would give you a crispy, spicy flavor, with the rich taste of meat dominating throughout.
It is a salty delicacy made of fish roe, with bluefin tuna and grey mullet being the commonly used ones. The roe is salted, massaged for expelling the air pockets, pressed, and then dried. It can be seasoned in lemon, oil, pepper, and soy sauce and eaten on its own, as an appetizer with bread, or even added to pasta dishes. Its preparation method differs from one country to another, like in Croatia, people fry bottarga before serving.
Cicchetti is not a single dish but refers to a group of snacks or sides mostly served in Venetian bars. It may be a combination of many things like mini sandwiches, olive or veggie platter, or even hard-boiled eggs cut into halves. Sliced Polenta or bread topped with vegetables, meat, or seafood also makes for one kind of Cicchetti. These finger foods are often hung near the bar counters and mostly eaten with toothpicks. You would have an assortment of tastes, sweet, spicy, tart, depending on the ingredients’ choice.
A specialty of Sicily, this is an eggplant salad prepared with several tomatoes, celery, bell pepper, caper, and briny olives. Seasonings of tomato sauce, olive oil, and agrodolce sauce enhance its flavors to the fullest. The taste may vary from sweet to savory, depending on the ingredients. For instance, some caponata versions are prepared with vinegar, accounting for its sour-tangy taste, while honey and raisins are also added in a few, giving it a touch of sweetness.
Pasta e Fagioli translates to pasta and beans, which sums up its ingredients. It was initially a dish of peasants mostly prepared with readily available and inexpensive ingredients. The beans commonly used include Great northern beans, cannellini beans, and borlotti beans. On the other hand, the pasta varieties used are ditalini or elbow macaroni. It is mostly cooked in olive oil, minced onion, garlic, vegetables like stewed tomato, carrot, celery, or even meat variants like pancetta or ground beef.
This pasta’s consistency varies from one region to another, as it is either thick or soupy. The USP of this dish is that one can reheat the leftovers and eat the next day as the stale soup when boiled taste’s better than the freshly prepared ones.
Ravioli is a type of square-shaped pasta filled with a lot of things like ricotta cheese, black pepper, nutmeg, spinach, grated lemon rind, and so on. Traditionally they were prepared at home, though in recent times, most of them are machine-made. They are mostly served with a sauce or in a broth. They can even be added to soups or fried and toasted.
This classic platter of the Romans is a poor man’s dish standing out because of the ingredients’ uniqueness. La pajata refers to those calve’s intestines that ate only their mother’s milk and no grass at all; that is its primary component.
It turns solid or semi-solid upon cooking at high heat, attaining a thick, creamy texture like a cheesy sauce. They are often prepared into a spicy stew with onion, tomato, carrot, celery, lardo, wine, and several spices and served along with rigatoni.
This is one of the delicious appetizers Italy has to offer. Small grilled or toasted bread pieces are topped with cheese, olives, tomatoes, different varieties of meat, herbs, garlic, spinach, and many other things. They are often served as bar snacks or even as an accompaniment with soups and steaks. Their origination dates back to the Middle Ages when peasants had their meals on bread slices instead of ceramic plates that were too difficult to afford.
Ragu alla Bolognese is a sauce prepared from meat having its roots in the Italian city, Bologna. Besides being slow-cooked, the sauce goes through many cooking techniques such as sautéing, sweating, and braising. Some of the main ingredients that go into its preparation include chopped beef, fatty pork, celery, carrot, and onion. The addition of milk, white wine, and tomato paste gives this sauce a thick consistency, especially when simmered.
Frittata means fried, and that is how this egg-based breakfast dish is prepared. The stuffing of cheese, vegetables, and meat makes this dish tastier. This dish has a close similarity to other egg dishes like scrambled eggs, quiche, or an omelet. It has a fluffy, creamy texture, with every bite creating a fire in your mouth.
Calzone is folded pizza baked in an oven, prepared using a folded leavened dough. Its origination dates back to the 18th century in Naples. Ham, salami, vegetables, cheese like parmesan, mozzarella or ricotta, and eggs mostly go in as fillings. These crescent shape pizzas are convenient to eat as one stands or walks and are a common find in most Italian lunch counters and street vendors. The fried version of this dish is popular in the Apulia region, mostly stuffed in tomato and mozzarella.
Another interesting variety of pizza mostly having toppings of cherry tomatoes, alongside cheese and basil leaves. Seasonings of black pepper and vinegar would spice up the dish a little.
Also known as melanzane alla parmigiana or parmigiana di melanzane, parmigiana is an eggplant casserole. In fact, the eggplant is fried or grilled, layered in cheese (hard grated ones like the parmigiana or melting cheese like mozzarella or a combination of the two) and tomato sauce, and finally baked. Its preparation methods differ from one region to the other. In some parmigiana versions, the stuffed eggplant is dipped in beaten egg and then fried in a batter of flour or breadcrumbs.
In Naples, artichokes or zucchini often replace eggplants. Soft, creamy, tang and sour are the basic tastes dominating this dish. While Parmigiano could make this platter taste fruity and nutty, mozzarella may bring in saltiness with a certain amount of tang.
This is a thick soup mostly made of vegetables like celery, carrot, beans, or tomatoes. There is no particular recipe for this dish, and each region of Italy has a version of their own. Though mostly a vegetarian platter, some versions also have meat. The veggies are first cut and then simmered for a long duration, though one should ensure that it does not attain a soft, mushy texture. The addition of pasta or rice, or both completes the dish.
Best Italian Fast Food: Pizza, Pasta, Suppli
Best Italian Breakfast Foods: Frittata, Biscotti, Tramezzino
Best Italian Appetizers/Finger Foods: Grissini, Bruschetta, Bottarga
Best Italian Christmas Food: Lasgna, Raviolli, Polpette
When coming to Italian food, the list does not remain confined to the list given above but is a lot more than that. Apart from this lip-smacking platter, you could also not forget the mouthwatering desserts and refreshing beverages the country is famous for.
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