Many people have limited knowledge of Italian cuisine – they think lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, and maybe tiramisu. But Italy is a beautiful country with a rich history, and their cuisine reflects that. There are over 5,000 different types of pasta alone!
It can be hard to know where to start if you’re trying to branch out from the classic Italian dishes. So I’ve provided a list of 25 delicious foods from around Italy for you to try as an introduction to the vast world of Italian cuisine!
1) Bagna Cauda – This sauce is found mainly in Piedmont but also spread throughout other regions. It’s made from garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter and is meant to be served warm. It can be used as a dip for vegetables or bread or poured over meats while they’re cooked on the grill.
2) Arancini – These rice balls are filled with meat and cheese and coated in breadcrumbs before being fried. They were created by the Royal Palace of Palermo in Sicily during the Middle Ages, but today you can find them all throughout Italy!
3) Bistecca Alla Fiorentina – This dish is a traditional menu item in Florence, Italy. It’s a thick porterhouse steak that’s seasoned with salt and rosemary before being grilled over fragrant grapevines to produce an intoxicating aroma. The steak is typically eaten with nothing more than some extra salt and pepper, but it can also be served with red wine vinegar or lemon juice if you prefer.
4) Brodetto – This fish stew comes from the island of Sardinia and has ancient origins dating back to early Greek settlers. It’s a simple dish made from fish, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, and parsley.
5) Bruschetta – This is an easy Italian appetizer that you’ve probably seen before! You can find it in most restaurants when you sit down for a meal in Italy because it pairs perfectly with wine. Simply grill some crusty Italian bread in olive oil, rub it with garlic and fresh tomatoes, then top it with salt and pepper to taste. Serve this warm or at room temperature for the best flavor.
6) Calamari Ripieni – These local specialty dishes are found all throughout Puglia in Southern Italy. The stuffing varies from the region too but usually includes cheese, herbs, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, nutmeg, and sometimes anchovies. The Calamari is always cut in rings so that they seem to form their own stuffed tube!
7) Carciofi Alla Romana – This is an incredibly simple dish with a very subtle flavor. All it takes are some artichokes, olive oil, salt, and pepper to create this classic appetizer from Rome. You can eat the leaves whole or peel them off with your teeth before discarding them on your plate.
8) Coda Alla Vaccinara – This entrée is found mainly in Lazio but also spread throughout other regions of Italy as well. It’s made by braising oxtail in a sauce of garlic, pancetta, meat broth, and wine. The result is a very tender cut that’s extremely flavorful!
9) Cozze Cioppino – This Cioppino recipe is found mainly in Veneto but also spread throughout other regions as well. It uses the mussel as the base ingredient as opposed to fish or clams which are more common for this dish. You can find it served with bread for dipping in the delicious juices at the bottom of the bowl.
10) Fegato Veneziana – This is an appetizer from Venice that consists of the thinly sliced calf and pig liver marinated and then quickly seared over high heat until crispy on both sides. It’s usually served with onions and capers on top.
11) Fritto Misto – This dish is actually more of a concept than an actual recipe because you can use it to fry anything! It’s the Italian version of “tempura” consisting of vegetables, cheese, or meat that are all battered before being fried in oil. Traditionally eaten as street food but it also makes for a great appetizer or side dish when done correctly.
12) Gnocchi di Patate – These dumplings come from Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Latium regions but are found throughout Italy today. They come in many shapes and sizes but typically have mashed potato as their base ingredient along with semolina flour, eggs, and salt to taste. They’re served with sauces like pesto, meat ragu, or cheese.
13) Manzo Alla Griglia – This is another one of Italy’s simple steak dishes that can be found all over the country. Usually, you’ll get a thick porterhouse steak that’s seasoned just with salt and pepper then grilled until it’s seared on the outside but still medium-rare in the middle. It’s usually only eaten with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan, but in some places, you can find it served with garlic butter instead!
14) Mozzarella di Bufala – You can actually find buffalo mozzarella made throughout Italy today from Piedmont to Sicily but when looking for the original product it comes from Campania and Lazio. It’s made with water buffalo milk but what makes this one stand out is that it isn’t formed in a round ball like most other varieties! Instead, it takes on a pear shape and is much milder in flavor than its cow counterpart.
15) Olives e Olive Nere – Here we have two very common ingredients found throughout Italy. The olives are just used as a garnish for salads or appetizers while the black olives add seasoning to dishes such as pizza or cooked into sauces like Arrabbiata or Pomodoro. You can also find them served whole which makes for a tasty snack while enjoying an espresso!
16) Panelle – This is a Sicilian street food that is essentially just fried chickpea flour. It’s used as the base for many different street foods and has become so popular that you can even find it in stores throughout Italy today!
17) Parmigiana di Melanzane – This dish comes from Naples but is found all over central and southern Italy. You’ll usually get thick slices of eggplant layered with tomato sauce, cheese and meat then baked until golden brown on top. Sometimes you’ll also get a side of spaghetti or lasagne with it too!
18) Polpo all Marinara – In English, this literally means “Octopus from the Sea” but octopus prepared in this way is actually more of a Sicilian thing. It’s made by boiling the octopus whole until tender then slicing it into rings and serving with tomato sauce, garlic, and parsley (and sometimes also potatoes).
19) Polpo Alla Griglia – Here we have another way of cooking octopus that is actually more common than any other method on this list! It involves grilling the octopus over hot coals to give it a smoky flavor which you can eat whole or slice up and serve on top of some bread.
20) Prosciutto di Parma – This ham is made from pigs raised in the Emilia Romagna region which are fed with a special diet of whey leftover from Parmesan cheese production. The pigs are cared for so well that they have a life expectancy 5 times longer than average, aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones, and are only slaughtered when they reach 7 months old. All of this makes for one delicious hunk of meat which is just served sliced thin with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil on top!
21) Spaghetti Vongole – Another popular seafood dish found all over Italy for good reason! It consists of spaghetti pasta cooked in white wine then mixed with clams. Sometimes you’ll find shrimp or even both included to make it extra special, but the base remains the same. This dish gets its name from the fact that instead of using clamshells as plates like other recipes it’s cooked in the clamshells themselves!
22) Struffoli – This is a popular Christmas treat that you’ll find all over Southern Italy. The dough is fried, then drenched in honey, and sometimes rolled around in cinnamon to give it an extra kick. You can even find it filled with marmalade or custard which makes for an extra sweet treat during your holiday meals!
23) Taleggio e Fichi – Here we have two more ingredients found throughout Italy today, but usually eaten together as they go so well together! The Taleggio cheese comes from Lombardy and has a pungent aroma but mild taste which pairs wonderfully with sweet fresh figs. This can be served hot or cold and makes for a great starter!
24) Zuppa Inglese – This is a very sweet and rich dessert that is most commonly found in central and southern Italy. It’s made by layering sponge cake with cream custard then soaking it all in liqueur before being finished off with some chocolate shavings! Sometimes you’ll even find this served as a parfait layered into a tall glass instead of on top of the cake like we ended up doing here.
25) Zucchine Fritte – Also known as fried zucchini, this is one of those Italian recipes that can be changed up to fit whatever ingredients you’ve got available at home (or around town). It really doesn’t matter whether you use a deep fryer or just some hot oil in a frying pan, it’s going to be delicious either way! There are two ways to go about preparing this dish: first is to simply slice the zucchini thinly and fry them for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. The second is one of my personal favorites – make thin long slices from top to bottom but leave the skin on, then coat them generously with flour before frying. This will help make sure they don’t fall apart when cooking!