A Guide to the Foods of Italy

2 Feb

When you think about Italy, a couple of things might come to mind, like wine, pasta, pizza, and the boisterous nature of the Italian people.

What you might NOT know, however, is that the food scene in Italy varies with each region (and even each town). Cheese, for example, is often named after its place of origin.

Italian food is also not exactly vegetarian friendly – Pork and sausage make a regular appearance in many dishes.

But here’s an interesting fact: although Italian foods deliver big flavor, the ingredient-base of each dish is usually pretty basic. For Italians, traditional and seasonable products are important!

So where do you begin? Yes, the list can be overwhelming, but here’s some information to get you started on some of the basics.


Pasta in Tuscany

Pasta in Tuscany

Believe it or not, pasta did not originate in Italy! It’s been documented as early as 1700 BC in the Shang dynasty in China, but over the years, it became Italy’s own.

Did you know there are more than 350 different kinds of Italian pasta?Here are a couple you might not be familiar with, with some suggestions on what to pair them with:

Agnolotti: Half-circular shaped pasta, usually stuffed with meat (try lean ground beef). It can also include spinach, nutmeg, tomato sauce, garlic, and more!

Bigoli: Like whole wheat spaghetti, but thicker and found in the Veneto region. Try it with anchovy sauce, or smoked sausage.

Cavatappi: The name means “corkscrew” in Italian. (You can probably guess why!)  It tastes delicious with a creamy mushroom sauce.

Gemelli: Each piece looks like two pieces twisted together in a sort of braid. Meat is typically added to this recipe, so try shrimp, steak, or even bacon.

Pappardelle: Thick, flat ribbons of pasta. Tastes great with baby spinach, herbs, and ricotta, or add any number of sauces.

Strozzapreti: Hand-rolled pieces of flat pasta, with round edges.  Add roasted tomatoes, sausage, and a bit of garlic.


Gelato in Italy


Italian gelato has been around for quite some time – as long ago as the 16thcentury, actually! While it isn’t 100% possible to determine its origins, most stories say that a native of Florence named Bernardo Buontalenti created this sugary treat.Not a bad legacy to leave behind, right?

Gelato in Italian means “frozen,” and it’s basically the country’s version of ice-cream. BUT — and you’ll love this next fact – gelato is much healthier than American-style ice-cream. Why? It is made with more natural ingredients and less butterfat, meaning fewer calories all around. Eat your heart out!

Here are a couple of classic flavors to try (besides going the obvious route of trying them all):

Panna or Fior di Latte: A plain flavor for vanilla people.

Cioccolato: Just regular chocolate, but can also be served as extra dark chocolate.

Limone: Lemon!

Pistacchio: You can’t beat this classic, of course.

Bacio: Hazlenut and chocolate.

Crema: A pale yellow-colored cream, sorta like custard.

Fragola: Strawberry flavored, but different from the creamier versions. This one has real crushed strawberries!

Melone: While many gelato flavors are heavily cream-based, other flavors take on a more fruity quality. Milone, naturally, tastes a lot like fresh melon.

Liquirizia: Liquorice flavor! Are you bold enough to try this one?


Beer and pizza in Rome

Beer and pizza in Rome–a great combination!

Like everything else in Italian food culture, pizza is serious business too. Having originated in Naples, this dish has since taken on a life of its own.

The first thing you should know is that tomato-based pizzas are called “red pizzas,” while tomato-free pizzas are known as “pizza Bianca” or “white pizza”.  And like all other Italian foods, the toppings vary from region to region.

Did you know there are two different types of pizza, known as Neapolitan-style and Roman-style? It’s all based on the crust: Neapolitan is thicker, like bread, while Roman-style is fairly thin.

And depending how nit-picky you are, some people call the calzone a third type of pizza (a pizza that is folded and baked). Are you hungry yet?


Coffee in Rome

Find all kinds of coffee in Italy

Never underestimate the importance of a good coffee to an Italian! While the rules and social norms of coffee drinking culture in Italy take some time to learn (e.g., NEVER drink coffee sitting… you’re supposed to shoot it back), it’s worthwhile to be at least a little prepared  when it comes to knowing your options.

Brush up on your vocab:

Caffe (espresso): A small cup of strong coffee. Typically, when you order, you ask for “caffe” and not “espresso.” A double espresso is “Caffe Doppio,” but this isn’t a general habit of most Italians.

Caffe Americano: American-style coffee, served in larger portions and not carrying as much punch as regular caffe.

Cafe Corretto: Literally, “corrected” coffee… served with alcohol (grappa, cognac, etc.).

Caffe Freddo: Iced coffee.

Cafe Hag: Decaf coffee.

Caffe Latte: Hot milk, mixed with coffee. Typically a breakfast drink (as most drinks with hot milk are).

Cafe Macchiato: Like cappuccino, but espresso with a drop of milk. Again, a breakfast drink.

Cappuccino: Espresso and steamed milk, but only drank in the morning. NEVER in the evening!

Caffe Marocchino: Espresso with hot milk and cacao powder.

A Guide to the Foods of Italy ,


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