Italian cuisine


For most of us, the thought of Italian cuisine conjures images of lasagna or spaghetti with tomato sauce, but this is only a tiny fraction of the many types of pasta that are commonly eaten throughout the country, not to mention all the other types of dishes that have nothing to do with pasta.

Geographic location

Italy is a long, thin peninsula that extends from the southern coast of Europe. Its immediate neighbors—France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia—are in the north, where the Alps form a broad arc around the northern part of the country. Except in the north, Italy is surrounded by water. The country has a coa stline of about 4,700 miles, bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the south, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, and the Ligurian Sea to the northwest. On a map, the Italian peninsula resembles a tall boot extending into the Mediterranean Sea toward the northern coast of the African continent, which at its closest point is only about 90 miles away. Italy includes a number of islands; the largest two are Sicily and Sardinia. And it has two small independent states within its borders: the Republic of San Marino (just 25 square miles in the Italy’s northeast) and Vatican City (only 0.17 square miles within the city of Rome).

Historical Background

  • The migrations of Indo-European peoples into Italy probably began about 2000 B.C. and continued to 1000 B.C. Know as the Etruscans, this founding civilization ruled from about the ninth century B.C. until they were overthrown by the Romans in the third century B.C. By 264 B.C., much of Italy was under theleadership of Rome. For the next seven centuries, until the barbarian invasions destroyed the western Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the history of Italy is largely the history of Rome.
  • The commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning in the eleventh century,combined with the influence of the Renaissance starting in the fourteenth century, reduced the effects of these medieval political rivalries. Although Italy’s influence declined after the sixteenth century, the cultural Renaissance had strengthened the idea of a single Italian nationality.
  • By the early nineteenth century, a nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy in the 1860s, except for Rome, which joined a unified Italy in 1870. Followed by a monarchy, a dictatorship, and a new Italian government after World War II, Italy has maintained its unity. Today, Italy is officially the Italian Republic, with twenty regions that are based primarily on history and culture.

Significant Features – Staple food with regional influences

  1. Many of the culinary traditions of Italy are grounded in the family kitchen, and it is perhaps because of this that Italian cuisine is as complex as it is. The approach to eating and cooking developed differently in every region of Italy, resulting in one of the most varied and complicated national cuisines in the world.
  2. The focus on producing the highest quality product for generations has led to a tremendous variety of some of the world’s best products.
  3. The label of Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or DOC, which is a guarantee of the product’s origin of production as well as the ingredients and processes used to make the specific product.
  4. Italy is a major producer of cheeses, cured hams, fresh and preserved sausages, wines, vinegars, olive oil, and, of course, pasta.
  5. Italians have a large variety of Cheese which are famous world-over.
  6. Pasta: The great variety of pasta that exists in Italian cuisine highlights the importance that this form of wheat has had on the country’s cuisine. Typically
  7. pasta is made from an unleavened dough of a durum wheat flour mixed with water and formed into sheets or various shapes, then cooked and served in any number of dishes. It can be made with flour from other cereals or grains, and eggs may be used instead of water.
  1. Dry pastas (Pasta Secca)– Dried pastas are a part of southern Italian cuisine. Dried pasta was much cheaper to make than fresh pasta, and it contains no egg.
    • Soup pastas – Soup pastas are used in all varieties or soups. Some examples of this group include:
      1. Acini di pepe – resembles peppercorns
      2. Conchigliette – Small, seashell-shaped
      3. Risi – rice
      4. Tubetti – tube-shaped
    • Ribbon pastas – Ribbon pastas are typically meant to be served tossed with a simple sauce that clings well to the noodles. Some examples of ribbon pastas include:
      1. Capellini – Very thin ribbon pasta
      2. Fettuccine – thicker ribbon pasta
      3. Linguine – Medium-thickness ribbon pasta
      4. Spaghetti – Smaller ribbon pasta
      5. Trenette – Thin ribbon pasta
    • Tubular pastas – Tubular pastas have the advantage of holding sauces (and potentially other foods) inside a tube. Some examples of tubular pastas include:
      1. Bucatini – Long, thin tubular pasta
      1. Candele – Long and large tubular pasta
      2. Penne rigate – Short, ridged tubular pasta
      3. Rigatoni – ridged and short tubular pasta
      4. Shaped pastas – Not only are pastas created in small sizes for soups, in lengths for simple sauces, and in tubular shapes for thicker or oil-based sauces, they are also shaped either to imitate something else or to help hold specific sauces or foods. Some examples of shaped dried include:
      5. Conchiglioni – Very large, shell-shaped pastas
      6. Fusilli – Corkscrew-shaped
      7. Orecchiette – little ears
  • Fresh pastas (Pasta Fresca) – Fresh pastas are made with egg as well as wheat and water. These yield a more delicate product, as they do not have the strength that dried, eggless pastas have. The following lists introduce stuffed and ribbon fresh pastas.
    1. Stuffed fresh pastas – They are fi lled or their desired size and appearance. Some common stuffed fresh pastas are:
      • Agnolotti – Stuffed pastas formed by folding a circular piece of dough in half over a small amount of stuffing.
      • Anolini – Half-moon–shaped stuffed pasta
      • Cannelloni – Large, tube-shaped pastas. These are made by cutting rectangles of pasta sheets, piping the filling along the entire center of the length, and then rolling the pasta sheets around the filling.
      • Cappelletti – Pasta shaped like a kerchief that is made by filling a 2-inch square piece of dough, folding the dough in half to cover the filling by putting the points of opposite corners together to form a triangle, and then pulling the two other ends together to cover the filled section of the dough.
      • Caramelle – Filled pastas that are shaped like a wrapped candy.
      • Mezzaluna – Small, half-moon–shaped.
      • Ravioli – These are made by laying double sheets of pasta, one on top of the other, with fillings placed in between the two sheets. Ravioli are often made using forms that cut the dough with fluted edges, and they are cut into squares to maximize yield.
      • Tortellini – Small, triangular-shaped stuffed pasta that has its thin edges folded back and sealed to yield a shape resembling a hat
    2. Ribbon fresh pastas – Many of the dried forms of pasta are mimicked with fresh pasta, but fresh egg pasta is not as sturdy as dried eggless pasta. Some common ribbon fresh pastas are:
      • Maccheroni alla chittara – Fresh ribbon pasta made by pressing a sheet of pasta through a metal stringed tool (called a chittara) that resembles the stringed section of a guitar and slices the sheet into strips of width determined by the amount of space between the metal strings.
      • Pappardelle – Thick pasta ribbons, approximately ¾–1 inch in width, which traditionally have fluted edges.
      • Pizzoccheri – Pasta made from buckwheat that has the appearance of a whole-grain pasta product (in that it is brown in color). This is a specialty of the Lombardy area and is traditionally served
      • with potatoes and cabbage and topped with cheese.
      • Lasagna – This well-known variety is made in both fresh and dried forms and is one of the largest sheet pastas and ribbon pastas made. Lasagna typically is layered with sauces and other ingredients.
      • Tagliatelle – Fresh ribbon pasta
  • Italian Sauces:
    1. Carbonara – Cooked with sauce made from cured pork jowl or pancetta, eggs, and Parmesan cheese; popular way of cooking pasta, for example, spaghetti alla carbonara.
    2. Pesto – Blend of basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil; traditionally made using a mortar and pestle.
    3. Puttanesca – Tomato sauce with black olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic
    4. Ragu – Tomato meat sauce
    5. Ragu alla Bolognese – Traditional meat sauce of Bologna that is served with fresh pasta from the region (Emilia- Romagna)
    6. Salsa di noci – Walnut sauce
    7. Salsa per carpaccio – Sauce to be served with carpaccio (thin sliced beef) made from an emulsification of capers, cornichons, and anchovies with vinegar and oil
    8. Salsa verde – Green sauce made from parsley, extra virgin olive oil, and good quality vinegar; often has bread, capers, garlic, onion, and anchovy added to it. This sauce hails from the Lombardy region.
  • Olive oil is the principal cooking oil in the south. Butter is preferred in most of the north.
  • Salumi is an Italian word for Charcuterie.
  • Salame (Dry-cured and Aged Encased)
  • Boudin: Blood Sausage (Pig’s blood, boiled potatoes and bacon)
  • Cacciatorino: Hunter’s Salami (Posk & beef)
  • Fegatino: Salami of pork leg and liver.
  • Finocchiona: Anise-flavored salami of pork
  • Salame di Milano: Salami of pork, beef & pork fat
  • Salami Cotti (Cooked and cured Meats)
  • Bresaola: Salted beef
  • Coppa: Marinated pork neck
  • Mortadella: Ground beef/pig is packed into pig/co bladder and cooked.
  • Pancetta: cured belly of pork
  • Prosciutto: Speciality Ham made in Parma region of Italy.
  • Speck: Marinated, cured and smoked (Juniper Berries) pork leg.
  • A structure of a traditional Italian meal in its full form, usually performed during festivities.

Aperitivo – The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.

Antipasto – The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold and lighter than the first course. Examples of foods eaten are salumi (such as salame, mortadella, prosciutto, bresaola and other charcuterie products), cheeses, sandwich-like foods (panino, bruschetta, tramezzino, crostino), vegetables, cold salmon or prawn cocktails; more elaborate dishes are occasionally prepared.

Primo – A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples include risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crespelle, casseroles, or lasagnas.

Secondo – Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, salt cod, stockfish, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast. The primo or the secondo may be considered more important depending on the locality and the situation.

Contorno – A contorno, or plural contorni (side dishes), are commonly served alongside a secondo. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are always served in a separate dish, never in the same plate as the meat.

Insalata – If the contorni contained many leafy vegetables, the salad might be omitted. Otherwise, a fresh garden salad would be served at this point.

Formaggi e frutta – An entire course is dedicated to local cheeses and fresh seasonal fruit. The cheeses will be whatever is typical of the region one is.

Dolce – Following comes the dolce, or dessert. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta, cake or pie, panettone or pandoro (the latter two are mainly served during Christmastime) and the Colomba Pasquale (an Easter cake). A gelato or a sorbetto can be eaten too.

Caffè – Coffee is often drunk at the end of a meal, even after the digestivo. Italians, unlike many countries, do not have milky coffees or drinks after meals (such as cappucino or caffè macchiato), but strong coffee-drinks such as espresso, which is often drunk very quickly in small cups at very high temperatures.

Digestivo – The digestivo, also called ammazza caffè if served after the coffee, is the drink to conclude the meal. Drinks suc h as grappa, amaro, limoncello or other fruit/herbal drinks are drunk. Digestivo indicates that the drinks served at this time are meant to ease digestion after a long meal.


Northern Italy

Northern Italy encompasses eight of the country’s twenty regions:

  • Emilia-Romagna
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  • Liguria
  • Lombardy
  • Piedmont
  • Trentino-South Tyrol
  • Asota Valley
  • Veneto

These eight regions boast the nation’s highest standard of living and its richest diet in terms of both abundance and variety. The eight northern regions produce about a third of Italian wine, though they account for more than half of the DOC/DOCG total.

Central Italy

Central Italy encompasses six of the country’s regions:

  • Abruzzo
  • Latium
  • Marches
  • Molise
  • Tuscany
  • Umbria

The summers are hotter and longer than those in the north, and consequently tomato based dishes are more common than they are further north. Braised meats and stews, grilled or roasted beef, lamb, poultry, pork, and game are popular.

Southern Italy

Southern Italy, often referred to as the Mezzogiorno, encompasses six of the country’s regions:

  • Basilicata
  • Campania
  • Calabria
  • Apulia (Puglia)
  • Sicily
  • Sardinia

The symbol of southern Italian cooking is the tomato, although it arrived with peppers, beans, and potatoes from America in the 1500s. The piquancy of southern cooking comes from herbs and spices, especially garlic and chile peppers. Italy’s first pasta was produced in the south.

Popular Ingredients

  • Arborio and Carnaroli: Rice Stubby, short-grain polished rice grown in Italy’s Po valley. Its particular starch composition makes it the preferred rice for Italian risotto.
  • Balsamic Vinegar: (Aceto Balsamico) An aged reduction of white sweet grapes (Trebbiano for red andSpergola for white sauvignon).
  • Formaggi (Cheese): Dolcelatte, Gorgonzola, Mascarpone, Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Provolone, Ricotta
  • Mortadella: Bologna’s most famous pork product, a softly flavoured cooked sausage made from lean pork studded with small cubes of flavourful fat.
  • Polenta: Originating in Venice when maize was imported from America, polenta is made from coarsely ground cornmeal and is used in a variety of northern Italian dishes.
  • Porcini: The same wild mushrooms known as cepes in French and Boletus edulis in Latin. Fresh porcini are fleshy, velvety, and earthy in flavour; dried porcini are highly aromatic, with an intense woodsy flavour.


  • Amaretti: Crisp almond macaroons sprinkled with coarse sugar.
  • Bagna caôda or bagna cauda – Sauce of olive oil, butter, garlic, and anchovies gently melted together; often served with raw vegetables to dip in the sauce
  • Bruschetta: A food originating in central Italy, typically made of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. It is usually served as a snack or appetizer
  • Calzone – Stuffed dough filled with various fillings and baked; this is essentially a pizza that has been folded to enclose the topping before being baked
  • Caponata – Eggplant cooked in sweet-and-sour sauce from Sicily
  • Carpaccio – Thinly sliced beef topped with sliced mushrooms and traditionally served with a sauce made from parsley, capers, anchovies, olive oil, and vinegar
  • Cassata, Cassata Siciliana A traditional sweet from the province of Palermo,Sicily, similar to the French gateau. It consists of pound cake moistened with kirshwasser or an orange liqueur and layered with a ricotta, candied peel, and chocolate filling, similar to cannoli cream.
  • Crostini – Sliced and toasted bread topped with various ingredients
  • Focaccia – Yeast-leavened bread made in Liguria; flattened like a pizza (but usually square) and topped with olive oil, salt, and sometimes onions or olives
  • Gelato – Frozen sweetened and often flavored milk; similar to ice cream but traditionally lighter and with less air incorporated during the freezing process
  • Gnocchi – Small dumplings made from a variety of different ingredients including potatoes (gnocchi di patate), corn (gnocchi di polenta), and wheat (gnocchi di semolina)
  • Granita – Slushy sweetened and flavored ice
  • Minestrone: Italian vegetable soup
  • Osso Buco: Braised veal shanks.
  • Pizza – Flat dough topped with tomato sauce and cheese and various other toppings and then baked
  • Pollo alla Cacciatora: “Hunter style” chicken made with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions.
  • Prosciutto: Italian word for ham, usually referring to the raw cured hams of the Parma region.
  • Risotto: Rice that has been toasted briefly in a pan and then cooked by gradually adding boiling stock or water and adding butter and parmigiano.
  • Tiramisu – Espresso-soaked sponge cake (lady fingers) layered with sweetened mascarpone cream and topped with shaved chocolate or powdered cocoa; literally, “pick me up”
  • Zabaglione: Italian warm custard made with Marsala wine.

Key Terms

Þ Al dente: Literally “to the tooth,” meaning cooked to the “point” or until just done but still crisp.

Þ Brodo: Broth, or stock, is a staple element in making good soups.

Þ Cacciatore: Chicken braised alla cacciatora, meaning “hunter’s style,” is a northern Italian preparation that usually includes onions, tomatoes, pancetta or lardo, and often mushrooms.

Þ Marinara: Meatless tomato-based sauce.

Þ Pesto A puree of fresh herbs garlic, oil, and pine nuts.

Amit Kumar
Amit Kumar
Hii! Welcome to My digital home, I am Amit – an almost no-code generalist, helping businesses with their online presence using WordPress and other tools and simplifying some of their operations with ideas and automation. A psychology and philosophy geek by interest and a graduate in Hospitality Management. I founded hmhelp during college, which got me into WordPress. I am a highly motivated and results-oriented professional with a proven track record of success in the hospitality industry. I’m also a Digital Marketing Enthusiast with significant academic and practical experience managing digital content across multiple platforms. Skilled at SEO optimization, developing digital content for social media platforms, I offer extensive knowledge of multiple software programs, strong attention to detail, and extraordinary communication skills. If you are interested in talking about any of the topics I have mentioned on my website, you are in the right place. You can contact me or learn more about what I do. You can also connect with me on social networks.

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