In the world’s eyes, Italy is one of the gastronomic greats. For this is the country that gave us pizza, pasta and so much more. But travel to this nation and you’ll find Italian food that’s not as you know it. Here the eating experience is elevated, taking your taste buds to new and more delicious heights.
Journey to Italy and you'll find the culinary scene reinvents itself with every region and city you visit. But one thing remains the same no matter where you go to in the boot – simple ingredients are the way to go, with recipes focused on fresh and seasonal produce.
From cornerstones of the cuisine to underrated gems, discover the best traditional Italian food to eat during your next break to the country.
Roman or Neapolitan? That is the question when it comes to the godfather of all Italian food. In a battle of the best version of pizza to sample, it comes down to these two regional heavyweights. Rome, with its thin base and crispy crust, created during World War II to feed hungry soldiers. And Naples, with its handmade, woodfired doughy concoction.
The next question is the toppings. The humble margherita is a classic for a reason – a mix of mozzarella, basil and fresh tomatoes. Or pimp up your pizza with artichokes, mushrooms and prosciutto. Stop by a pizzeria to devour a whole one or for just a slice, make your way to a bakery.
We’ve got the Italian island of Sicily to thank for these heavenly bites. To create arancini, rice balls are cloaked in breadcrumbs and deep-fried to perfection. Break one up and inside you’ll find it’s stuffed with ragù, peas and mozzarella. Street food stalls are the best place to try these golden balls of goodness.
A Tuscan favourite, ribollita is a hearty soup. Cannellini beans, bread, carrots and kale are cooked one day and reheated the next to create this flavoursome Italian dish. Slurp it down on a cosy autumn afternoon during a break to the region for the ultimate experience.
Cacio e pepe
Any visitor to Rome needs to sample the decadent cacio e pepe. Moreish and silky, this pasta dish only relies on a handful of ingredients – Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and spaghetti. In this case, less is definitely more.
Chow down on a plate of velvety carbonara. Pork cheek, Pecorino Romano cheese, egg yolks and spaghetti, plus a dash of black pepper, are the true ingredients of this legendary dish. There’s not a drop of cream in sight – that’s a British interpretation that won’t be found here.
Risotto alla Milanese
Risotto is a staple of Italian cuisine and this dish is the queen of them all. Buttery and gold-hued, risotto alla Milanese is laced with veal stock, dusted with Grana Padano and infused with saffron. The result? A bowlful of bliss. Wolf it down on its own or try it with a traditional accompaniment – braised veal shanks.
Pudding fans, this one’s for you. A slab of tiramisù is the perfect way to finish off an evening meal while on holiday in Italy. Thought to have originated in Venice during the 1970s, this sweet treat blends coffee, cocoa, sponge fingers and mascarpone to create a creamy dessert.
Prosciutto di Parma
Hailing from the Emilia-Romagna region, this type of pork is a classic salted and slow-cured ham. The process of creating it is so important, Prosciutto di Parma was awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status during the 1960s. Now, slices of the stuff can be found in dishes all around the country. Eat it on its own, try it wrapped around melon or plump for a pizza topped with it.
Pesto alla Genovese
Look in your kitchen cupboard and you’ll likely have a jar of pesto ready and waiting to add extra flair to your food. This creation – derived from basil, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan and garlic – comes from Genoa in the north-west of the country. Try it with pasta, in a potato salad or minestrone soup.
Tagliatelle al ragù
Spaghetti Bolognese as we know it takes a different guise in Italy – tagliatelle al ragù is the real deal and most authentic version of the classic dish. Invented in Bologna during the 18th century, the traditional recipe involves slow-cooking minced beef, pancetta, onions, carrots and celery in red wine and tomatoes for several hours. The longer, the better to unlock those lip-smacking flavours.
A scoop (or two) of gelato is the perfect way to cool down during an Italian summer. It’s Italy’s answer to ice cream, made from milk and sugar. Gelateries can be found all over the country, serving up tubs or cones of it in a spectrum of flavours. Pistachio, coffee, hazelnut, chocolate – the list goes on.
Use our guide to the best Italian food to try and eat your way through the country during your next trip there. Not quite sure where to go yet?
Posted: 1st Dec 2019.