There is a lot of signature Italian food out there, but it often gets lumped together. Did you know that the food of Italy is fantastically regional with signature dishes spread throughout the stunning areas of the country? Let’s take a little tour and learn about some of the best dishes and where they originated.
One of Italy’s most decadent dishes, risotto, hails from the Lombardy region of Milan. The creamy, velvety texture of this dish is made from short grain Arborio rice, which releases its rich starch as you stir it together with a ladleful of hot stock at a time. Finish risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano for perfect flavour. Like pasta, risotto is a versatile dish and can be made with mushrooms, seafood, and sausage.
Honourable mention: Osso buco and a range of popular cheeses, including Grana Padano, Provalone, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola
Although it’s a fan favourite, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’ll have a hard time finding a Spaghetti Bolognese in Italy. The closes Italian food you’ll find is a Ragu alla Bolognese, which is a chunky meat sauce with carrots, onion and celery mixed with beef and pork in a tomato sauce. This sauce is traditionally served with tagliatelle, which is a broader ribbon noodle that better carries this meat sauce.
Honourable mention: Parmigiano Reggiano
One of the most popular Tuscan dishes, Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a thick T-bone steak served rare. Traditionally, the steak is cut from a specific cattle breed: Chianina. Made with just five simple ingredients, this traditional Italian food is prepared over red-hot coals for complex flavour.
Honourable mention: A wide range of Tuscan breads, Panzanella
Moving onto the Lazio region, we really need to talk about spaghetti alla carbonara. Let’s just get one thing out of the way here, traditional Italian carbonara doesn’t contain any cream, ever! This velvety dish is made with just four ingredients: guanciale, eggs, pecorino Romano and black pepper. It’s a classic Italian food that’s almost impossible not to love.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that another of our Italian favourites comes from this region as well: Arrabiata sauce or sugo all’arrabiata. This “angry” spicy pasta sauce comes from the region around Rome.
Honorable mention: Bruschetta, bucatini all’amatriciana
Campania, and Naples in particular, is another great region for Italian food. You’ll find the authentic pizza napoletana here, which has a thicker crust and simple toppings. In fact, Italy’s patriotic Margherita pizza, made to match the colours of the Italian flag, is a favourite in this region.
Pasta Puttanesca, our favourite boldly flavoured pasta sauce, is also from Naples. Originating in this region in the 20th century, there are several theories about how this sauce was created. Regardless of how it came to be, it packs a powerful flavour punch that we just can’t resist.
Honourable mention: Calzone
While gelato usually gets the spotlight when it comes to Italian desserts, cannoli are simply not to be missed. Originating in Palermo these tasty tubes of crisp, deep fried pastry are filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips.
Honourable mention: Veal Marsala, polpetti
Bonus: Italian Drinks
Let’s face it, we can’t talk about Italian food without at least touching on Italian drinks. Starting back in the north you’ll find the origin of the classic Spritz, a cocktail made with Prosecco and a touch of liqueur, like Aperol or Campari. Moving south to Tuscany we find Chianti, the best-known Italian wine. Finally, on the Amalfi Coast we get Limoncello, an after-dinner drink or digestif. Made by steeping lemon zest from the lemons characteristics of this region in alcohol, this drink is syrupy and bright yellow in colour.