To most of the world the best Italian foods seem to be mostly about spaghetti and pizza, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are also many other delicious dishes and desserts come from the country. Traditional foods from Italy are full of fantastic flavors that varies from region to region—from hearty, rustic cuisine in the North to fresh and light dishes in the South. From seafood to meat and pasta to risotto, not to mention all the mouth-watering desserts. There really is so much to discover!
On this Italian food bucket list you can find over 50 different dishes, desserts and foods native to Italy that you should try at least once. ..
1. ✦ Affogato
Affogato is a classy and delicious dessert in which the base is a scoop or two of vanilla gelato, with steaming hot espresso poured over it before enjoying! You may also use vanilla ice cream instead of gelato, as well as amaretto, Kahlua, or equivalent instead of (or in addition to!) a shot of espresso.
2. ✦ Amaretti
Amaretti are an Italian type of macaron. Most of them are almond-flavored, but originating from Saronno is also a more bitter-sweet flavored amaretti which is made of apricot kernels. You can easily check this cookie off you bucket list by buying a bag here.
3. ✦ Antipasti
An Italian version of appetizers, no meal is complete without some antipasti! Which antipasti is served depends on which region of Italy you’re in. But typically a plate will include anchovies, artichoke hearts, cheeses of various kinds like mozzarella, cured meats, mushrooms, olives, pepperoncini, and vegetables topped with oil or vinegar.
4. ✦ Arancini
Although the name ‘arancini’ refers to ‘small oranges’, it merely means the shape of the arancini dish. But actually arancini’s are rice balls typically stuffed with mozzarella, pesto and ham, which are then covered in egg yolk and breadcrumb flour before being deep fried in oil. They may be served as a side dish or with tomato sauce and salad. Arancini are a staple of traditional Sicilian cuisine, so be sure to visit a Sicilian restaurant or Sicily itself to sample them out!
5. ✦ Bagna Cauda
Made from garlic and anchovies, bagna càuda is an Italian fondue-like dipping sauce. Typically you’ll dip vegetables – both raw and cooked – in it. Not as traditional, but it’s also delicious over fish! The dish originated in Piedmont, dating as far back as the 16th century.
6. ✦ Balsamic Di Modena
There is no single way to produce Balsamic vinegar of Modena, with there being as much difference as 10-90% of grape must in use depending on the balsamic vinegar maker. There may even be a sprinkle of caramel in the mix! Unlike with traditional balsamic vinegar, with this type of vinegar there is no withdrawal and refilling method used; instead, the ingredients will be mixed once, after which they’ll be kept in a wood container for at least 60 days.
7. ✦ Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Steak Florentine)
One of the most popular dishes you’ll find in Tuscan cuisine, the bistecca fiorentina is a Florentine style steak, made of either veal or heifer. This is another incredibly old dish where the exact time of founding cannot be pinpointed, but it is featured on almost every restaurant menu in Florence. To cook this dish to perfection, the meat needs to be aged for at least 2 weeks before cooking it to a rare temperature on a barbecue grill using burning hot charcoals.
8. ✦ Bolognese
Among the most famous of all Italian dishes is of course Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna. The meat used is minced or finely chopped beef, although tiny amounts of fatty pork often get added into the mix, alongside of vegetables like onion and celery. Interestingly enough, while most of the world eats Bolognese in a tomato sauce with spaghetti, there is typically very little tomatoes in use to make a traditional Bolognese, and it is more commonly eaten with tagliatelle or as lasagne.
Want to make it at home? I loved Bon Appetit’s Best Bolognese recipe..
9. ✧ Bottarga
Bottarga is a salted and cured fish roe, made usually of Bluefin tuna or grey mullet, and is considered a delicacy in Italy. It’s mostly made and eaten in the regions of Sicily and Sardinia, usually served with olive oil or lemon juice, with bread or crostini to accompany.
10. ✦ Bruschetta
Originating in the 15th century—or perhaps to some degree during the days of Ancient Rome already—bruschetta falls into the antipasto category. It is a bread that’s grilled, rubbed and topped with olive oil and salt. The most traditional toppings to use is tomato’s with basil, garlic and salt, but also beans, cheese, cured meats or vegetables are popular topping choices. especially when the dish is served outside of Italy,
11. ✦ Budino
Lesser known than many of its counterparts, budino is a dessert you may liken as similar to a custard or a pudding. For thickening its texture to get something more like a ganache, cookies are used, but you may also prefer to enjoy it in its original form. For saucing, various flavors are used, such as – but not limited to – apple, butterscotch, caramel and chocolate.
12. ✦ Buffalo Mozzarella
Mozzarella di bufala is rather similar to the ‘regular’ mozzarella made of cow milk, with the main difference being that buffalo mozzarella is made of a water buffalo’s milk. It is considered to be the most authentic type of mozzarella out there – especially if it was made in Campania. However, the use of the different mozzarellas also differs a little, as buffalo mozzarella is best used in salads and cold appetizers, whereas it’s the mozzarella made of cow’s milk you’d typically rather use in pizza or lasagne.
13. ✦ Cacio e Pepe
A part of modern Roman cuisine, cacio e pepe is a spaghetti dish where the main ingredients are cheese and pepper, as the name says. Sometimes the simplest things are the best! The cheese used is grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and traditionally, instead of spaghetti, Romans actually use tonnarelli, which is egg pasta from Lazio region, similar in appearance to spaghetti.
14. ✦ Cacciatore
The word ‘cacciatore’ means “hunter” in Italian, and thus when speaking of cooking meals ‘alla cacciatora’, it means the meal was prepared ‘hunter-style’. Cacciatore specifically is usually made using braised chicken, although it is not uncommon to see rabbit being used as the meat of the dish. It’s a stew-like dish where the chicken is first fried in oil and the leftover fat of the chicken is then used to stir fry the vegetables served with the chicken.
15. ✦ Cannoli
Cannolis are tube-shaped pastries made of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet and creamy filling, usually including ricotta. The cannolis may be topped with sprinkled chocolate chips or crushed pistachios or even canned fruit. These pastries are of Sicilian origin, and in mainland Italy they are often specifically referred to as ‘Sicilian cannoli’.
16. ✦ Caprese
Caprese salad is an incredibly simple salad dish, traditionally consisting of only mozzarella and tomato, with basil, salt and olive oil used for seasoning. It is typically served as an antipasto, although caprese pizza and caprese pasta are also possible variations of the dish. It is believed to have originated from Capri, which is the place it was named after, possibly sometime in the 20th century.
17. ✦ Carbonara
Another worldwide favorite of Italian cuisine, carbonara is a pasta dish originating from Rome, made traditionally with cured pork, egg, hard cheese (either authentic Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano – or both!), and black pepper. Other types of pastas may be used to make the dish, but spaghetti is the most common option. Note that while it’s relatively common to use cream-based sauce in making pasta carbonara outside of Italy, traditionally there is no sauce used.
18. ✦ Carpaccio
A fairly recent introduction to Italian cuisine, carpaccio is an antipasto dish created by Giuseppe Cipriani, who is also the mastermind behind the Bellini cocktail (which mixes together prosecco with peach puree), making carpaccio of Venetian origin. Traditionally carpaccio is made of thinly sliced raw beef, but it may be made of salmon or tuna as well. It’s similar to sashimi or beef tartare, though it gets its unique twist from the seasoning, which can include lemon, olive oil, capers, white truffles and/or Parmesan cheese.
19. ✧ Cotoletta alla Milanese
As the name suggests, Cotoletta alla Milanese is a dish which originated from Milan. It is traditionally prepared from veal rib chop or sirloin, made into a breaded cutlet that has been fried in butter. This dish dates at the very least all the way back to the 12th century.
20. ✦ Crostata
Originating from late 15th century, or somewhat earlier than that, crostata is a baked tart or a pie. There are various versions of fillings for a crostata, with the rule of thumb being that it be chunky and inconsistent, as odd as that may sound to someone not familiar with the dish. Sweet crostatas typically have fruit preserves, such as apricot or peach, as its fillings, whereas a savory crostata may include pre-cooked meat, fish or vegetables.
21. ✦ Eggplant Parmesan (Parmigiana Melanzane)
Often simply called ‘Parmigiana’, this is an oven-baked dish using thinly sliced eggplant as filling, with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce as layers. It’s a relatively easy dish to make, sometimes dubbed one of the best vegetarian dishes out there–and likely with good reason! Like many other foods from Italy, the origins of eggplant parmesan are also unclear. Although it seems to be so beloved that several regions from Sicily to Parma are fighting over which one gets to claim it as traditionally theirs.
*This cheesy dish is also great with zucchini if your not too fond of eggplant!
22. ✦ Espresso
Espresso refers to Italian method of brewing coffee, in which a small amount of water that’s about to boil is forced through finely-ground coffee beans. Espresso coffee tends to be thicker in texture in comparison to other methods, but otherwise it is not limited to being made from a single type of bean. Espresso coffee can also be used as base for a variety of other coffee drinks, or can be drank on its own in a small serving size.
23. ✦ Farinata
Farinata is an Italian type of a thin pancake, which is made of chickpea flour. Its specific origins are unknown, but its origin location has been traced to Genoa. It is now a typical food in many coastal areas of Italy, as well as Gibraltar.
24. ✦ Focaccia
Baked in the oven, focaccia is a flat bread that somewhat resembles pizza. It can be served as a side dish or be used as bread for a sandwich. Bread similar to focaccia has existed since the times of Ancient Rome, although today’s focaccia is more typically associated with the region of Liguria.
25. ✦ Gelato
If you haven’t tried gelato yet, you are truly missing out. Similar to ice cream, gelato is a frozen dessert discovered in Italy. The difference is that gelato contains less milkfat and has a texture that is denser and creamier. A wide variety of flavors exist for this delicious treat, but my favorites are hazelnut and pistachio! Gelato in its current form was created by an Italian chef in the late 17th century.
26. ✧ Ginestrata
Originating from Tuscany, ginestrata is a lightly spiced egg-based soup. Besides egg yolks, primary ingredients going into ginestrata are white wine, butter, nutmeg and sugar, as well as chicken stock. It was traditionally eaten the day after a wedding in the family in the Middle Ages.
27. ✦ Gnocchi
Gnocchi is a pillowy dough pasta typically made with potatoes, flour and cheese. The more modern versions may even add things like spinach or mashed butternut squash to the dough mix. You can prepare gnocchi sauce in a variety of ways with your favorite ingredients. Just to note, that in Italy this dish typically served in the first course or as a side dish to a main dish.
28. ✦ Lasagna
Lasagna is a common Italian dish made of stacking layers of wide pasta sheets with fillings that most typically consist of grounded meat, tomato sauce, cheese, plus various seasonings and spices, an additional layer of mozzarella on top. Lasagna is quite possibly one of the oldest types of pasta to exist, dating back to the 14th century or earlier, most likely originating from Naples.
29. ✦ Minestrone
When it comes to foods from Italy, minestrone soup is among the very oldest ones of them. No set recipes for minestrone seem to exist, giving its maker a lot of leeway to choose which vegetables to use in making of it. My Italian nonna would always use what was in season! It’s also not uncommon to add pasta or rice into the soup.
It’s easy to make this dish at home, especially with Cookie + Kate’s Classic Minestrone Soup recipe.
30. ✦ Mortadella
Originating from Bologna, mortadella is a large sausage made of pork, either cured or hashed, including a fair bit of fat, as well as black pepper grains or pistachios. It’s usually served in thin cuts, either as antipasto or in a sandwich.
31. ✦ Olive Oil
Of the items on this Italian food list, olive oil is one of the few that is also in large consumption and production in countries near to Italy, most notably Greece and Spain. It mainly uses liquid fat from olives as an ingredient, although some fatty acids are included as well. Olive oil has been a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine since the times of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
32. ✦ Orecchiette con Broccoli di Rape
Orechiette is a traditional pasta from the Puglia region. Fairly thick and freshly made, these “little ears” are difficult to find anywhere else in Italy. Just like all Italian cooking, the taste of the dish comes down to the freshness of its ingredients. That’s why this dish is perfect for the colder months as broccoli rabe hails in autumn.
33. ✦ Osso Buco
At the center of osso buco is a cross-cut veal shank, which has been braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. Depending on where you are, it may be served with risotto or polenta. The dish belongs to the group of foods from Italy that are a part of Lombard cuisine, which it is a specialty of.
34. ✦ Panettone
Originally from Milan, panettone is a type of sweet bread that is customary to enjoy around Christmas and New Year’s holidays, but you can buy it online anytime (buy it here). It usually has a cupola shape and is made from a dough similar to sourdough, also including candied orange, citron, lemon zest and dry raisins as its most common ingredients. Besides Italy, panettone is enjoyed in various European countries as well as Latin America, North America and Eritrea.
35. ✦ Panzanella
A popular summer dish from Tuscany, panzanella is a salad that includes onions, soaked stale bread and tomatoes as its main ingredients. In addition you often see cucumber and basil added into the mix. The dressings used are olive oil and vinegar. Want to make your own? An Italian in My Kitchen has 3 different recipes: traditional, Roman and her own version.
36. ✦ Parmigiano Reggiano
Produced in four regions of Italy, parmigiano-reggiano is a hard cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, heated in a controlled process where additional ingredients are added, and then aged for 12 months. It can be enjoyed on its own or grated into various dishes like pastas, risottos and soups.
37. ✦ Pesto
Originating from Genoa, pesto is a sauce made from basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and hard cheese, all of which are mixed together with olive oil. Pesto has existed in some form since the ancient Roman times, although basil did not get added into the pesto recipe until the 19th century. Various recipes for pesto exist largely due to the fact each family had their own way of making it.
38. ✦ Pizza Margherita
Many think that this is the BEST of all the Italian foods on this list—do you agree? Created in Naples by pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, the pizza margherita consists of three basic ingredients: basil, tomato and mozzarella. Just like many other Italian dishes, the simplicity of the dish makes it so tasty.
39. ✦ Polenta
Though originally made from other types of grain, modern polenta is made from boiled cornmeal. It may be served as a hot porridge, or as a mash similar to mashed potato, or it may be fried, or it can be allowed to let cool down into a solid loaf. Of these the latter option is perhaps the most traditional way.
40. ✦ Polpette (aka: Meatballs)
Up until now you may have been wondering where are the meatballs on this Italian food list – well, as it happens, polpette are Italian for meatballs! An Italian style meatball is made out of beef and (or) pork, as well as various other ingredients like black pepper, chopped garlic, cheese, olive oil, and parsley, among a couple more, made into golf ball sized balls and served as a main course. Fun fact: Italians don’t actually combine spaghetti and meatballs as a dish!
41. ✦ Porchetta
Porchetta is an Italian style pork roast, where the bone has been removed, and the remaining parts have been stuffed with things like liver, wild fennel and fat. Cooking time is approximately 8 hours, with the cooking usually taking place over wood. In the Province of Rome, porchetta may be more commonly eaten, but elsewhere in Italy is usually reserved for celebratory occasions.
42. ✦ Prosciutto
An Italian style dry-cured ham, prosciutto is typically served uncooked and in thin slices. Various regions have their own varieties of prosciutto, but it’s the prosciutto from Parma that is typically the most highly regarded. Often prosciutto is served as antipasto, but you may also see it in pasta, as a pizza topping, in sandwiches and so on.
43. ✦ Puttanesca
Puttanesca is a spaghetti dish created in Naples in the mid-20th century, including capers, garlic, olives, olive oil and tomatoes as its ingredients. The version in Lazio often adds anchovies into the dish, and spaghetti may also be replaced by some other type of pasta depending on who cooks it.
44. ✦ Ravioli
Ravioli is a type of pasta where thin pieces of dough are filled with something, traditionally spinach and ricotta. It is then served in a broth or sauce. Ravioli are considered a very traditional meal in Italy, typically made by hand at home.
45. ✦ Ribolitta
Another Italian style vegetarian soup, ribolitta is made using various inexpensive vegetables and leftover bread. Its roots are in Tuscan origin, with soups very similar to ribolitta dating back to the Middle Ages.
46. ✦ Risotto
Originating from Lombardy, risotto is a rice dish cooked slowly and stirred often until it develops a creamy consistency. The ingredients added are virtually endless— they can be anything from lemon juice and shrimp to peas and prosciutto. Dating back to early 19th century, risotto is more likened as a first course served prior to a main course, although it is also commonly served as a side dish.
47. ✦ Saltimbocca
Saltimbocca is a classic Roman dish where thinly pounded veal cutlets are topped with prosciutto and sage, lightly coated with flour and then quickly fried. The velvety sauce is made with a mix of chicken stock and marsala wine.
48. ✧ Sarde in Saor
Originating from Venice, where it is a classic dish even today, sarde in saor is when deep-fried sardines are marinated with onions in sweetened vinegar, then served with raisins and pine nuts. Traditionally this meal is prepared once a year, during the Festa del Redentore in July, but it is quite easy to find on many Venetian restaurant’s menu.
49. ✦ Sea Urchin
Seen as a kind of a delicacy, sea urchin are often combined with spaghetti or other type of pasta in Italian cuisine. Especially the coastal regions of Italy, namely Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia, like to cook using sea urchins.
50. ✧ Sfogliatella
Shaped like a shell, this pastry originated from Campania region. First created in the 17th century, sfogliatella has a rough ridge-like outer look, fillings typically consisting of ricotta flavored with orange, almond paste, and citron.
51. ✦ Squid Ink Pasta
Do you want your pasta a little bit more exotic than usual? Then try it with squid ink (aka: cuttlefish ink)! The black ink which is released by the mollusk is then infused into different types of pasta, a technique believe to have originated in Sicily.
You can make your own pasta with a jar of Poseidon Squid Ink from Sardenia, or even easier just buy some already made Squid Ink Spaghetti.
52. ✦ Squash Blossoms
Traditionally a peasant food in the past, in this dish you literally are eating the blossoms of a squash or a zucchini. The blossoms are dipped into flour batter then fried in oil. You can serve and eat them as is, or with anchovies and cheese.
53. ✦ Tartufo Dessert
Direct translation for tartufo is “truffle”, but actually it is an Italian style ice cream dessert with roots in Pizzo. In tartufo, two or more flavors of ice cream are included, with frozen fruit or fruit syrup in the center and a shell made of chocolate (or cocoa) covering the ice cream.
54. ✦ Tiramisu (Coffee flavored Italian Dessert)
Coffee-flavored, tiramisu is one of Italy’s staple desserts (one of the best foods in the world in my opinion!). To make tiramisu, you’ll dip ladyfingers in espresso, then make layers with eggs, mascarpone, and sugar with cocoa sprinkled on top. Tiramisu is a new addition to Italian cuisine, only a few decades old, but it has quickly rose to become one of the most famous foods from Italy.
55. ✦ Torrone
Made of egg white, honey and sugar, as well as toasted almonds and other nuts, torrone is a popular treat across Southern Europe. It is especially consumed around Christmas time, the recipe for torrone having existed since the 16th century.
56. ✦ Tortellini
Similarly to ravioli, tortellini are also a stuffed pasta, but extremely different in shape, and the fillings differ quite a bit as well. Tortellini typically gets filled with a mixture of Italian meats, Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg and nutmeg. Note that tortelloni and tortellini are two different types of pasta; tortelloni are bigger in size and usually come with a ricotta filling, in addition to which they are cooked and stir fried before being served dry, whereas tortellini is both cooked and served in broth.
57. ✦ Truffles
While I mentioned above that a certain Italian dessert translates as “truffle”, real truffles also have made a space for themselves in Italian kitchen. These underground mushrooms are hunted in the forests and are the ultimate delicacy that come with a high price tag. In Northern Italy and Umbria they play a big part in local dishes, and not just for those capable of splurging on truffles, but simply in every day meals. Truffles may be served in risotto, shaved over pasta, as tortellini filling, or with numerous main course meaty dishes.
. . .
How many of these foods from Italy were you familiar with before? How many have you tried? Even if you are not traveling to Italy in the near future, you can still complete this Italian food bucket list—you just may have to get creative while doing it! Either way, this may be the most delicious bucket list you’ve ever attempted.
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