Let’s be honest, when we think of Italian food, pizza and pasta (often pronounced with an Italian accent!) are the first things that come to mind. It goes with out saying that everyone is familiar with pasta like spaghetti, fusilli, penne, ravioli, and the multitude of pizzas available all over the world.
They can be found on the menus in a lot of restaurants (even those that aren’t Italian!). The Mediterranean diet, which includes a lot of garlic, olive oil, and basil, is even popular amongst some of the pickiest eaters.
Italian food is some of the most popular in the UK. However, there’s so much more to Italian cooking than your traditional Neapolitan pizza and plates of pasta. Plus, there are different styles of cooking all over Italy itself.
In fact, there are so many other Italian dishes that you should try. In this article, Superprof’s going to look at some of the most popular Italian recipes that aren't pizza or pasta.
The Best Italian Antipasti (Starters)
In Italy, antipasti is sacred! Think of it as halfway between tapas and starters. It can be quite tricky comparing an Italian meal to a British meal since it's not uncommon for an Italian meal to have 10 courses!
You start with an aperitivo (usually an alcoholic drink) before moving onto an antipasto (the plural being antipasti). The Italian word antipasto literally means “before pasta”, meaning before the main course. Antipasti is eaten as a sort of starter after your glass of prosecco, for example, an Italian sparkling white wine.
If you want to learn more about Italian cuisine, antipasti is a great place to start (since they're basically starters)! These dishes often include flavours of the Mediterranean and can be quite simple to make:
- Arancini di riso, balls of rice fried with flour, eggs, and cheese.
- Aubergine rolls with ricotta or mozzarella, which can be eaten with vegetables, tomato sauce, or on their own.
- Cherry tomato and mozzarella bruschetta, ideally on ciabatta bread.
- Polenta or Parma ham.
- Mushrooms filled with goat cheese or pesto (an Italian sauce made from pine nuts and basil).
- Caponata crostini, toasted bread with capers, balsamic vinegar, aubergines, and olive oil.
This isn’t far from everything when it comes to antipasti. You could serve carpaccio as a starter. The original carpaccio (raw beef) came from Harry's Bar in Venice in the north of Italy. The famous restaurant apparently created the dish during a power cut (since the food couldn't be cooked) or for the Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo after the restaurant's founder learnt that doctors had advised her to eat raw meat.
There are several variations on the original recipe:
- Tuna carpaccio
- Tomato and mozzarella carpaccio, perfect for vegetarians
- Courgette carpaccio
- Aubergine carpaccio
- You can even find chard carpaccio.
If you’re serving carpaccio like they do in Italy, don’t forget to put some olive oil from the south of Italy, lemon juice, and fresh basil onto a cold plate.
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The Cheeses at the Heart of Italian Cooking
You can’t talk about Italian food without talking about the many Italian cheeses that are an essential part of many different Italian recipes. Cheese can also be served as its own course after your two main courses (primo piatto and secondo piatto), known as the formaggi e frutta (cheese and fruit) course.
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While there are plenty of other countries that make good cheeses, Italy does alright, too. A good variety of Italian cheeses are put to good use in Italian recipes:
- Buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala if you’re getting the really good stuff, goes great with salads and carpaccio.
- Ricotta, a fresh cheese that can be used in cakes, quiches, and even lasagna.
- Pecorino, the sheep cheese from Sardinia, which is great with vegetables.
- Parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) which while often eaten with pizza and pasta, is also great with plenty of other Italian dishes.
- Scarmoza, a delicious smoked cheese which is great for cold winter nights.
- Provolone, a cheese from the south of Italy which is great with stuffed chicken.
- Burrata, a type of creamy mozzarella which can be eaten on its own with a bit of olive oil.
More and more Italian grocers are popping up all over the UK, meaning that you can get authentic Italian products for when you start making dishes like they do in Italy.
If you decide to take cooking lessons London, you can ask your tutor to help you choose just the right cheese for your dishes!
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Risotto, Italian Cooking’s other Star
Italian pasta, cooked al dente, of course, is delicious. However, risotto is also divine.
Italy produces more rice than any other country in Europe, and most of that rice is made in the north of the country. The rice used for risotto is round.
To make a risotto like they do in Italy, you should opt for carnaroli or arborio rice.
Risotto, like many other non-meat dishes in Italy, is often consumed as the primo piatto or first main course.
You should also stock up on dry white wine, onions, and parmesan. Now you’re ready to start making risotto.
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In the same way pasta can be served with pesto, bolognese, or carbonara, risotto also comes in a large variety of flavours:
- Squid ink risotto (al nero di seppia), which anyone going to Venice should try.
- Goat cheese and limoncello risotto.
- Fisherman’s risotto, with fish, of course.
- Porcini or mushroom risotto.
Just like with pasta, the only limit when it comes to risotto is your imagination. Nevertheless, if you want an authentic Italian risotto, you’re going to have to prepare it like they do in Italy:
- You can’t make a risotto in 20 minutes, you need to be patient.
- You can’t prepare a risotto in advance.
- The stock needs to be home-made, this makes all the difference.
- Brown the onions in butter until they go clear, this is very important.
- Constantly keep an eye on it while it cooks.
- Regularly stir the risotto with a wooden spoon.
By following these rules, you’ll soon become an expert at making risotto. You can also cook risotto to go with some of Italy’s most popular veal dishes, ossobucco or saltimbocca.
If you prefer breaded meat, why not opt for veal Milanese. Buon appetito!
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Gourmet Italian Desserts
Don’t panic! How could we forget desserts in our list of Italian dishes!?
Italian desserts (dolce, meaning sweet) are sacred and mascarpone and coffee tiramisu is probably the most famous of all. That said, you can get it with raspberry, chocolate, and even shortbread in many restaurants around Europe.
However, there’s more to Italian desserts than just Tiramisu:
- Panettone, a sweet bread baked with dried fruit and usually eaten during the holidays.
- Panna Cotta with raspberry coulis, made from cream and vanilla pods.
- Sabayon, a mousse made from sugar, egg yokes, and white wine.
- Sfogliatella, an Italian pastry.
- Colomba di Pasqua, which is eaten during Easter in Italy, is made with icing sugar, egg, flour, and honey.
- Castagnaccio, originally from Tuscany, is a chestnut flour cake.
- Panadoro, a yellow alternative to the Panetonne which is made with yeast from beer.
Whether sweet or savoury, the Italians know how to whet your appetite.
Italian Wines to Go with Typical Italian Dishes
When it comes to Italian cuisine, you can’t ignore the wine! Choosing the right wine can be crucial, and luckily for you, Italy has plenty of good wines. In 2015, Italy produced more wine than any other country in Europe.
So what kinds of Italian wines are we looking for?
While Prosecco is often used as a replacement for champagne, there are plenty of other wines worth mentioning:
- Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is an award-winning white wine.
- Barolo Riserva is a delicious red wine with an after-taste of cinnamon
- Barolo Riserva Montofino is a fruity natural wine
- Radici Taurasi Riserva is an intense wine with raspberry flavours
Don’t forget limoncello, either! This lemon liqueur is often served at the end of Italian meals (as the digestivo) in the south of the country. The recipe has been around for at least a hundred years and is now starting to appear on dessert menus in the UK.
Now we’re going to have a little ristretto coffee as we get to the end of our meal. What about you? Whether you fancy seafood, pasta dishes, or roasted vegetables, you can find something for everyone in an Italian restaurant!
Of course, since Italian cooking is best enjoyed at home with your family, you should learn to cook it yourself. If you're a terrible cook, why not consider learning to cook Italian cuisine with the help of a private tutor?