Italian food is one of the most popular types of food in the United States and indeed around the world. But the cuisine of Italy is actually a lot more diverse than most people know. It’s true that if you ask a random American person to list different types of Italian food, a lot of people will run out of steam shortly after listing pizza and pasta. But there’s so, so much more to eat on this boot-shaped Mediterranean peninsula.
Northern Italian food tends to rely much more on dairy products: butter, cream, and cow’s milk cheeses feature prominently in many dishes. This is mostly because the land is flatter and more suited to raising cattle. Ingredients like mascarpone, gorgonzola, or parmesan cheese are almost universally used in this region. Also local to the north of Italy is the famous pesto genovese, the sauce Americans know simply as pesto: basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts.
In the mountains and forests of central Italy, the food becomes richer and simpler. Wild boar, deer, and pork products reign in this area, and beans are popular as well. This is also the region where a lot of famous pasta dishes originated: cacio e pepe, the famous pasta dish made of nothing more than pasta, cheese, and black pepper, originated in central Italy, as did spaghetti carbonara, the iconic cheese, egg, and cured pork pasta dish. Thanks to the region’s traditional Jewish population, there are also some Jewish dishes such as fresh artichokes deep fried in olive oil, which are still popular as a Roman street food today.
In the south, olive oil generally takes the place of butter as a cooking fat and ingredient, and cheeses are more likely to be made from sheep’s milk, due to the region’s dry and mountainous characteristics. The south part of the Italian peninsula, being surrounded by the sea on three sides, is also very maritime focused, and seafood plays a big role in the cuisine of the south of Italy. Another southern favorite is the use of chili—called pepperoni locally, these firey little chilies are used to flavor all sorts of delicious southern treats.
Italian cuisine is much more than just spaghetti and pizza. Let’s see what else it can be!
Arancini - Italian fried rice ball appetizers
Arancini, named because their spherical shape and orange color make them resemble oranges, are one of the most iconic Italian street foods. Essentially, some genius long ago had the brilliant idea to stuff his leftover risotto (usually saffron or tomato risotto) with ham and mozzarella, then roll the whole things in bread crumbs and throw it into the deep fryer. History was made that day. Now, arancini are available at corner stores and street food stalls all around Italy, making the perfect grab-and-go snack. Try making these arancini, the Italian fried rice balls, the next time you have leftover risotto!
Spaghetti Napoli recipe
It is often said that Italian food prizes quality of ingredients above all else. And with recipes this simple, it’s easy to see why: when you only have a handful of ingredients, it’s important they’re as high quality as possible. Our recommendation is to buy the best tomatoes you can find: in many places, it’s possible to find imported Italian tomatoes called San Marzano. These will give the best flavor possible. Olive oil is another area where it’s important not to skimp—go for the good stuff. With this simple pasta dish, spaghetti napoli, the better your ingredients, the better your results.
Tajarin with white truffle recipe
Tajarin are a sort of egg noodle pasta, while Truffles are the hidden gold of northern Italy. Deep in the region’s dark oak forests, a secret lurks beneath the roots of certain trees. At the right time of year, specially trained teams of dogs run through the forests, sniffing out their elusive quarry. These aren’t hunting dogs: they’re looking for truffles. Truffles are quite expensive, so this recipe makes sure to emphasize them: the ingredients are nothing more than homemade pasta, butter, sage, a little parmesan cheese (use the imported stuff here), and your precious truffles. Grate the truffle tableside to make your presentation extra impressive, then sit down and dig in—you deserve it. This Italian white truffle pasta recipe is to die for!
Struffoli - Traditional Italian dessert
Struffoli is an Italian dessert, a sort of Christmas candy from the Naples region, near the famous volcano Mount Vesuvius. In some ways, it’s a bit like an American funnel cake, except much more refined and not served to you by a man six teeth and three first names. Instead of being strained through a funnel, the struffoli dough is rolled into small balls which are deep fried and then coated with a honeyed, citrus infused glaze. Sweet and sticky outside, light and fluffy inside, these traditional Neapolitan desserts are destined to impress at your next dinner party!