Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, Puglia
The name of this Pugliese pasta comes from its shape, which resembles a small ear (orecchiette literally translates as “little ears”). Orecchiette are ideal because of their ability to retain sauce, thanks to their central depression. Orecchiette are firstly cooked together with turnip greens to absorb their full flavour, and then stir-fried with anchovies, crushed garlic and a touch of chilli.
Pizza Margherita, Campania
Said to be named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, who visited Naples in 1889, pizza Margherita bears the colours of the Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). An authentic pizza Margherita is made exclusively by hand from scratch (no rolling pins!) and must be cooked in a wood-brick oven at 485 degrees. Neapolitan pizza is always soft and floppy with a raised edge (called cornicione), unlike Roman pizza, which is thin and crispy.
Risotto alla Milanese, Lombardy
Short-grain Arborio or Carnaroli rice is grown abundantly in the paddy fields of the Ticino and Po plains. Rice is pan-fried with onions and butter, and repeatedly stirred while veal broth is gradually added to enhance flavour. Saffron lends the risotto a golden tone, while Parmesan is added once the rice is cooked, giving it a creamy texture. Risotto alla Milanese is often served with tender ossubuco (veal marrow).
Trofie al Pesto, Liguria
This Ligurian squiggly-shaped pasta made from flour and water is rolled by hand and served with a mouth-watering pesto sauce. Basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and a pinch of salt are pureed to make the pesto, and grated Pecorino cheese is stirred in. The trofie are cooked in boiling water until al dente. The pesto is mixed in with the pasta and extra pecorino cheese can be grated on top.
These savoury filled pastries are shaped like a half-moon and traditionally stuffed with tomato and melted mozzarella, although there are plenty of other fillings including spinach, mushrooms, olives, anchovies and ham. These little pockets of dough are similar to calzone, although smaller and deep-fried. As they puff up with hot air, it’s best to tear them open to let the steam flow out to avoid burning one’s mouth; this typical street food is eaten as a morning or afternoon snack.
These succulent chunks of skewed mutton are barbecued on a brazier. Ovine fat is sometimes placed between the chunks of meat, lending the arrosticini a more tender texture. They are served wrapped in tin foil and typically eaten with the hands, pulling off the meat with your teeth. They are enjoyed with home-made bread soaked in olive oil while chilli peppers, and washed down nicely with a glass of red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
These stuffed rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and fried take their name from their shape and colour, which is similar to an orange (arancini means “little oranges”). In eastern Sicily arancini are conical shaped. They are usually stuffed with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ragù (Bolognese sauce) and peas. Arancini are thought to have originated around the tenth century when Sicily was under Arab rule, when rice is said to have been introduced to the island.
Bucatini all’amatriciana, Lazio
Amatriciana sauce takes its name from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region. This delicious pasta sauce is made with guanciale (pork cheek lard), sweet tomatoes and chilli peppers. Bucatini (long, hollow tubular pasta similar to spaghetti) are boiled until al dente, and mixed in with the sauce and some grated pecorino cheese.
It is said vincisgrassi were first prepared in honour of the Austrian general Windisch Graetz who had fought against Napoleon in 1799, defending the city of Ancona (the name vincisgrassi derives from the mispronunciation of the General’s name). This baked pasta dish is composed of layers of mixed meat ragù (bolognese sauce) of beef, pork and chicken giblets, enriched with a creamy béchamel sauce and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
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Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Tuscany
Served rare, bistecca alla fiorentina, or Florentine beefsteak, is a succulent T-bone steak that is flame-grilled over charcoal, sealing the fillet juices with a dark crust. Traditionally, bistecca alla fiorentina is a cut taken from a Tuscan breed of ox known as chianina, although nowadays Spanish beef is largely used. The steak is seasoned with salt, black pepper and a drizzle of oil.
Cappelletti in Brodo, Emilia Romagna
This egg-based pasta with a meat filling is served in a flavourful chicken broth. Small strips of dough are stuffed with meat and folded in a half moon shape. The corners are then stretched around until they meet, forming the pasta’s curious shape, which recalls a medieval style hat (cappelletti literally means “little hats”). They are cooked in boiling broth, and left to simmer at low heat until they float to the surface (usually about five minutes). Cappelletti in brodo are traditionally eaten on Christmas day.
Frico con Patate, Friuli Venezia Giulia
Similar to an omelette, frico con patate is made with thinly cut or grated potatoes sautéed with onions. Montasio cheese is added and the dish cooked for twenty minutes or so. Once the potatoes have cooked and the cheese has melted, the ingredients are gently pan-fried until golden brown.
Sardine in Saor, Veneto
This Venetian antipasto consists of fried sardines, pine nuts, raisins and caramelised onions cooked with vinegar. The saor cooking method was favoured by Venetian sailors when out at sea to preserve fish for prolonged periods of time. Sardine in saor are in fact tastier if left to rest for 24 hours.
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This hearty soup is traditionally made with sweet onions from Tropea, a region of Calabria that lies along the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they have been cultivated for over two thousand years. The area’s microclimate, fertile soil and proximity to the sea contribute to their unique taste. The onions are peeled, sliced thinly and cooked in lard with hot water, and hot chillies are added at the end. Licurdia is ladled over crispy bread that is placed at the bottom of individual soup bowls.
Pallotte Cacio e Uova, Molise
Made of cheese, egg and bread, pallotte (dough balls) are cooked in a tomato and red pepper sauce. Bread is soaked in milk and mixed with eggs, Pecorino cheese, parsley and garlic, and moulded into dough balls that are fried in boiling oil. The dough balls are then mixed in with the sauce and left to simmer for a few minutes. They can be served as a warm appetizer or as a vegetarian main course.
Bagna Càuda, Piedmont
Originally served in a communal dish in the middle of the table, this piping hot garlic and anchovy dip is today placed in fojòt, individual terracotta pots. Raw, boiled or roasted vegetables – typically cardoon, cabbage, celery, radish, fennel, onion, Jerusalem artichokes and peppers – are dipped in the sauce and enjoyed with bread. Bagna càuda is traditionally eaten in the autumn and winter months either as an antipasto or as a main dish.