Italian Food Terms – don’t be stuck without it on your holiday!

In: Traveling, Tuscany, Food and Wine
Italy is a dream for food and wine lovers.


Don’t be caught hungry in a lost little village somewhere in Italy staring at an Italian only menu (which most of them are when you are out of the bigger cities) not knowing what you should order. Italians still do eat things like tripe, brains, tongue and things like eel so if you want to steer away from the more adventurous dishes, try to learn some of the key terms below. My comments are in italic bold, am happy to add some points if readers have some other comments, just send them through. I really hope you enjoy my ‘Italian food terms’ and feel free to leave your comments with others I may have missed.

Acciughe: anchovies ( both salted and fresh)
Aceto: vinegar ( white wine, red wine and balsamic)
Aglio: garlic ( I doubt you will find an italian dish that DOESN’T have garlic!!!!)
Agnello: lamb ( best eaten around Easter time)
Agnolotti: crescent-shaped, meat-filled pasta
Agrodolce: sweet-and-sour ( agrodolce cippoline ( baby onions) are delicious)
Amaretti: crunchy almond macaroons ( even just sprinkled on icecream they are good so don’t worry too much if you think they will crush in your suitcase on the way home)
Anatra: duck ( you will also find as a ‘sugo’ and it’s YUM! )
Anguilla: eel ( it’s not bad, I have had it , don’t be scared!)
Aragosta: spiny lobster ( need I say more? Even the city restaurants get great seafood,now there is a service called ‘refrigerated couriers’ so it’s always fresh )
Arrosto: mixed roasted meats ( normally sausage, ribs, steak and a pork chop- every restaurant does there ‘arrosto’ a bit differently )


Baccalá: dried salt cod ( This is a great dish and can be cooked in many different ways. At the markets you will see the dried, stiff fish fillets, they are then soaked in water and/or milk for a couple of days to get the saltiness out, then cooked in many different ways. A lovely flavourful fish )
Bagna cauda: hot, savoury dip for raw vegetables
Birra: beer
Biscotti: cookies
Bistecca (alla fiorentina): charcoal-grilled T-bone steak (seasoned with pepper and olive oil) ( Dont expect this to be cooked medium as it is always rare and is the best way to eat it. Don’t offend the chef if you don’t like rare meat order something else like ‘tagliata’ which is a piece of steak sliced thinly and it can be done medium or well done)
Bolognese: pasta sauce with tomatoes and meat
Bresaola: air-dried spiced beef; usually thinly sliced, served with olive oil and lemon juice ( great if you are on a diet! )
Bruschetta: toasted garlic bread topped with tomatoes ( the ‘ch’ in Bruschetta is hard like a ‘k’ and not ‘sh’)
Bucatini: hollow spaghetti ( typically seen in Rome)

Calamari (calamaretti): (baby) squid
Calzone: stuffed pizza-dough turnover
Cannellini: white beans ( very popular in Tuscany, great in soups and salads or as a side dish for grilled meats, make sure to give a good drizzle of olive oil)
Cappelletti: meat- or cheese-stuffed pasta (‘little hats’)
Carbonara: pasta sauce with ham, eggs, cream and grated cheese
Carciofi (alla giudia): (flattened and deep-fried baby) artichokes ( also artichoke salad is a must try). Have a look at my ‘Fried Artichokes’ recipe 
Carpaccio: paper thin, raw beef (or other meats)
Cassata: ice cream bombe ( found in Southern Italy)
Cavolfiore: cauliflower (obviously can be eaten in many ways, even children like then fried!! )
Ceci: chickpeas (easy to boil, throw in a stalk of celery, half an onion and a whole tomato, salt and a bit or rosemary-easy)
Cipolla: onion ( never missing in italian dishes!! If adventurous try stuffing them)
Conchiglie: shell-shaped pasta (used a lot in the south of italy and wonderful for almost all sauces)
Coniglio: rabbit (rabbits are farmed in italy and are a delicate white meat, not ‘gamey’ at all. Definitely worth trying)
Coppa: cured pork fillet encased in sausage skin
Costata: rib steak
Costoletta (alla milanese): (breaded) veal chop
Cozze: mussels
Crespelle: crêpes ( eaten both sweet and savoury in Italy. In Tuscany they serve them with spinach and ricotta with a tomato and bechamel sauce, sprinkled with parmesan and baked in the oven. Yum!!)
Crostata: tart (very commonly found and using the fresh fruit of the season. Can be as simple as fresh marmalade or as divine as fresh figs and walnuts and served with fresh marscarpone cheese on top.

Fagioli: beans ( many different varieties found in Italy, in Tuscany the most common is the ‘cannellini’ which is delicate and white and found as a side dish, in salads and soups)
Fagiolini: string beans (in Tuscany commonly eaten ‘all’uccelleto’ and is a dish originating from Florence)
Farfalle: bow-tie pasta ( in my house known as ‘Butterfly pasta’)
Fegato:  italian food term for liver ( hmmm … no comment) 
Fegato alla veneziana: calf’s liver sautéed with onions (as above each to his own)
Fichi: figs (in Italy in summer its enough to stop on the side of the road and pick them from the tree!!)
Finocchio: fennel ( not given enough credit, this vegetable is great sliced finely on salads, baked with a roast or boiled)
Focaccia: crusty flat bread ( a winner for an easy lunch stuffed with a variety of toppings. Find ‘I Fratellini’ in Florence )
Formaggio: cheese ( my favourite italian cheese is ‘pecorino’)
Frittata: Italian omelet ( you can even shove it between two pieces of bread for a great ‘panino’, my favourite is with ‘carciofi’/ artichokes)
Fritto misto: mixed fry of meats or fish
Frutti di mare: seafood (especially shellfish)
Funghi (trifolati): mushrooms (sautéed with garlic and parsley) or fried, or with a pasta or in a risotto
Fusilli: spiral-shaped pasta

Gamberi: shrimp ( prawns!!)
Gamberoni: prawns ( big prawns!!)
Gelato: ice cream ( where do I start… in Florence ‘Grom’ and ‘Gelateria all Carraia’ cant be missed)
Gnocchi: dumplings made of cheese (di ricotta), potatoes (di patate), cheese and spinach (verdi), or semolina (alla romana)
Grana: hard grating cheese
Granita: sweetened, flavored grated ice ( typical of southern Italy but can be found everywhere, though the best ones are in Sicily. I will never forget the mulberry granita we had on the way to Favignana)
Griglia: grilled

Insalata: salad this italian food term is very similar to english so easy to remember!
Involtini: stuffed meat or fish rolls ( easy to make too, check my blog for a recipe)

Lenticchie: lentils ( typically found on italian tables at New Years Eve and represent good fortune and money for the coming year)

Maccheroni: macaroni pasta
Manzo: beef
Mela: apple
Melanzana: eggplant
Minestra: soup; pasta course
Minestrone: vegetable soup
Mortadella: large, mild Bolognese pork sausage ( cut like ham, great in fresh foccaccia)
Mozzarella di bufala: fresh cheese made from water-buffalo milk ( heaven in a white spongy ball… eaten with fresh tomato, basil and great olive oil, you don’t need anything else)

Noce: walnut

Orecchiette: ear-shaped pasta
Osso buco: braised veal shanks
Ostriche: oysters

Pane: bread ( beware, in Tuscany it is without salt and has been for centuries due to the ‘salt wars’. With tastier toppings and the large variety of ‘salumi’ the bread is wonderful and the contrast makes a fantastic pairing)
Panettone: briochelike sweet bread ( found at Christmas time and when on sae after christmas stock up as it makes a delightful bread and butter pudding!)
Panna: heavy cream
Pancetta: Italian bacon ( great with everything, in pasta sauce, to flavour soups, draped across any roast meat or game bird)
Pappardelle: wide, flat pasta noodles ( wonderful with wild boar or duck ragu )
Pasta asciutta: pasta served plain or with sauce
Pasticceria: pastry; pastry shop ( easily addictive… beware!)
Pasticcio: pie or mould of pasta, sauce and meat or fish ( with left over pasta, just add some more sauce, even some bechamel, more cheese, in a baking dish & bake. Make a great ‘leftovers’ meal)
Patate: potatoes
Pecorino: hard sheep’s-milk cheese ( it can also be soft when fresh and comes in many varieties, cured under ash or vine leaves, with truffles, chilli, pepper. Great eaten with pear or with the ‘bacelli’ beans in spring )
Penne: hollow, ribbed pasta
Peperoncini: tiny, hot peppers ( the further south you go the more you will find them in dishes )
Pepperoni: green, red or yellow sweet peppers
Pesca: peach
Pesce: fish
Pesce spada: swordfish
Pesto: cold pasta sauce of crushed basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil ( I use whatever nuts I have, even combining macadamia, cashew, almonds. For my 6 year old I take some out of the food processor BEFORE I put the garlic in, then everyone is happy)
Piccata: thinly sliced meat with a lemon or Marsala sauce
Pinoli: pine nuts ( they are found in the pinecones and often in the coastal areas in summer you see people collecting them for that reason, to then crush the hard nut and extract the soft white pine nut. Wonderful in both savoury and sweet dishes)
Polenta: cornmeal flour ( yummy with a rich sauce poured over it or fried or even in cakes. Very versatile)
Pollo: chicken
Polipo: octopus
Pomodoro: tomato ( what would Italy be without it?)
Porcini: prized wild mushrooms, known also as boletus (around September if you are in the right place at the right time you may actually find them. If not the fresh food markets all over the country will sell them. off season the dried porcini are good to have on hand and still make wonderful risottos and pasta sauces. Can be used in stuffing for meat)
Prosciutto: air-dried ham

Ragú: meat sauce
Ricotta: fresh sheep’s-milk cheese ( can also be cow’s milk but not as nice. Make sure to buy as fresh as possible and don’t ‘double dip’ as the bacteria from the dirty spoon will make it go off very quickly)
Rigatoni: large, hollow ribbed pasta
Riso: rice
Risotto: braised rice with various savoury items ( learn the technique and you have plethora of different risottos for life)
Rucola: arugula ( also known as rocket, there is the flatter wider variety which i prefer as it is much ‘spicier’ )

Salsa (verde): sauce (of parsley, capers, anchovies and lemon juice or vinegar)
Salsicce: fresh sausage
Saltimbocca: veal scallop with prosciutto and sage
Sarde: sardines
Semifreddo: frozen dessert, usually ice cream, with or without cake ( many different varieties and again use your imagination when cooking, even crumbled up biscuits and hard chocolate cake once blended up and mixed with the other semifreddo ingredients make a tasty and decadent dessert)
Sgombro: mackerel
Sogliola: sole
Spiedino: brochette; grilled on a skewer
Spumone: light, foamy ice cream

Tartufi: truffles
Tiramisú: creamy dessert of rum-spiked cake and triple-crème Mascarpone cheese ( there is good and bad, some made with cake, some made with biscuits, some with cream and not much marscapone. Its all personal taste)
Tonno: tuna ( if you can try it in Favignana, I have never tasted such wonderful tuna!)
Torta: cake
Tortelli: pasta dumplings stuffed with greens and ricotta
Tortellini: ring-shaped dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese and served in broth or in a cream sauce
Trenette: thin noodles served with potatoes and pesto sauce
Trota: trout

Uovo (sodo): egg (hard-boiled)
Uva: grapes ( squash them, leave to ferment, and with the help on an enologer make them into wine!)
Uva passa: raisins


Verdura: greens, vegetables ( there is a HUGE range of wonderful vegetables in Italy, its not just pizza and pasta!! You need to know what you are ordering though)
Vitello (Tonatto): veal (in a tuna and anchovy sauce)
Vongole: clams

I’m sure that there are many more terms that I can add to my ‘Italian Food Terms’ glossary. please feel free to send them through!

Pomodori - Learn about these in my Italian Food Terms Glossary

Vine Ripened Tomatoes

Learn about these in my Italian Food Terms Glossary

Fennel or ‘Finocchi’- great cooked, baked or shave thinly for salads

Learn about these in my Italian Food Terms Glossary

‘Aglio’ or Garlic. No italian kitchen would ever be without it!

Learn about these in my Italian Food Terms Glossary

‘Carciofi’ or ‘Artichokes, one of my favourite Italian vegetables

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