It’s true that in many cities, you’ll probably find at least one fantastic restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine. Heck, you can just enter a mall, and chances are good you’ll find a Sbarro that offers tasty spaghetti for a little of $6, which goes nicely with the New York-style pizza which you can buy by the slice.
But to really savor the best of Italian cuisine, you may want to hop on a plane and get to Italy. And while you’re there, do yourself a favor and try all these fantastic Italian dishes:
Risotto al Gorgonzola
This is a delicious tice dish that originated from that border area between Piedmont and Lombardy. Italians start by cooking locally grown rice with vegetable broth. Near the end, they add some Gorgonzola blue cheese, and then they put in some butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Finally, they sprinkle some black pepper on top.
In some areas, such as the town of Bra in Piedmont, they add nuts and some pieces of sausage made with a blend of veal and pig fat. Rice such as carnaroli really absorbs the delicate flavors from all these ingredients.
Agnolotti del Plin
This is quite a nutritious treat, and it’s often reserved for special occasions or for dinner every now and then. Basically, they start with some handmade squared ravioli with zigzag edges, and then fill these up with roasted meat. While he agnolotti are cooking, Italians usually pour a glass of red wine over them to really boost the flavor. At the end, they add a thin layer of grated Parmigiano cheese on top.
The “plin” refers to the final pinch used to close an agnolotto. This dish is usually served with butter and sage, some type of rich meat sauce, or veal broth.
This is a classic dish from the Ogliastra region in Sardinia. Traditionally, it was made as part of the festival to celebrate the local grain harvest. It’s basically their version of Thanksgiving food.
They start with handmade ravioli, which they stuff with grated Sardinian pecorino cheese, garlic, chopped mint, and mashed potatoes. No sauce is required (many just eat it “straight”), but some add a spoon of extra virgin oil or even a bit of grated tuna eggs bottarga. In some places, it’s also eaten with fresh basil and tomato sauce.
After all the ingredients are wrapped in the dough, they pinch the borders together, so you end up with little lines that look like wheat spikes.
You may have been told that you should only drink cappuccino in the morning if you’re ever in Italy. But we’re telling you, if you’re drinking cappuccino, then you need to pair that with some sfogliatella. This is a classic Neapolitan pastry that’s so delicious even local poets have come up with sonnets to praise it.
The pastry isn’t really hard to find, as it’s often a street food in many places. It’s shaped like a shell, and has crunchy layers of puff pastry. Inside, you’ll find it stuffed with cinnamon, vanilla, crushed candied orange bits, and fresh sweet ricotta cheese. Then the pastry is sprinkled with sugar on top.
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe
This is a signature dish in Rome, and you’ll find it in plenty of trattoria taverns. It starts with the thick and curly tonnarelli spaghetti, then they top it with some yummy Roman pecorino cheese blended with sprinkled black pepper. The cheese quickly melts when added to the freshly cooked spaghetti.
The secret to this dish is that the Italians add a few teaspoons of hot salty water from the boiling pasta pot. This is the key to lets the ingredients blend into a creamy sauce that’s also somewhat adhesive so it sticks easily to the tonnarello.
Some versions feature an additional layer of grated pecorino cheese so it’s even more flavorful. This is the version you want if you’re a cheese fan.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
This is a traditional main dish from the southwest Campidano area in Sardinia. They start with the durum wheat flower pasta called malloreddus, to which they add a sauce made from sausage ragù (traditionally flavored with fennel) or dried salami. Then they dress it with salty Sardinian pecorino cheese. Sometimes, they add some basil.
What makes this work is that the malloreddus is shaped like a shell and features small pockets that trap the sauce. That’s what makes each bite so flavorful.
Normally, you don’t really see Italian cooks mixing meat with fish. But the Vitello Tonnato, which is basically veal covered in tuna cream, is an exception. That’s probably because it originated in Piedmont, which was under French control for a while.
The cook starts boiled veal fillets, which they slice into circles. Then they cover it with a dense layer of mayo, mixed with some capers, anchovies, and shredded tuna. It’s an unusual dish that’s often served cold, and it works nicely as an appetizer.
Have a good time in Italy, and enjoy the food each day!