Spaghetti bolognese is now so popular that it could almost be classed as our adopted national dish, although an authentic Italian version would, in fact, be fettuccine al ragù. Italians were among the first to show us how to appreciate good coffee, use olive oil for cooking rather than as a medicine, embrace garlic, and understand the joys of fresh pasta and antipasto.
For Italians, cooking and sharing food is no less than a way of life, whether it is at home with friends, in a humble trattoria or a fine-dining restaurant. Wherever it’s eaten, it’s always based around fresh, seasonal produce, which is the main reason that it is hard to talk about “Italian food” as a single entity. In fact, Italian food varies widely by region – and even village to village – and according to the time of year. Italians can be fiercely parochial when it comes to food and invariably think of their version of a dish as the best.
Many ingredients are used across the country with some more so in certain regions than others. Broadly speaking, northern Italian food centres around butter, meat, potatoes, pork, Parmigiano and other types of cheeses, while southern cooking is more focused on olive oil, tomatoes, eggplant, capers and fresh fish. Some key Ligurian ingredients include fish and seafood, basil (as featured in the popular pesto alla Genovese), prosciutto, sausage, salami, and truffles.
Above all, Italians believe in simplicity and respect for good produce, so some of the most beloved dishes of Italians comprise just a few simple ingredients, carefully selected and served at their prime. Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, as is coffee, particularly espresso.
View our Italian recipe collection here.
Stefano Manfredi recalls eating this fabulous touch-your-heart Italian soup, full of fresh vegetables at least once a week as a boy. In a twist on tradition, Manfredi finely chops the parmesan rind and leaves it in the soup instead of discarding before serving. Minestrone is a soup that gets better with age, so while it’s good the day you make it, it’s even better the day after.
Dried salted cod from the cold waters of Scandinavia is a staple in many European countries, adored for its white flesh that can morph into hundreds of dishes. Beppi Polese has been serving this clever starter in his restaurant since the late 1950s. The salty fish is whipped up with herbs, garlic, lemon and oil into a rich, creamy sauce, and it is all done in a mix-master! It is delicious served with grilled polenta. Just begin soaking the cod two days in advance.
This a delicious Calabrese dish from top chef Danny Russo. Boning quail takes a bit of practice, but a good, sharp boning knife will make all the difference. While this recipe serves 8 as an entree, you can easily halve the quantities. Make it and fall in love.
This is a simple summer salad, and with the addition of crusty bread, it can be a meal on its own. The tomatoes must be ripe and full of flavour, so buy the best you can find. This dish is all about the produce and it really is Italy on a plate!
Claude learnt this Italian recipe for spaghetti with black sauce when he joined his grandfather to fish off the Western Australian coast. It’s basically a napoletana sauce with cuttlefish and their ink, which adds a dark iodine taste of the sea.
Chef Alessandro Pavoni shares some of his native Italian risotto vocabulary. "As you toast the rice grains in oil before adding the wine and stock, that’s called the tostatura. When the rice has swollen to al dente, it is rested for a minute and then the butter and parmesan are added – this is the mantecatura. And when you have achieved the perfect consistency – when the risotto moves around with the spoon like a rippling wave – that’s called all’onda (the wave)."
Alessandro's generous recipe is perfect for feeding a crowd.
Dessert queen Adelina Pulford was inspired to put two beautiful things together, elegant, sparkling prosecco wine and creamy, silky pannacotta while travelling in Piemonte, where she saw pannacotta being made with spumante di asti. This simple Italian dessert recipe is perfect for a dinner party.
This is a great Italian dish to serve with roasted meats (especially lamb) or something different to take to a picnic. Lina serves this with crusty homemade bread, and says the vegetables are also good cold in a bread roll. It's a wonderfully versatile vegetarian recipe to add to your repertoire.
As a young teacher posted to the outback, Rosa Matto began to introduce good Italian home cooking to her fellow staff and local families. She later set up her own cooking school and has taught legions of people to appreciate Italian food. Recipes like this one for eggplant parmigiana are from Campania, where her family comes from. This is a favourite picnic dish, and sometimes Rosa uses zucchini instead of eggplant. It is a little time-consuming to prepare, though the result is always worthwhile and the dish feeds lots of people as part of a spread. (If you also plan to serve the dish at room temperature at a picnic, the recipe is best made without bocconcini as it hardens on cooling.)