Admit it, whether it’s ravioli, lasagna, tiramisu – food is probably on your mind when you think of Italy. This Mediterranean isle has gifted us with some of the most globally-beloved recipes, and as a result, its food culture is one of the most enviable in the world. Follow along for five Italian dishes to try on your next trip!
Anyone who has spent time in Italy will tell you that it’s impossible to sum up the cuisine of all 20 regions with one national label. But I want to cover just a few of the most under appreciated picks from the country’s cookbook, with the hope that they’ll refresh your perspective on the world of Italian cooking.
Disclaimer: These dishes aren’t necessarily underrated in Italy – in fact, most are very popular and widely consumed. But they are seriously under appreciated everywhere else!
Got a few heels of stale bread you don’t want to waste? Why not try the ribollita on for size? Hailing from Tuscany, this hearty soup is one of the most popular “bread soups” from the region. Ribollita is a traditional and well-loved peasant dish, originating as far back as the Middle Ages, where it was enjoyed largely by feudal servants.
I love a recipe that makes good use of my leftovers, and ribollita does the job perfectly. A typical recipe will use cavolo nero (kale), cannellini beans, cabbage and your leftover bits of bread. But it can be also adjusted based on whatever veg you have in the fridge and pantry.
It’s not just a great dinner but also ideal comfort food, and it can be reheated as many times as you need. If made properly, it should taste even richer every time you reheat it, hence the name Ribollita (“reboiled” in Italian). This is one Italian dish we can get down with!
Timballo – an Italian dish for lasagna lovers
If you’re a lasagna lover like I am, this next dish is for you. Because this glorious creation is lasagna taken to the next level!
Instead of pasta sheets, timballo consists of around 16 sheets of crepelles – paper-thin Italian crepes – layered inside a thick pie crust, and stuffed with meatballs, sausages, Parmesan and mozzarella. Of course, there’s a ton of room for variety (literally) and people often use macaroni, fish and assorted vegetables too.
Timballo is the very definition of indulgent, and the kind of food that’s best made for a party, since it certainly isn’t a 1-or-2 serving kind of meal. Not to mention, it’s incredibly time-consuming – the average Timballo can take up to 10 hours of prep and cooking combined! But trust me, it’s worth the wait for this Italian dish.
Recipe: Nonna Lydia’s Sicilian Timballo
Puntarelle alla Romana
Otherwise known as chicory salad, this light Italian dish is served in many restaurants throughout Italy, particularly in winter and spring. But as per its name, it is most popular in Rome, the capital city.
Yes, chicory is a famously bitter endive – but not unpleasantly so! Fresh, crisp greens and balanced flavors can help to mediate some of the traditional bitterness. Either the chicory head or shoots are sliced very thinly then dressed with a strong vinaigrette and combined with the essential anchovy fillets and garlic. It’s a deceptively simple recipe resulting in a fantastically refreshing, bold and flavorsome side salad.
This next dish may not be for everyone, but there’s nothing like foreign cuisines to get you out of your comfort zone! And it’s a great reminder that there’s much more to Italian food culture than pasta and pizza pies.
‘Trippa’ literally translates to tripe, otherwise known as the stomach lining of an animal (usually a cow). Although its soft, spongy texture can be a turn-off to some, it’s a very mild meat. It’s great for soaking up the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in. It’s one of the reasons that trippa is still served throughout the country.
The serving of trippa varies from region to region and city to city. Perhaps the most popular iteration is the Trippa della fiorentina, with tripe served in a rich tomato sauce with parmesan. However, an Italian dish like buseca, a Milanese style soup served with garbanzo beans, and trippa alla romana, an ancient Roman specialty garnished with pecorino and mint that is absolutely bursting with flavor, are also beloved by many. If you’re planning to be an adventurous eater on your travels, consider bringing medication for traveler’s diarrhea, just in case!
Pasticciotto – Italian dishes can be desserts too!
It’s only fitting to end this list with a dessert, and my choice for the most under appreciated Italian dish outside of Italy would have to be pasticciotto!
Originating in Salento, a region in the southeast, Pasticciotto are small, single-serve pies made from flaky pastry and filled with rich, velvety custard. These delectable cherry-topped desserts are perfect to pair with an espresso and small enough to enjoy after a meal. And if you’re not a custard fan, well neither am I. Thankfully pasticciotto often comes with filling options like pastry cream, chocolate, vanilla bean or even ricotta.
Hopefully these dishes remind you that countries like Italy have a food culture much deeper than we know. And exploring cuisine is one of the best (and tastiest) ways to learn more about other countries, so I heartily recommend you hunt these dishes down when visiting Italy, at your local Italian eateries or even better – whip them up yourself!