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17 Most Popular Italian Food Dishes to Eat

I love food, especially trying dishes from other cultures. Whether you are on vacation or want to experience variety right in your hometown, eating meals from different regions can transport you to another country with every bite. 

Spaghetti bolognese with minced pork meat and parmesan

On my last holiday in Italy, I made sure to try as many popular Italian food options while I was there. I did not want to waste any of my meals by selecting common choices I could have back home.

Engrossing myself in each dish helped me integrate with the Italian culture and traditions for the best vacation experience. 

Now that I am home again, I can find local Italian dishes to help me reminisce about my time in Italy and enjoy the typical flavors of their culture.

To give you a better idea, I have a list of the 15 best Italian dishes for you to try in 2022. 

Check out these classic Italian dishes to get a taste of the culture.

1. Cacio e Pepe

Pasta is a staple in Italy, and this dish is no exception. Cacio e Pepe translates into the phrase cheese and pepper.

In simple terms, it includes pasta, cheese, and pepper, but it is so much more than that. 

Cacio e Pepe is a Roman dish that is simplistic but flavorful. Traditional recipes will use egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti for the pasta, although when I make this at home, spaghetti is more commonly available in my local grocery store. 

Try finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan and Pecorino cheese with fresh cracked black pepper to perfect the cheese sauce. 


2. Carbonara

Another famous Roman dish is Carbonara. Translated, it means charcoal burner, and some speculate it was a typical dish for charcoal workers back in the day.

csrbonara pasta

It is a pasta meal that contains spaghetti, browned guanciale, pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, and black pepper.

Although there are many varieties of traditional Carbonara, the authentic Italian meal uses only these five simple ingredients.

It does not contain garlic, salt, onions, cream, or other fixings. However, the Roman pecorino cheese is quite salty and adds enough flavor to the dish. 

The trick to perfect Carbonara is beating the eggs and cooking them, so they are not scrambled or runny with the pasta. I like to order this while eating out since I prefer to let the experts make it. 


3. Lasagna

Traditional Lasagna is a popular Italian food dish that is not as simple as other pasta meals, although it is still one of my favorite Italian dishes.

lasagna

It includes many ingredients, which all work together in harmony to create the perfect layered pasta meal. Originating in the city of Naples, some earlier versions of this recipe did not include tomatoes. 

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Today’s Lasagna recipe will use three kinds of cheese, layers of sheet noodles, tomato sauce, chucked beef, and various spices and flavorings.

Enjoying the perfect Italian Lasagna dish will transport you back to when families sat around a table sharing a full pan as they drank wine, ate bread, and enjoyed each other’s company. 


4. Caprese

I enjoy an Italian Caprese salad for a light meal option as an alternative to pasta at lunch.

caprese salad

This simple dish uses tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, and extra virgin olive oil

It tastes great, but it always looks fantastic, too, with the alternating ingredients on your plate. It is no mistake that these elements mimic the Italian flag as a tribute to the country.

In the 1920s, a patriotic stone worker erected this popular Italian food dish representing everything Italy offers, both in taste and visually.

Caprese salad includes the four elements famous in Campania; tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and olive oil. 


5. Bolognese

Originating in a city just outside of Bologna called Imola, Bolognese is a rich, authentic sauce for many popular Italian food dishes.

bolognese

This famous meat sauce uses tomatoes, pancetta, white wine, onion, celery, carrots, milk, and beef stock. 

At first glance, I did not realize that celery and carrots were in Bolognese because they are miniature diced.

Still, the combination of these ingredients makes it perfect for many traditional Italian dishes, including Spaghetti Bolognese. 

However, it is one of my favorite go-to sauces when I want a simple, flavorful Italian meal. 


6. Neapolitan Pizza

Another popular Italian food dish that emulates Italy’s flag colors is Neapolitan Pizza.

neapolitan pizza by fire

Originating from Naples, this pizza uses only tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves on an airy crust. Anything else for toppings is not an authentic Neapolitan style Pizza. 

I like this pizza better than other varieties because of its simple crust you cannot get when away from Italy.

The dough does not include olive oil as other crust recipes require, so it does not stretch as it would for alternative pizza choices. 

Its simple, flavorful taste is the perfect way to enjoy Italy with every bite. 


7. Pasta Fagioli al Forno

Pasta Fagioli al Forno is another tasty dish I thoroughly enjoy when I want comfort food.

Pasta Fagioli al Forno

Translate it into English; it is pasta with beans baked in an oven. Originating from Northern Italy, this pasta dish is hearty and full of flavor with textures. 

This popular Italian food dish combines penne pasta, tomatoes, Italian sausage, cannellini beans, Parmesan, and shredded fontina or provolone cheese.

Using staples like onions, carrots, celery, garlic, basil, parsley, and other seasonings, make Pasta Fagioli al Forno a meal you will want again and again.

In my opinion, it is the ideal meal for a cold evening that requires comfort food. 

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8. Caponata

Caponata is a classic Sicilian appetizer that uses a blend of eggplant with vegetables, although some say it has Spanish origins.

eggplant caponata on bread

If you are a vegetarian or just enjoy fresh Italian veggie alternatives, this option is perfect. 

This antipasto appetizer combines eggplant, celery, onion, capers, olives, pine nuts, with tomato juice and seasonings for a delectable snack to serve with bread or Bruschetta, as a side dish perfect for fish, or as part of another flavorful Italian meal option. 

Personally, I prefer Caponata with some bread and olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a tasty appetizer or a quick afternoon snack. 


9. Risotto

If you crave a creamy popular Italian food menu item, Risotto can be the answer you need.

risotto alla milanese

Loosely translated, Risotto means rice and is a staple in Northern Italy. You will find many common alternatives to Risotto, and my favorite is risotto alla milanese.

It is a creamy rice dish that is made with arborio rice, saffron, onions, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The dish has a vibrant yellow color, thanks to the saffron.

However, the basic Risotto recipe will use chicken broth, butter, onion, parmesan cheese, white wine, and Arborio Rice. The result should be creamy but slightly firm. 


10. Pizzette

Naturally, a Pizzette is a small pizza and is a typical appetizer, snack, or treat throughout Italy.

plate of pizzettes

These bite-sized pizzas can offer various flavorings with different toppings to suit any palate. I love them because I can enjoy a taste of authentic Italian pizza without having to eat a large order.

This way, I can enjoy more than one dish during a meal! 

Some more traditional Pizzette selections include tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, while others sport thinly sliced prosciutto, olives, capers, and more.

This finger food is a standard item in many Italian family gatherings, and many restaurants offer a Pizzette on the side of a large meal. 


11. Stuffed Shells

Also known as Conchiglie Rigate, Italian stuffed pasta shells provide all the flavor you need in a small package.

stuffed shells

Originating from the Campania region, these ridged pasta shells resemble seashells and are perfect for stuffing full of beef, various cheeses, and seasonings. 

These large pasta shells make a delicious menu item that includes everything I love in Italian food; pasta, beef, cheese, and garlic!

Of course, the traditional stuffed shell recipe also calls for white wine, olive oil, and various flavorful herbs. 

Some alternatives include spinach, basil, bell peppers, and other tasty additions. If you are eating out at a popular Italian food diner, they may offer different types of stuffed shells. 


12. Gnocchi

Any trip to Italy or an Italian food restaurant is not complete without trying one of my favorite dishes, Gnocchi.

gnocchi

Although some people may think it is another pasta dish, Gnocchi is actually a potato dumpling. 

Originating in Northern Italy, where the climate is cooler and potatoes are abundant, Gnocchi means knot in the wood, knuckle, or a lump, which it resembles when cooked and served correctly.

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The best part of this popular Italian food is that you can enjoy it with various sauces and flavorings to make it perfect for your palate. 

All that you need to make Gnocchi yourself is mashed potatoes, flour, and egg! Then, top off with your favorite cheeses and sauce. 


13. Chicken Parmesan

Many speculate that Chicken Parmesan, also known as Pollo Alla Parmigiana, evolved from Eggplant Parmesan, a popular meal item in the Southern Italy regions.

chicken parmesan

I am a sucker for comfort foods, and this dish is another favorite of mine when I want a filling, satisfying Italian meal. 

Chicken Parmesan uses breaded chicken breasts topped with marinara sauces and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses to create the ideal oven-baked dish, in my opinion.

It goes well with pasta, Risotto, or even a salad, allowing you to create the perfect meal for any day of the week. 


14. Bruschetta 

I have a soft spot for appetizers, snacks, and finger foods. This weakness makes Bruschetta one of my go-to snacks as a popular Italian food item.

bruschetta

Originating from Ancient Rome, Italians would use bread to sample their olive oils. 

Bruschetta requires toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped tomatoes, basil, and olive oil.

However, many enjoy this dish with some additional seasonings and balsamic vinegar for a more flavorful alternative. 


15. Meatballs 

Italian Meatballs are much tastier than ones you find elsewhere globally, and I know the secret to why!

Meatballs Sandwich with cheese in a Ciabatta

These small, ground beef morsels use bread crumbs soaked with milk to keep them moist and full of flavor.

To make the perfect Italian Meatball dish, you will also need eggs, garlic, parmesan cheese, and herbs for taste. 

You can pair these tasty morsels with a plate of spaghetti or on their own since they are so delicious.

Do not let me tell you how to eat popular Italian food dishes, as I have also eaten them as appetizers. 


16. Minestrone

Minestrone is a hearty soup, and one of the most popular Italian dishes.

minestrone soup

Minestrone is a vegetable soup that is typically made with a variety of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes, and can also include beans, pasta, or rice. The soup is usually cooked slowly to allow the flavors of the vegetables to meld together and develop a rich and savory taste.

Minestrone is often served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. It is a perfect dish for cold winter days or anytime you want a warm and satisfying meal.

Serve it with a crusty slice of Tuscan bread!


17. Arancini

Arancini is a delicious Italian snack or appetizer and a popular part of Roman cuisine.

arancini rice balls

The name arancini comes from the Italian word “arancia,” which means orange, because the fried rice balls are about the size and shape of an orange.

Arancini are typically made with leftover risotto, which is rolled into balls, stuffed with a filling such as cheese or meat, coated in breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried until crispy and golden brown.

These rice balls are often served as street food or as a popular antipasto dish in Italian restaurants.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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