We have challenged ourselves to the impossible task of compiling a top-ten list of the best Italian foods.
Italy and the Italian culture are not only rich with art and history but have a wealth of culinary delicacies and delights. Every region proudly vaunts a gastronomic specialty. Internationally recognized DOP, DOC and DOCG (*) labels certify the authenticity and quality of products. (Useful to keep in mind when ordering at restaurants or buying at food markets.)
Compiling the list, we have tried to include some Italian specialties that might be new to our readers. This is not in any way a ranking – that would really be impossible!
As there is no true method of determining the Best Foods – our list is based exclusively on our personal favorites!
No top Italian foods list is complete without pizza. Although “invented” in Naples in the late 18th century, pizza is found all over Italy. Pizza dough made with natural mother yeast and cooked in wood burning ovens is flavorful, fragrant and light. Real Neapolitan pizza requires D.O.C. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. If you are not in that specific region, be sure the ingredients are fresh, organic and as close to zero-kilometer origin as possible.
Fiori di Zucca
Every spring, beautiful yellow flowers bloom from pumpkins, zucchini and other gourds. The edible flowers are breaded and fried and served as delectable appetizers or sometimes stuffed or served as main courses with risotto.
Lasagne alle Bolognese
In any Italian restaurant abroad, you will certainly find Lasagna on the menu… but funnily enough, you won’t find it on all menus in Italy. The layered masterpiece is native to the Emilia-Romagna region, and is made with handmade pasta, fresh ragù (meat) sauce and Béchamel sauce. Unlike most pasta dishes which are usually followed by a main course, lasagna is a hearty, all-in-one meal.
If you like spicy food, you’ll love this smoked Calabrese sausage made with pork and hot red pepper. ‘Nduja is used as a spread, to flavor pasta sauce or as a topping on pizzas.
Warning: Extremely HOT! Eat with caution!
Mozzarella di Bufala
With all the cheeses available in Italy, it’s hard to choose just one. Buffalo Mozzarella, however, is in a class of its own. Made from fresh buffalo milk and made by kneading the curd by hand in large wet vats, Mozzarella di Bufala is best served on its own with a drizzle of virgin olive oil and some fresh tomatoes.
Vegetable soup seems like an unlikely candidate for a top 10 food list, but Minestrone is special. Every Italian family has their secret recipe with that one highly guarded top-secret ingredient. The secret lies in the perfect ratio between sweet and tart vegetables. A warm bowl of minestrone warms your soul, anytime of the year.
Missultin and Polenta
Missultin are a specialty from Lake Como. Found in our crystalline waters, the small freshwater agon fish are cured and served with corn polenta. Typically, missultin are grilled and then garnished with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and parsley and served with a slice of grilled polenta.
Bresaola della Valtellina
Like the cheese category, it was hard to choose from the meat category for our list. Although Osso Buco and Prosciutto di Parma were close runners-up, Bresaola is a dearly loved local specialty from Valtellina. This protein-packed cured beef is carved into thin slices and served with fresh sautéed mushrooms, rucola or slices of local Casera cheese and should always be accompanied by a robust Valtellinese wine.
Another specialty from the Valtellina Valley (yes, we are shamelessly bias – we love our own local specialties!) Pizzoccheri is a hearty pasta dish made with 80% buckwheat flour, 20% wheat flour, Savoy cabbage, potatoes, seared garlic and a generous amount of butter and Casera cheese. Pizzoccheri is the perfect after-ski meal or Sunday lunch.
How can we choose just one dessert? Not easy, but Tiramisu definitely takes the cake (pun intended!) Layers of coffee-dipped ladyfinger biscuits float on dollops of sweet, whipped mascarpone and is unsparingly sprinkled with cocoa powder. Simply, heaven.
When you come to Italy, we hope you get the chance to try all of them! Join us for a Lake Como Food Tour and we’ll share our favorites with you!
What are your favorites? Tell us.
Here’s a quick overview on Italian quality guarantee labels:
- DOP – Denominazione di Origine Protetta. Protected Designation of Origin recognizes that the production process were carried out in a defined geographical area
• DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Denomination of Controlled Origin recognizes special qualities attributed to production in limited small to medium sized areas. DOCG means Denomination of Controlled Origin and Guaranteed.
• IGP – Indicazione di Origine Protetta. Protected Geographical Indication recognizes that production was carried out in a particular region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country.
• IGT -Indicazione Geografica Tipica. Typical Geographical Indication recognizes a quality attributed to production in a generally large area.
• BIO – Biologico, which means organically grown.