Focaccia bread, margherita pizza, pasta carbonara; these words are almost staples of the English language, thanks to Italian menus across the world. But no matter how expansive your vocabulary, the Italian language is full of beautiful culinary words that sadly only the Italians will understand (and use on a regular basis).
Thankfully, we're here to introduce ten of those authentic terms to those of us who don't live in Italy. From the wine hills of Tuscany to the seafood shores of Sicily, we go beyond panna cottas and risottos to the real flavors of the European country:
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Also known as panmolle, panzanella is a Tuscan-style salad that does not follow a particular recipe. While the ingredients can vary, the two constants that never change are tomatoes and pieces of soaked or toasted bread. Often dressed with a classic mix of olive oil and vinegar, the versatile staple is usually associated with summer days and chilled glasses of Prosecco.
Think you know ravioli? In Florence, these 'pasta dumplings' are on a whole other level compared to the pre-frozen stuff you find in North American grocery stores. Famous for their spinach- or pear-filled varieties, the region is also home to ravioli all'arancia: a heavenly filling of orange zest and ricotta cheese, dressed with olive oil and dusted with Parmesan.
Pecora in cappotto con fregola
"Pecora in cappotto" literally means 'mutton with a coat,' and consists of a mutton stew 'coated' in potatoes, onions, carrots and small round fregola pasta. Usually simmered and served in an enormous pot during La Festa di Sant'Elia in Sardinia, a festival that originated in the 1200s, the communal dish plays an important traditional role.
Focaccia di Recco
Focaccia di Recco is not the fluffy focaccia bread topped with sun dried tomatoes you're probably thinking of; rather, this classic version of the pastry from the northwestern region of Liguria are thin, crispy, and filled with creamy layers of crescenza or stracchino cheese. Certain restaurants even serve them in sizes as large as a dining table.
Zuppa di Pesce
Fish soup might sound simple and bland, but for a country surrounded almost entirely by ocean, the base dish allows for many stunning seafood variations. Every region along Italy's coastline has its own characteristic zuppa di pesce, from the delicate Roman version filled with garlic, mussels and hot chili, to the tomato-and-wine prawn stew of the Amalfi Coast.
A Milanese specialty, ossobuco is a piece of veal shin marrow bone slow-braised in tomato and wine sauce. The traditional version, ossobuco in bianco, is flavored with a fragrant concoction of cinnamon, bay leaf, lemon zest, garlic, parsley and anchovy; while the modern and more common version is stewed with carrots, celery and onions. In Milan, the hearty course is accompanied with Milanese risotto, while other areas typically serve it with pasta.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
Saltimbocca is such a typical Roman dish, it's almost repetitive to say "alla Romana" at the end of its name. Flattened cuts of veal escalope are topped or wrapped in prosciutto, sage and basil, then marinated in wine and/or oil before being pan fried. After getting a taste of this culinary masterpiece, you'll understand why its name literally means "jump in the mouth".
Originating from eastern Liguri, cuculli are spherical, bite-sized fritters often served as an aperitif at a dinner party. Traditionally made with chickpea flour, they can also contain a mix of starchy potato and fragrant pine nuts. Perfectly crispy on the outside and bursting with flavor and texture on the inside, the Genovese version is seasoned with sage, chives and rosemary, and often paired with a glass of chardonnay.
These Italian sweet buns are a nostalgic treat with a long Roman history. A favorite breakfast item in the 50s and 60s before Italian cornetti croissants came along, the raisin-studded buns are filled with fresh whipped cream and dusted with a pinch of sugar. Theory has it that the pastry actually goes as far back as the Middle Ages, evolving from the era's religious Lenten bread.
Dita Degli Apostoli
Think this is a cannoli or a crepe? Think again. "Apostle's fingers" are one of Puglia's most-loved desserts and can be found all over the region – although with small variations between towns and between family recipes. The elegant pastries are a delicate blend of egg whites, lemon zest, dark chocolate, and sweet liqueur-drenched ricotta filling.
Looking for more crazy eats? Tokyo's Robot Restaurant has you covered: