Italian Food Terms

Italian Food Terms

Don't know your pignoli from your porcini? Have no fear. Whether you're dining at a five-star hotel restaurant or a small trattoria on the outskirts of Rome, our guide to Italian food terms will arm you with the necessary culinary lingo to negotiate any menu, especially those found at the best Italian restaurants in America.


Acciughe: anchovies
Aceto: vinegar
Aglio: garlic
Agnello: lamb
Agnolotti: crescent-shaped, meat-filled pasta
Agrodolce: sweet-and-sour
Amaretti: crunchy almond macaroons
Anatra: duck
Anguilla: eel
Aragosta: spiny lobster
Arrosto: roasted meat


Baccalá: dried salt cod
Bagna cauda: hot, savory dip for raw vegetables
Bierra: beer
Biscotti: cookies
Bistecca (alla fiorentina): charcoal-grilled T-bone steak (seasoned with pepper and olive oil)

Bolognese pasta sauce with tomatoes and meat

Bolognese: pasta sauce with tomatoes and meat
Bresaola: air-dried spiced beef; usually thinly sliced, served with olive oil and lemon juice
Bruschetta: toasted garlic bread topped with tomatoes
Bucatini: hollow spaghetti


Calamari (calamaretti): (baby) squid
Calzone: stuffed pizza-dough turnover
Cannellini: white beans
Cappelletti: meat- or cheese-stuffed pasta (‘little hats’)
Carbonara: pasta sauce with ham, eggs, cream and grated cheese
Carciofi (alla giudia): (flattened and deep-fried baby) artichokes
Carpaccio: paper thin, raw beef (or other meats)
Cassata: ice cream bombe
Cavolfiore: cauliflower
Ceci: chickpeas
Cipolla: onion
Conchiglie: shell-shaped pasta
Coniglio: rabbit
Coppa: cured pork fillet encased in sausage skin
Costata: rib steak
Costoletta (alla milanese): (breaded) veal chop
Cozze: mussels
Crespelle: crêpes
Crostata: tart


Fagioli: beans
Fagiolini: string beans
Farfalle: bow-tie pasta
Fegato: liver
Fegato alla veneziana: calf’s liver sautéed with onions
Fichi: figs
Finocchio: fennel
Focaccia: crusty flat bread
Formaggio: cheese
Frittata: Italian omelet
Fritto misto: mixed fry of meats or fish
Frutti di mare: seafood (especially shellfish)
Funghi (trifolati): mushrooms (sautéed with garlic and parsley)
Fusilli: spiral-shaped pasta


Gamberi: shrimp
Gamberoni: prawns
Gelato: ice cream
Gnocchi: dumplings made of cheese (di ricotta), potatoes (di patate), cheese and spinach (verdi), or semolina (alla romana)
Grana: hard grating cheese
Granita: sweetened, flavored grated ice
Griglia: grilled


Insalata: salad
Involtini: stuffed meat or fish rolls


Lenticchie: lentils


Maccheroni: macaroni pasta
Manzo: beef
Mela: apple
Melanzana: eggplant
Minestra: soup; pasta course
Minestrone: vegetable soup
Mortadella: large, mild Bolognese pork sausage
Mozzarella di bufala: fresh cheese made from water-buffalo milk


Noce: walnut


Orecchiette: ear-shaped pasta

A hearty dish of Osso buco

Osso buco: braised veal shanks
Ostriche: oysters


Pane: bread
Panettone: briochelike sweet bread
Panna: heavy cream
Pancetta: Italian bacon
Pappardelle: wide, flat pasta noodles
Pasta asciutta: pasta served plain or with sauce
Pasticceria: pastry; pastry shop
Pasticcio: pie or mold of pasta, sauce and meat or fish
Patate: potatoes
Pecorino: hard sheep’s-milk cheese
Penne: hollow, ribbed pasta
Peperoncini: tiny, hot peppers
Pepperoni: green, red or yellow sweet peppers
Pesca: peach
Pesce: fish
Pesce spada: swordfish
Pesto: cold pasta sauce of crushed basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese
and olive oil
Piccata: thinly sliced meat with a lemon or Marsala sauce
Pignoli: pine nuts
Pizza: oven-baked, flat dough base, typically covered with tomato sauce, cheese and some meat or vegetable topping(s)

Find the Best Pizza Near You

Polenta: cornmeal porridge
Pollo: chicken
Polipo: octopus
Pomodoro: tomato
Porcini: prized wild mushrooms, known also as boletus
Prosciutto: air-dried ham


Ragú: meat sauce
Ricotta: fresh sheep’s-milk cheese
Rigatoni: large, hollow ribbed pasta
Riso: rice
Risotto: braised rice with various savory items
Rucola: arugula


Salsa (verde): sauce (of parsley, capers, anchovies and lemon juice or vinegar)
Salsicce: fresh sausage
Saltimbocca: veal scallop with prosciutto and sage
Sarde: sardines
Semifreddo: frozen dessert, usually ice cream, with or without cake
Sgombro: mackerel
Sogliola: sole
Spiedino: brochette; grilled on a skewer
Spumone: light, foamy ice cream


Tartufi: truffles

Tiramisu is a dessert of rum-spiked cake and triple-crème Mascarpone cheese

Tiramisú: creamy dessert of rum-spiked cake and triple-crème Mascarpone cheese
Tonno: tuna
Torta: cake
Tortelli: pasta dumplings stuffed with greens and ricotta
Tortellini: ring-shaped dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese and served in broth or in a cream sauce
Trenette: thin noodles served with potatoes and pesto sauce
Trota: trout


Uovo (sodo): egg (hard-boiled)
Uva: grapes
Uva passa: raisins


Verdura: greens, vegetables
Vitello: (Tonatto): veal (in a tuna and anchovy sauce)
Vongole: clams 

Learn more food terms in other international cuisines