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Italian Food Terms

A Guide to Italian Food and Cuisine

A plate of rigatoni with shrimp

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.

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
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
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)
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
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

(Updated: 09/24/12 BLS)


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