Italian food is hearty, filling and often based around a certain type of noodle, which are collectively called pasta. In Italy, pasta is typically made from a combination of eggs and two kinds of flour – traditional white and a finely-milled yellow wheat flour called semolina. It’s a simple recipe, but the array of shapes, sizes and textures it can produce is absolutely astonishing! Here are a few of the most famous Italian pasta dishes and the ingredients that make them so well-known:
Made with long, thin strands of noodle called spaghetti, this recipe calls for hunks of diced bacon – carbonara refers to “meat” – butter, garlic, eggs, and parmesan or peccarino cheese. The result is a thin yet savory coating on each strand of tender pasta.
Named for the region in Italy that originally created the dish, this recipe also calls for spaghetti pasta, and blends it with bacon, tomato puree, garlic, ground beef, beef broth, herbs like rosemary and even finely-minced vegetables like carrots and celery for a hearty, chunky sauce.
This famous dish uses long, flat pasta noodles called fettuccine to hold a rich and flavorful – if not exactly healthy – sauce made with heavy cream, lots of cheese and plenty of butter. While some recipes do incorporate additional ingredients like broccoli or slices of chicken, the traditional preparation only calls for the sauce itself.
Very wide, flat noodles with ruffled edges, called lasagna noodles, are used to separate cake-like layers of savory ingredients in lasagna. Baked like a casserole, the dish consists of layers of lasagna noodles, tomato sauce, ricotta cheese that has been blended with an egg and herbs, and grated mozzarella cheese. Some variations made in the American south switch out cottage cheese for the ricotta.
Made with huge palm-sized shell-shaped noodles, this recipe calls for them to be carefully boiled to al dente – an Italian term that means “firm to the teeth” and refers to cooking pasta about 3/4s of the way through. The shells are then stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, Parmesan, shredded mozzarella and sometimes meat or sausage, and laid in a casserole dish. They are then covered with sauce, which adds flavor and prevents burning, and topped with more cheese before they’re baked until the cheese is golden brown.
This colorfully-named dish actually refers to a “lady of the evening,” and is named that way because it carries quite the punch of spice! Made with long, hollow spaghetti-like noodles called bucatini, the sauce is a combination of tomato puree, anchovies, capers, red pepper, herbs and olives that produce a pleasantly spicy result that may be a little too hot for sensitive palates.
Tender, soft dumplings that incorporate potato as well as flour, gnocchi is a popular pasta dish in Italy, and very filling. They’re often so flavorful and pleasant, they don’t need a very complicated sauce to be delicious. A pomodoro sauce – Italian for “apple of love”, which is what they call the oft-used tomato – is a very simple blend of fresh tomatoes, herbs, garlic and a pinch of salt for a fresh and delightful dish.
Shrimp Scampi with Linguine
An absolute must-try in Italian restaurants, this dish is served over buttery linguine, a pasta with a size and texture between fettuccine and spaghetti. It calls for shrimp sauteed in white wine or vermouth, garlic, parsely, lemon juice and lemon zest and butter for a thin, savory sauce.
A must-try casserole that’s always a hit at large gatherings, baked ziti uses thin tube-like noodles called, unsurprisingly, ziti. It is usually made by mixing al dente prepared ziti with ricotta, tomato sauce, cooked ground beef or ground sausage, garlic, herbs and ricotta cheese and mozzarella cheeses. The mixture is poured into a baking dish and topped with more cheese, much like lasagna. The result is a firm and hearty “cake” like dish that can be easily sliced and served – or, if more sauce is added, it can be ladled out like a traditional pasta dish.
Enjoy these dishes with friends and family, and enjoy a taste of Italy with every forkful. Once you try one, you’ll want to try them all!