Italian food is justifiably famous worldwide, and a favorite of most Americans. Yet, no matter how familiar you think you are with this wonderful cuisine, you will be surprised by the food in Italy – it is even better, more interesting and more varied than Italian food served in even the best American restaurants.
The many regions of Italy each have their own specialties, styles and ingredients. Each region is an adventure, and every Italian will insist that the best food in Italy is that of their home town.
Of course, good food and fine wine go together – especially in Italy. Italy offers some of the best wines – and the best wine values – in all of Europe. As unique as the food it accompanies, the wines of each region come in a broad variety, and there are usually a few really special local treats.
Most Perillo Tours include characteristic meals from each region visited, accompanied by fine local wines – have a look at our Sample Perillo Menus. For the more adventurous, and those who wish to experience a wider choice of restaurants and dishes, try one of our tours without included dinners:
Here's a quick guide of the mouth watering specialties organized by Italy geography:
Many specialties in this part of Italy are dominated by fish from the Venetian Lagoon near Venice and from the Lake Garda, especially near the coasts. In the Mainland, we find more dishes with meat and cheeses. Seasonal vegetables like peas, courgettes, asparagus and the famous radicchio from Treviso are popular, and pasta, of course, is eaten everywhere. Also typical are polenta, made from maize flour, and risotto.
Some typical dishes:
- Radicchio alla Griglia – Slightly bitter red endive, grilled over a hot fire.
- Risi e Bisi – Risotto made with rice, fresh peas and bacon.
- Polenta – Made from maize, it is served with tomato sauce, pork meat and sausages.
- Fegato alla Veneziana – Traditional Venetian speciality of calf's liver cooked with sauteed onions.
- Sarde in Saor – Other traditional Venetian dish, made with grilled fresh sardines, covered with sweet and sour sauce.
- Tiramisu – Famous world wide, this dessert is made with ladyfingers, coffee and mascarpone cheese.
Wines: Veneto is a big producer of wines, red, white, rosé and prosecco, its own sparkling wine, often served as an aperitivo. The best white of the Northeast, however, are the ones from Friuli, like Collio Pinot Bianco, to name but one. Lovely red wines come from the Bardolino and Valpolicella area.
Unlike the rest of the country, butter is a basic ingredient here, used even more than olive oil. Risotto often appears on local menus, as does pasta, a wide choice of cheeses and the tasty and very rare truffles, typical of the Piedmont region.
Some typical dishes:
- Bagna Cauda – Anchovy and garlic based dip, sometimes flavored with truffles. It is served hot with fresh raw vegetables. This is one of Piedmont's most famous dishes.
- Risotto alla Milanese – Creamy risotto cooked with white wine, onions and saffron, topped with grated parmesan cheese.
- Trenette al Pesto – Genoese speciality, consists of egg noodles, served with a basil and pine nut tapenade.
- Bresaola – thin slices of cured raw beef, served with fresh lemon juice and a little olive oil.
- Costolette alla Milanese – Veal cutlets dipped in egg and covered in bread crumbs, fried in butter.
- Ossobuco – Shin of veal with marrow bone stewed in a rich tomato sauce seasoned with garlic and lemon rinds.
- Manzo al Barolo – Piedmont dish of beef marinated in red wine and garlic, and then stewed.
- Zabaglione – Rich cream made with eggs, sugar and Marsala wine, served with lady fingers.
- Panettone – Typical Milanese Christmas fruit cake.
- Amaretti – Almond flavored macaroon-type biscuits.
- Cheese – A lot of the best Italian cheeses come from this part of the country, including Gorgonzola, Taleggio and Fontina.
Wines: Some of the best wines of Italy come from Piedmont, in particular the Langhe hills, home of two of the most famous red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. Other lighter red wines that often accompany the local dishes are Dolcetto and Barbera. A lovely aperitivo white sparkling wine is the fruity Moscato d'Asti. It's often served well-chilled at the end of a meal, with dessert.
The food from this part of the country is a very simple, peasant cooking that uses a lot of extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, beans, hams and salami. Fresh fish is available along the coast.
Some typical dishes:
- Cured meats and hams – A platter of sliced Parma Ham, prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), mortadella, wild boar salami, which is often presented as hors d'oeuvres.
- Crostini – Toasted bite-sized pieces of bread topped with olive, anchovy, tomato, liver or mushroom paste.
- Tortellini – Egg pasta stuffed with meat or cheese, served either in a broth or topped with a rich tomato sauce.
- Rigatoni al ragu – Typical dish from Bologna, the pasta is covered with a rich tomato sauce cooked with minced beef.
- Cannelloni – Large stuffed pasta tubes filled with cheese and spinach or minced beef, coated with tomato and cheese sauce.
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina – Very large tender steak grilled over open fire, generally seasoned only with a little salt and olive oil.
- Cinghiale – Wild boar, generally grilled, typical of the Maremma area in Tuscany.
- Panforte – Rich nut cake spiced with cinnamon and cloves.
- Ricciarelli – These biscuits are made from almond flour, orange peel and honey.
- Cantucci – Sweet nut biscuits generally served at the end of a meal with Vin Santo, a dessert wine.
Wines: Everywhere you look in central Italy you can find vineyards. The best come from the hills of South-eastern Tuscany, like the red Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or the Brunello di Montalcino wines. Lovely white wines that generally accompany a traditional dinner are the Tuscan Vernaccia di Gimignano, a fresh, dry Orvieto Classico from Umbria, or a crisp particular Verdicchio from the Marche region.
Rome and Lazio
"Cucina Romanesca" relies on using fresh seasonal products from the countryside near Rome. Typical vegetables include artichokes, mushrooms, and the ever-present, strongly flavored rughetta selvaggia – arugola or rocket salad. Most dishes are very richly seasoned with garlic, sage, bay leaves and onions, and often topped with grated Pecorino, a strong flavored goat's cheese.
Some typical dishes:
- Carciofi Fritti – Artichokes dipped in batter and deep fried in oil.
- Fiori di zucca – Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies, dipped in batter and fried.
- Suppli di riso – Rice croquettes with mozzarella filling, covered in bread crumbs and fried.
- Filetti di Baccala – Fried battered cod fillets, one of the main dishes in the Roman Jewish cuisine, like the fried artichokes.
- Gnocchi alla Romana – Semolina dumplings grilled with grated cheese and melted butter.
- Bucatini all'Amatriciana – Spaghetti style pasta with a rich tomato, onion and bacon sauce, and served with grated pecorino.
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara – This creamy pasta dish is made with fresh eggs, crispy bacon, parmesan cheese and grated black pepper.
- Saltimbocca alla Romana – Veal slices skewered with ham and sage leaves.
- Coda alla Vaccianara – Braised oxtail cooked in a spiced tomato sauce, typical of Rome.
- Torta alla Ricotta – Cheesecake filled with ricotta, lemon and candied fruit.
Wines: The Romans began wine-producing over 2,000 years ago on the same hills that still surround the city of Rome. Roman wines are all made from the same variety of grape, the Trebbiano, so most local wines, from the Frascati to the Colli Albani or Marino are white, and fairly similar in taste. Local red is rather rare; Romans drink reds from other parts of the country. A meal is often accompanied not by wine but a chilled beer, generally a Moretti or a Nastro Azzurro, light Italian lagers.
You can distinguish southern cuisine because of its wide variety of seafood, fresh tasty vegetables, rich olive oil, and, of course, basil and oregano. All this makes it one of the most healthful, most envied diets in the world. The best Italian olives come from the Puglia Region, and are often marinated in garlic oil or covered with crushed chili.
Some typical dishes:
- Maccheroni con le Sarde – Typical Sicilian pasta dish with sardines, pine nuts, raisins and bread crumbs.
- Frutti di Mare – Sauteed mussels and cockles. Char-grilled lobster, prawns or scampi and squid generally dressed with olive oil and some lemon juice.
- Pizza Napoletana – Soft crust pizza with tomato, garlic, anchovies and oregano. This is only one of many ways of topping pizza.
- Pesce Spada – A favorite in Sicily, swordfish steak is generally grilled, accompanied by eggplants cooked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce (Caponata).
- Cassata Siciliana – Ricotta cheese and candied fruit covered by marzipan.
- Torrone – A sweet nougat with nuts and almonds, often served during the Christmas season.
- Cannoli alla Siciliana – Tube-shaped biscuits stuffed with ricotta cheese, chocolate chips and candied fruit.
- Cheese – Battipaglia, near Naples, is home to the world famous Mozzarella di Bufala, made with buffalo milk and often served with sliced tomatoes and basil leaves – the classic Caprese Salad. Scamorza, generally served grilled with Parma Ham, which is typical of Basilicata. Provolone, either mild or piquant, and ricotta cheese, used both for pasta dishes and for desserts.
Wines: Since the bronze age, wine has been produced in the south of Italy. The biggest regional producer of wine in Italy is Puglia, and some of the best Italian wines come from Sicily. Marsala wine – it takes its name from its city – has been in production since the 18th century, when it became famous thanks to Admiral Nelson, who ordered huge quantities of it after the Battle of the Nile.
Sample Tour Menus
Most Perillo Tours include breakfast and dinner daily. Our typical menus, served in carefully selected restaurants and hotel dining rooms, will offer a variety of authentic regional food and wine selected specifically to delight you! If you've saved room for lunch, you may venture out to sample additional italian fare.
Here are some sample set dinner menus, similar to those you might be offered on one of our tours:
La Terrazza Restaurant in Venice:
Ricotta Cheese Flan with Radicchio & Zucchini Cream Classic Lasagna with meat sauce Seasonal vegetable soup Pasta with mussels and cherry tomatoes Salmon in pistachio crust served with roasted potatoes
Veal steak served with spinach Tiramisu or chocolate mousse
Hotel Manin in Milan:
Prosciutto di Parma with burrata mozzarella Risotto with Radicchio & Speck Beef with Arugula & Cherry Tomatoes Branzino with roasted Potatoes Panna cotta
‘O Parucchiano Restaruant in Sorrento Appetizer: Bruschetta, mini pizzas, zucchini flowers, eggplant parmigiana Scialatelli (a type of Long Spaghetti from this area) or Pasta e Fagioli Seabass or Meatballs with a homemade ragu’ Mixed Salad Sponge Cake filled with Lemon Custard
Ristorante La Gattabuia, Trastevere Rome:
Prosecco Appetizer: Various types of Focaccia: ricotta with honey, mortadella with balsamic vinegar, pizza Salad & mixed vegetables Choice of: Eggplant Parmigiana or Lasagna with meatballs Grouper fish filet Crumb cake made with chocolate Sambuca or Limoncello