To eat like an Italian is to eat with a gathering of stories. Food is where Italians gather to tell their stories. And the best-kept stories come from the best-kept recipes.
To Italians, it comes down to the air and the water and the grass that formed the roots of the Italian cuisine. It comes down to life-long companionship and unspoken sentiment.
Yes: pizza, spaghetti, and gelato are delicious. But, if you ask an Italian, they’re not the only choice. Here are 5 terrific, lesser-known dishes that Italians love and that speak to the heart of the Italian experience.
If you thought spaghetti was good, wait until you try bigoli: the signature, coarse pasta of the Veneto region. Locals insist on serving bigoli with nothing more than a simple red sauce, vegetables, and roasted wild duck—which clings deliciously to the textured, dense noodles. Of course: don’t forget the parsley garnish and the sprinkle of Parmesan.
2. Tortellini en Brodo
For families in the Emilia-Romagna region, tortellini en brodo is the go-to comfort food. Unlike typical tortellini, which comes in a heavy cream sauce, these tortellini bites float in a simple, homemade chicken broth and are filled with veal and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Simply top it with a light sprinkling of grated Parmesan—and buona mangiata! You’ll never want to eat tortellini any other way.
3. Osso Buco alla Milanese
If you only try one authentic Italian dish, let it be osso bucco and not chicken parmigiana (which isn’t actually Italian). You can’t go wrong with this slow-braised veal shank sensation. Especially if you do as the Milanese do: braised slowly in vegetable broth, and served with a tangy, garlicky gremolata. And finally: don’t forget to scoop out the rich, buttery marrow—it’s a Milanese custom and the best part of the dish.
4. Focaccia di Recco
Invented in the small town of Recco, this is one of Italy’s tastiest yet simplest specialties: just a thin sheet of baked focaccia with a creamy layer of crescenza cheese in the middle. Think of it as your Italian version of grilled cheese. Except twice as good.
The story behind this delectable delight is something of an Italian mystery. Some will tell you it originated in Lombardy, others claim it is purely Sicilian. The only thing everyone agrees on is its sweet tastiness. It’s a creamy, sticky, nougat-like candy made with honey, egg whites, toasted nuts, and citrus zest, and can be found in thick, hearty slabs at cafes and sweet shops across all of Italy.