Italian Food

Italian Food Guide: 8 Underrated Dishes You Must Try—Beyond Pizza

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Updated on January 25, 2024

Italian food has long been hailed as a gastronomic paradise for its mouth-watering pizzas, delicious pasta dishes, and indulgent gelato. Italian cuisine has captivated food lovers worldwide, from the crowded streets of Rome to the scenic towns of Tuscany and the coastal delights of Sicily. A treasure trove of lesser-known, underrated culinary gems is abundant among the well-known classics that have earned an international reputation, and they sometimes go unnoticed by the casual traveller.

Italy’s history, culture, and geographic diversity are deeply rooted in the country’s culinary heritage. Every region has unique flavours, cooking techniques, and secret family recipes that have been handed down through the years. Although foods like Margherita pizza and spaghetti Bolognese may come to mind instantly, there is much more to discover than these well-known favourites.

Italian Food and Hidden Gem Dishes

In this article, we embark on a gastronomic tour of Italy, highlighting some of the less commonly known Italian dishes. We strive to delve further into the lesser-known elements of Italian cuisine, from regional specialities prepared according to time-honoured traditions to regional treats that reflect the nation’s rich cultural diversity.

Join us as we explore the rich tapestry of Italian food and uncover hidden gems that deserve a spotlight moment. Pack your bags, bring your appetite, and let’s go on a culinary adventure through Italy.

1. Coda alla Vaccinara

Italian Food

Coda alla Vaccinara is a culinary treasure representing the city’s rich food legacy. In the centre of Rome, between landmarks and busy piazzas, lies this classic meal that shows the city’s passion for slow-cooked, hearty stews. Coda alla Vaccinara, with its tender oxtail, powerful aromas, and centuries-old recipe, is an icon of Rome’s cuisine.

The history of the dish Coda alla Vaccinara is as diverse as Rome itself. Its origins are associated with the Rome’s butchers, who used each part of the animal. The recipe was developed to utilise oxtails, a typically less desirable but flavourful and collagen-rich cut. It became a cherished staple of Rome’s cuisine, appreciated by residents and tourists over time.

Usually, Coda alla Vaccinara’s mouth-watering flavour results from a slow braising technique; the oxtail is first seared to preserve the liquids and bring out their natural flavour. After that, it is gently cooked for hours in a fragrant mixture of tomatoes, red wine, vegetables, and flavourful herbs. The meat can absorb the rich aromas of the stew and become very soft and juicy thanks to the slow cooking process.

Coda alla Vaccinara’s flavour leaves a lasting impression when it comes to taste. The oxtail falls off the bone from the tenderness. With the sweetness of tomatoes, the depth of red wine, and the earthiness of herbs and spices, the stew has a hearty and complex flavour profile. A touch of cocoa powder bitterness can be added to balance the richness, giving the dish a unique twist.

2. Sgabei

Sgabei is a tremendous culinary treasure that can be found deep within the alluring region of Liguria, where gorgeous views meet charming seaside towns. These golden-fried, crispy dough strips from Ligurian cuisine are a hidden gem for locals and adventurous food travellers. Sgabei has quietly captured the hearts of those fortunate enough to find them with their simplicity, versatility, and irresistible taste.

A simple blend of flour, yeast, and olive oil is combined to make these elongated dough strips, resulting in an airy, perfectly crisp dough when fried. Sgabei is often seasoned with salt and used as an exquisite accompaniment to various dishes or as a mouth-watering snack.

The technique of frying is the key to making the ideal Sgabei. They are traditionally fried in hot olive oil until they become golden in colour and have a satisfying crunch. The dough gains a delicate hint of olive oil flavour during frying, and the contrast between the crispy surface and the soft, fluffy centre is delicious.

Overall, the wide range of Sgabei’s flavours and pairing options is one of their appeals. They can be eaten plainly to let their natural savoury goodness shine through or slightly flavoured with herbs, spices, or grated Parmesan cheese. Sgabei goes well with any kind of accompaniment, such as cured meats, cheeses, spreads, or even just a squeeze of lemon for a zesty, refreshing zing.

3. Farinata

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Farinata is a lesser-known culinary delight that has captured the hearts and palates of locals for ages in the sun-kissed regions of Italy. Often referred to as an “Italian chickpea pancake,” this beloved delicacy comes from the Tuscan and Ligurian coasts and is gluten-free and vegan.

Farinata has a long past that dates back to the Middle Ages. Its humble beginnings can be traced to the need for a nourishing and affordable meal produced using ingredients that were easy to come by. Combining simplicity with delicious flavours, this centuries-old recipe maintains a special place in Italian culinary culture.

The Italian word “farina di ceci,” or chickpea flour, is the main component in Farinata. This gluten-free flour is made by grinding dry chickpeas into a fine powder, and it serves as the base for the pancake batter and gives a nutty and slightly earthy flavour that comes through.

Farinata stands out because of its incredible texture. A large, shallow pan is used to bake the batter by blending chickpea flour, water, olive oil, and salt. The result is a golden crust and just slightly crispy, with a juicy, custard-like inside. People enjoy the satisfying eating experience produced by this tasteful blending of textures, making them want to eat more.

Although Farinata is delightful, it may also be used as a base for various toppings that bring out its flavours. Traditional choices allow the dish’s simplicity to shine, such as a pinch of coarse salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But bold food lovers can experiment with extra toppings like fresh rosemary, finely sliced onions, black pepper, or even a sprinkle of cheese. The toppings enhance the Farinata experience by adding additional levels of flavour and aroma.

4. Ribollita

Italian Food

Ribollita is a simple and hearty dish that represents Italian comfort food. This nourishing vegetable soup, which comes from the peasant kitchens of Tuscany, is evidence of the resourcefulness and originality of Tuscan cooking. Ribollita has established itself as a beloved staple of Italian cuisine thanks to its robust flavours, healthy ingredients, and nutritious qualities.

The term “reboiled,” or “Ribollita,” describes reheating leftovers and using stale bread to produce a new, satisfying dish. Ribollita, a dish created out of need, represents cooks’ creativity in utilising ingredients. It developed to become an honoured traditional dish that reflects Tuscan cuisine’s simplicity and rustic beauty throughout time.

At the heart of Ribollita lies a combination of seasonal vegetables, such as cannellini beans, kale or cabbage, carrots, celery, and onions. Together, these veggies are boiled to produce a savoury broth, often enhanced with tomato paste and aromatic herbs like rosemary and thyme. Adding stale bread gives Ribollita its distinctive flavour and texture, softening and thickening the soup to create a satisfying and cosy dinner.

Traditionally, Ribollita preparation involves two steps. Firstly, cook a hearty vegetable soup to allow the flavours to merge. The second step is the “reboiling” process, which involves combining the remaining soup with pieces of crusty bread and gently reheating it.

On the other hand, the versatility of Ribollita allows for various modifications and adaptations, even though it is typically enjoyed as a single soup. It can be served as a filling for savoury tarts or stuffed pastries, or it can be served as a side dish with grilled meats or roasted vegetables. It is the ideal option for individuals looking for a warming and nourishing supper due to its rich flavours.

5. Canederli

Italian Food

For those seeking comfort and tradition, Canederli, a culinary delight nestled among the stunning scenery of Northern Italy, is waiting. These rich and savoury dumplings represent the best of Alpine cuisine and come from the Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia areas. With their humble beginnings, versatile ingredients, and satisfying textures, Canederli has become a beloved part of Italy’s extensive culinary legacy.

It is thought that Canederli, known as “knödel” in German-speaking regions, was first prepared in mountain residents’ kitchens. These dumplings were first developed as a way to use up old bread and reduce food waste.

A mixture consisting of breadcrumbs, eggs, milk, and a medley of herbs and spices is the core of Canederli. The dumplings can often be enhanced with other ingredients, such as cured meats, cheese, veggies, or mushrooms. The mixture is shaped into tiny balls and cooked in salted water or broth. As a result, flavourful, tender dumplings are made.

Canederli is often served as an appetiser or a main dish, depending on the portion size. They can be enjoyed with a rich sauce like melted butter or creamy cheese or in a clear broth, which gives the dumplings a comforting warmth. Extras like sour pickles, roasted veggies, or sautéed greens enhance the real pleasure.

6. Bottarga

Italian Food

There is a special and wonderful delicacy called bottarga that can only be found in the coastal regions of Italy, where the sea and culinary traditions combine. This traditional Mediterranean ingredient is prepared from the preserved roe of particular fish species and is known for its strong aroma and velvety texture. Bottarga has gained popularity as a desired ingredient that adds complexity and elegance to various dishes in Italian cuisine.

Bottarga-making is a centuries-old tradition that is thought to have originated in Sicily and Sardinia’s coastal regions. Fish roe sacs, mainly those of grey mullet or tuna, are carefully extracted, salted, and dried. A hard, amber-coloured bottarga slab shines, which can be grated or thinly cut to release its unique flavours.

The strong, salted flavour of bottarga, reminiscent of the sea from which it is collected, is highly valued. It has a strong umami flavour that is salty, savoury, and a bit nutty at the same time. Bottarga gains an earthy scent during curing, adding to its charm. Its complex profile enables it to serve as a condiment, boosting various meals with its distinctive flavour.

Due to its versatility, bottarga is a highly prized ingredient in Italian cooking. It can add a flavourful burst and improve the overall umami profile of pasta dishes like spaghetti or linguine when grated or sliced over them. It contrasts with fish, veggies, and even creamy cheeses.

7. Cacciucco


Food enthusiasts look forward to a vibrant and robust seafood stew called Cacciucco, which can be found along the scenic coastline of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy. This beloved dish, which has a strong maritime legacy in the area, highlights the wealth of the Mediterranean Sea and the creativity of Italian coastal cuisine. Cacciucco is a seafood lover’s paradise thanks to its wide variety of fish, aromatic herbs, and complex flavours. It has become an icon of culinary perfection.

Neighbourhood fishermen developed the recipe to prepare a nourishing supper using the day’s catch. It evolved into a celebrated speciality throughout time, capturing the spirit of Livorno’s heritage and becoming a favourite dish in Tuscan cuisine.

Fresh seafood is abundant in Cacciucco. Various types of fish, including red mullet, squid, mussels, clams, and prawns, are frequently used in the stew. With so many different kinds of seafood combined, the dish is a symphony of flavour, with every ingredient adding its unique flavour and texture. The dish’s star is the seafood, which gives each spoonful a taste of the sea.

Cacciucco’s distinctive flavour profile is rich and nuanced. Various ingredients give the stew depth, including tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, and aromatic herbs like parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. The seafood gives the soup its salty flavour, and the herbs and spices add layers of aroma and complexity. The ultimate result is a harmonious fusion that is pleasing to the palette.

Although Cacciucco is rooted in tradition, contemporary versions of the dish have appeared, accommodating a range of tastes and preferences. To further enhance the flavour profile, some versions include other ingredients like saffron, chilli flakes, or even a splash of white wine. Despite the differences, Cacciucco’s core values continue to be the enjoyment of fresh seafood and the art of making a comforting stew.

8. Carciofi alla Romana


A traditional Italian dish called Carciofi alla Romana originates in the cosmopolitan city of Rome. The artichoke, a vegetable valued in Italian cuisine for its distinctive flavour and adaptability, is featured in this delightful culinary creation. Carciofi alla Romana has evolved into a beloved appetiser (antipasto) or side dish, capturing both locals and visitors.

The artichoke that resembles a thistle and is harvested when its tender, fleshy leaves are at their finest is the main ingredient in Carciofi alla Romana. This dish’s artichokes are often known for their robust flavour and compact shape. To make the most of these wonderful vegetables, this dish must be carefully prepared with attention to every detail.

The artichokes are carefully trimmed, with the rough outer leaves discarded and the top half removed to reveal the cherished heart and delicate inner leaves. The artichokes are immediately immersed in a bowl of ice-cold water with lemon juice to avoid discolouration. This easy process protects their bright green hue and gives them a refreshing taste that balances their earthy flavour.

Once the artichokes are prepared and ready, a flavourful fusion brings out the actual essence of Carciofi alla Romana. Each artichoke’s leaves are delicately stuffed with minced garlic, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. Thanks to this delicate process, every bite features flavourful herbs and a tinge of garlic.

In the final step, the artichokes are delicately placed in a saucepan or skillet with a small bit of water to produce a steamy cooking environment after being stuffed. The artichokes simmer under the pot’s cover while they absorb the stuffing’s flavours and become delicate and succulent. A marvel of Rome’s cuisine is the result.

Discovering Italian hidden food gems is a wonderful journey that reveals a world of regional specialities, time-honoured dishes, and indigenous ingredients. Embracing Italy’s lesser-known dishes gives our dining experiences a sense of authenticity and distinctiveness in a world where culinary trends frequently dominate. It enables us to go beyond the usual and delve deep into a richly varied culinary culture.

Furthermore, valuing Italy’s lesser-known and underrated food helps protect local producers’ and cooks’ livelihoods and culinary traditions. These lesser-known recipes tend to be rooted in history, handed down through the years, and made with ingredients that may be found locally. We can contribute to the preservation and sustainability of traditional dishes by recognising these undervalued gastronomic gems.

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