Antipasto to Zabaglione: A Glossary of Basic Italian Cooking Terms

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Whether you’re a seasoned chef or an aspiring home cook, understanding the essential Italian cooking terms is key to unlocking the secrets of this beloved cuisine. From antipasto to zabaglione, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the rich and flavourful landscape of Italian cooking.



Aglio is basically Italian for ‘garlic’, which is a fundamental ingredient in Italian cuisine, used to add depth and flavour to various dishes.

Al Dente

The perfect texture of cooked pasta, firm to the bite while remaining tender.


Delicate almond-flavoured cookies, often enjoyed with coffee or used in desserts like tiramisu.


A sweet almond-flavoured liqueur, commonly used in cocktails or as a dessert ingredient.


A selection of appetisers or small dishes served before the main course, featuring cured meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.


A pre-dinner drink or cocktail, accompanied by light snacks to stimulate the appetite.


Deep-fried rice balls, typically stuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables. It’s a popular street food in Italy. Try this recipe for Arancini.


A spicy tomato sauce flavoured with garlic and chilli peppers, commonly paired with pasta. Try this delicious recipe for Garganelli Arrabiata with Tomatoes & Garlicky Basil.



Chocolate-hazelnut ‘kisses’, a beloved Italian sweet treat.

Bagna cauda

A warm dip made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter; served with vegetables for dipping.


A mixture of finely chopped onions, carrots and celery. Battuto is used as a base for soups, sauces and stews.


A creamy white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk, used as a base for many Italian dishes like Lasagna.


Bruschetta is grilled or toasted bread rubbed with garlic; it’s usually topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil.


A fresh Italian cheese with a creamy interior and a mozzarella shell, often served with tomatoes and basil.

al fresco recipes


Cacciatora, alla

A cooking style or dish prepared in a ‘hunter’s style’, often with chicken or rabbit cooked with tomatoes, herbs and wine.

Cacio e pepe

A simple pasta dish tossed with pecorino cheese and black pepper, creating a creamy and delicious sauce.


Coffee – an integral part of Italian culture, typically enjoyed as an espresso or cappuccino.


A folded and stuffed pizza, similar to a turnover, filled with various ingredients such as cheese, meats and vegetables.


White kidney beans – cannellini beans are used in dishes like pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans).


Large cylindrical pasta tubes stuffed with a savoury filling, such as meat, cheese or vegetables. The filled pasta is then baked in the oven with sauce and cheese until golden and bubbly. Cannelloni is a hearty and satisfying dish commonly served as a main course in Italian cuisine.


Crispy pastry tubes filled with a sweet ricotta-based cream, often adorned with chocolate chips or candied fruit. Not to be confused with ‘cannelloni’. Try this recipe for Hot Cross Bun Inspired Cannoli with Speckled Eggs.


Caponata is a Sicilian sweet and sour eggplant relish, typically made with eggplant, tomatoes, celery, capers and olives.

Carbonara, alla

A classic pasta dish with a sauce made from eggs, cheese, black pepper and pancetta/bacon.


Carne means ‘meat’; this is a broad term referring to various types of meat used in Italian cooking, such as beef, pork or veal.


Thinly sliced raw meat or fish, typically drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and garnished with arugula (rocket leaves) and Parmesan. Try this recipe for Beef Carpaccio with Capers & Rosemary Straw Potatoes.


A rustic Italian bread with a chewy texture and hard crust, perfect for sandwiches or dipping in olive oil. Try this recipe for Basic Ciabatta.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


Dry-cured pork shoulder, often served thinly sliced as part of an antipasto platter.


Small toasted bread slices topped with spreads, cheeses or toppings, and served as appetisers. Try this recipe for Goat’s Cheese Crostini with Salsa Verde Drizzle.


Crudo refers to dishes with raw fish or seafood; often dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.



A post-meal alcoholic beverage, such as grappa or amaro; it’s believed to aid digestion.


Italian for ‘dessert’; dolce includes a wide range of sweet treats.



Bowtie-shaped pasta. It’s used in many pasta salads and dishes. Try this recipe for Green Olive, Caper & Herb Pasta with Crunchy Pangrattato.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


Flat ribbon-like pasta, often served with rich and creamy sauces, such as Alfredo. Try this recipe for Spinach & Walnut Pesto Fettuccine.

Fior di latte

Fior di latte means ‘flower of milk’ in Italian; it’s a type of fresh mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk.


A flatbread with a soft and fluffy texture, typically topped with olive oil, salt and herbs. Try this recipe for Tomato, Olive & Basil Pesto Focaccia.


Formaggio is Italian for ‘cheese’, which is a staple in Italian cuisine. Various types and regional specialties like Parmigiano Reggiano, Gorgonzola and Pecorino are used.


An Italian-style omelette – very different from French-style omelettes which are folded. It’s made with beaten eggs, vegetables, cheese and meats – think of it as a crustless quiche. Try this recipe for Mediterranean Frittata.

Frutti di mare

Mixed seafood – frutti di mare is often used in pasta dishes or seafood stews.



Italy’s artisanal frozen dessert, characterised by its smooth texture and intense flavours. In case you’re wondering, this is the difference between gelato and ice cream.


Gnocchi, a traditional Italian pasta, are soft and pillowy dumplings made from potatoes, flour, and sometimes eggs, creating a delightful combination of tender texture and comforting flavours. Try this recipe for Gnocci in a Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce.

Gnocchi in a Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


Dumplings made from ricotta cheese and spinach; gnudi is similar to gnocchi but without the addition of flour. Try this recipe for Ricotta Gnudi in a Garlic & Herb Sauce.


A blue cheese known for its creamy texture and distinct flavour. Try this recipe for Pear & Gorgonzola Stuffed Pork Loin with Sage Butter.

Grana Padano

‘Grana’ generally refers to Italian cheeses with a granular texture. Grana Padano is similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, and is often grated over pasta or risotto.


A semi-frozen dessert made by scraping flavoured ice crystals from a sheet pan; granita is often served as a refreshing palate cleanser. The difference between sorbet and granita is the texture. Sorbet is smoother, whereas granita has a pleasantly grainy texture formed by the ice crystals. Try this recipe for Frosé Raspberry Granita with Vanilla Ice Cream & Berries. Not a fan of desserts? Try these Oysters with Watermelon & Lime Granita.


A mixture of finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Gremolata is used as a garnish for dishes like ossobuco. Try this recipe for Baked Potato Chips with Avo Mayo & Gremolata.



Italian for ‘salad’, often featuring fresh greens, vegetables, cheese and a simple vinaigrette.



Dumplings made from bread, potatoes or other ingredients; a common dish in Northern Italian cuisine.



Cured pork fatback, which is often used to flavour dishes like pasta or spread on bread.


One of the most popular Italian dishes. Lasagna consists of layers of pasta sheets, sauce, cheese and meat or vegetables, which are baked to create a hearty and comforting dish.


The plural form of lasagna; refers to multiple layers of pasta in a dish.


A lemon-flavoured liqueur typically served chilled as a digestif. Try this recipe for Limoncello Mussel Pot.


Long, thin pasta strands, often paired with seafood or light sauces. Try this recipe for Linguine all’Aragosta.


Marinara, alla

A simple tomato-based sauce seasoned with garlic, onions and herbs; used in pasta dishes. Try this recipe Fresh Tomato Marinara Sauce Pasta.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


Sweet buns originating from Rome, typically made with a soft, enriched dough flavoured with orange zest and filled with whipped cream. Maritozzi is enjoyed for breakfast or dessert, and can be sprinkled with powdered sugar for an extra touch of sweetness.


Marzipan, a sweet almond-based paste used in desserts and confections.


A creamy Italian cheese commonly used in desserts like tiramisu or as a pastry filling.


Eggplant, a versatile vegetable used in various Italian dishes, such as parmigiana or caponata. Try this recipe for Parmigiana di Melanzane.

Milanese, alla

A preparation method referring to dishes cooked in the style of Milan – often breaded and fried. Try this recipe for Lamb Shanks Milanese.


A thick and hearty vegetable soup made with beans, pasta and aromatic herbs. Minestrone derives from the Italian word for soup or a dish that is brothy, ‘minestra’. Try this recipe for Winter Minestrone Soup with Basil Pesto.


A large Italian sausage or deli meat flavoured with spices and sometimes studded with pistachios.


Fresh Italian cheese with a soft and elastic texture – perfect for pizzas, Caprese salads and pasta dishes. Try this recipe for No-knead Pizza with Mozzarella, Prosciutto & Wild Rocket.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


An Italian sandwich originating from Sicily; typically made with a round loaf of bread filled with cured meats, cheeses and olive salad.


Napoletana, alla

A style of pizza characterised by a thin crust, simple toppings like tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, and cooked in a wood-fired oven.


A classic cocktail made with equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Try this recipe for a refreshing take on this classic tipple: Negroni Sbagliato Poptail.


Spicy and spreadable pork salumi, originating from Calabria; it’s often used to add a kick of flavour to sauces and spreads.



Small ear-shaped pasta; served with vegetables or sauces, as it’s ideal for holding sauces. Try this recipe for Broccoli & Bacon Orecchiette.


A small, rice-shaped pasta often used in soups or pasta salads. Try this recipe for Mediterranean Orzo with Chicken Thighs.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary chicken orzo


A Milanese specialty dish made with braised veal shanks. Ossobuco is typically served with a rich sauce and gremolata.



Cured Italian bacon, used as a flavouring ingredient in sauces, soups and pasta dishes. Try this recipe for Pea, Pancetta & Mascarpone Risotto.


Toasted breadcrumbs, used as a topping to add texture and flavour to pasta or vegetables. Try this recipe for Avocado Linguine with Parmesan Pangrattato.

avocado recipes Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


A sweet bread loaf originating from Milan, typically enjoyed during the Christmas season, with a light and airy texture studded with candied fruits. Try this recipe for Panettone French Toast with Mascarpone & Berries.

Panna cotta

A creamy Italian dessert made from sweetened, cooked cream, set with gelatin and served with fruit coulis or caramel. Try this recipe for Vanilla Panna Cotta Breakfast Cups or Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Toasted Coconut & Granadilla.


A Tuscan bread salad made with stale bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and fresh herbs, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.


Wide, flat ribbon-like pasta, often served with hearty meat-based sauces. Try this recipe for Pappardelle with Cauliflower Purée, Crispy Cauliflower & Peas.


A hard, salty Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk; used as a grating cheese or a table cheese.


Short, cylindrical pasta tubes with angled ends. Penne is versatile and used in saucy pasta dishes. Try this recipe for Penne Pasta with Kale Pesto.


Peperoncino is any chilli pepper used to add heat and flavour to Italian dishes; it’s often found in pasta sauces and oil infusions. Not to be confused with pecorino cheese.


A vibrant sauce made from fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Not a fan of basil? Try this recipe for Lemon & Rocket Pesto.


A coarse cornmeal porridge, a staple in Northern Italian cuisine; polenta is often served as a side dish or topped with sauce. Try this recipe for Mushroom Ragù on Parmesan Polenta.


A roasted pork dish, typically made from a whole deboned pig seasoned with herbs and spices. Try this recipe for Pork Belly Pochetta with Roasted Pears, Fennel & Onion.

Italian Cooking Terms Glossary Porchetta


Porcini mushrooms are known for their rich and earthy flavour and are used in risottos, sauces and various dishes.

Prosciutto di Parma

A dry-cured Italian ham, aged for a specific period and produced in the Parma region. Prosciutto di Parma is prized for its delicate flavour and tender texture. Try this recipe for Green Eggs & Ham: Devilled Avocado Eggs with Crispy Parma Ham Shards.


A semi-soft, smoked Italian cheese commonly used in dishes like pizza, pasta and sandwiches.

Puttanesca, alla

A sauce made with tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and chilli peppers, creating a bold and flavourful combination. Try this recipe for Spaghetti Puttanesca.


Quattro Formaggi

A well-known Italian cooking term that essentially means four cheeses – usually referring to a pizza or pasta dish that features a blend of four different kinds of cheese, creating a rich and indulgent flavour.

Quattro Staggioni

‘Four seasons’, a pizza topped with four different ingredients, each representing a different season.



A slow-cooked meat sauce, often made with ground or diced meat, tomatoes and aromatics, and commonly served with pasta. Try this recipe for Slow Cooked Lamb Ragù with Gnocchi and Salsa Verde or Pork Ragù with Pappardelle.

Pork Ragu Italian Cooking Terms Glossary


A liqueur made by infusing fruits, typically cherries in alcohol. Ratafià is normally used as an ingredient in desserts or enjoyed on its own.


A large, single piece of stuffed pasta, typically filled with cheese, meat or vegetables.


A creamy and comforting rice dish, simmered with broth and flavoured with ingredients like mushrooms or saffron. Try this recipe for Risotto Nero with Squid & Gremolata.

Romana, alla

In the style of Rome, often used to describe dishes or preparations associated with the culinary traditions of the city.



Thin slices of meat, like veal wrapped with prosciutto and sage, and sautéed in butter or olive oil.


A sweet and anise-flavoured liqueur often consumed as a digestif or used in cocktails.


Sardines, a type of small fish commonly used in Italian cuisine, either grilled, marinated or in pasta dishes.


A partially frozen dessert, similar to ice cream but with a softer and smoother texture. Try this recipe for Citrus & Salted Almond Brittle Semifreddo or White Chocolate Semifreddo with Pistachio & Rose Syrup.


A mixture of sautéed aromatic vegetables, typically onions, carrots and celery are used as a base for Italian sauces and stews.


Sea bass, a popular fish in Italian cuisine; sea bass is often grilled, baked or roasted with Mediterranean flavours.


A Tuscan flatbread, similar to focaccia; Stiacciata can be topped with olive oil, salt and herbs.


A somewhat confusing Italian cooking term with two meanings, it’s the name of a creamy Italian gelato flavour consisting of vanilla gelato with chocolate shavings or ribbons. It is also the name of a traditional Italian cheese made from pulled mozzarella curds mixed with fresh cream.


Sauce – a generic term for various types of Italian sauces, such as tomato sauce, meat sauce or vegetable-based sauces.



Tagliata means ‘sliced’; it describes a dish where meat, such as steak, is sliced and served.


Long, flat ribbons of pasta, wider than fettuccine. Tagliatelle is normally served with rich meat or creamy sauces. Try this recipe for Roasted Red Pepper & Mussel Tagliatelle.



Tiramisu is a  decadent and beloved Italian dessert, made of layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers and creamy mascarpone cheese. Try this recipe for Tiramisu.


Small, ring-shaped pasta stuffed with various fillings like cheese, meat or vegetables; often served in broth or with sauce. Try this recipe for Oxtail Tortellini.


A triangular sandwich made with two slices of soft white bread and various fillings.



The Italian word for ‘eggs’, used in various dishes, from pasta carbonara to frittata.



Thin pasta strands commonly used in soups or desserts. This Italian cooking term is not to be confused with the chocolate sprinkles used in some desserts.


Vongole are clams that are used in pasta dishes like spaghetti alle vongole.



A luscious dessert made from whipped eggs, sugar, and sweet wine, resulting in a frothy and creamy custard-like treat.


Saffron, a highly prized spice derived from the crocus flower; it’s used to add a vibrant yellow colour and unique flavour to certain dishes.


Ginger, a versatile spice used in both sweet and savoury Italian dishes, adding a warm and zesty kick.

Now that you know your Italian cooking terms, stock up on these Italian pantry staples and make one of these delicious pasta recipes.

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