What are some common Italian cooking terms?

The simplicity of Italian food is one of the reasons why it has become one of the most popular cuisines cooked in American homes. An increase in cookbooks available and cooking television shows has further fueled people’s desires to cook Italian cuisine.

However, despite the simple techniques and the use of minimal ingredients in many classic Italian dishes, the terminology used to describe the ingredients and cooking methods can often seem complicated or confusing. The way that Italians describe their food and culinary techniques is a direct reflection of the passion Italians feel about food. Unfortunately, when people struggle to understand the terms used, it can create a stumbling block in the creative process and deter people from attempting to cook this type of cuisine.

If you enjoy Italian cuisine and want to recreate these dishes yourself at home, then it is important you understand the terminology used. Here are some of the most common culinary terms you will come across when cooking delicious Italian food.

Dishes and Ingredients

Aioli– This is a type of garlic mayonnaise that is served as a dip or accompaniment to many meals.

Antipasto– This means before the meal. A selection of antipasti is often served before meals in Italy.

Arancine– Translating as ‘little oranges’ these are rice ball croquettes with a stuffing, such as soft cheese or veal. The rice becomes orange color once saffron is added and they are then fried.

Arrabbiata– A popular pasta sauce, arrabbiata is tomato-based with the addition of chilies. The word arrabbiata means angry. If pancetta is added to this sauce, it is called amatriciano.

Bagna Cauda- A warm sauce that is made from olive oil and anchovies. This is typically used as a dip for vegetables.

Besciamella– The white sauce in lasagne and a number of other Italian dishes is called besciamella. However, the French word, béchamel, is more commonly used.

Bolognese-One of the best-known sauces is Bolognese, although most people make a variation of this rather than using the traditional Italian ingredients. It should contain finely chopped meat, celery, tomato paste and onions.

Bufala-This is a soft and creamy version of Mozzarella cheese, which is made from Buffalo’s milk. It is best eaten raw rather than cooked as it has a delicate flavor.

Burro– Butter is the preferred fat in northern Italian cuisine and is usually used for sautéing.

Capelli d’angelo– Translating as ‘angel hair’, these are extra thin strips of pasta.

Carbonara– This is another popular sauce that is often incorrectly made. Traditionally, it is made with eggs and pancetta. However, variations often include the addition of cream, cheese, and mushrooms.

Contorni– Contorni is an accompaniment to the main meal of fish or meat. It usually consists of cooked vegetables.

Crostini– Toasted bread is called crostini in Tuscany but is known as Bruschetta in Rome. The toasted bread is often served topped with other ingredients, such as chicken livers, tomatoes, mushrooms or peppers.

Dolce– A sweet, pudding or dessert is referred to as dolce.

Fiorentina– A large portion of meat is referred to a Fiorentina.

Formaggio– Any type of cheese.

Gnocchi– Gnocchi are a type of Italian dumplings. Although they are most commonly made from flour and potatoes, they are sometimes made with breadcrumbs, semolina or ricotta. Check out this great Gnocchi recipe!

Insalata– Italians often have a salad course, or insalata, between the main course and their dessert.

Polpette– Italian meatballs.

Pomodoro-A tomato sauce with no meat. Pomodoro translates as ‘golden apple’ and this refers to the yellow tomatoes used in the traditional form of the sauce.

Primavera– Fresh vegetables are the main ingredient of this dish that is traditionally made in the spring, hence the name ‘primavera’ as this is the Italian word for spring.

Primo-Not including the antipasto, primo is the first course of a meal and this is often either a pasta or risotto dish.

Puttanesca– The word puttanesca means ‘the whore. This is a tomato-based sauce that also contains garlic, olives, capers and olive oil.

Saltimbocca– There are variations of this dish and its name means ‘jump into the mouth’. The tradition in Rome is to use prosciutto crudo, veal or cured meat presented on skewers and served with a marsala or white wine sauce. Other variations use pork cutlets or chicken.

Seconda– The main course of the meal is called the second and this is typically a fish or meat dish.

Semolina– Made from durum wheat, semolina is a coarse flour.

Soffritto– This refers to the basic sauce used for many dishes and it consists of finely diced celery, onions, carrots, and garlic.

Cooking Techniques

Affumicato– This means smoked and is a word usually used alongside a meat or fish.

Al dente– Literally translated, this phrase means ‘to the teeth’. This relates to the texture of pasta and when it is ready to eat. Pasta should still have a firm quality to it and taste slightly chewy.

Al forno– You may have come across this on menus at Italian restaurants as part of the name of some dishes, such as lasagne al forno. It means that a dish is cooked in the oven.

Al Mattone– A method of cooking where ingredients are cooked under a brick so they are flattened in preparation for sautéing or grilling.

Battuto– Italians use this term to describe the cutting stage of creating food when the knife strikes the ingredients and the cutting board.

Crudo– Raw or uncooked. If you notice the word ‘crudo’ on a menu, it is most likely to describe an appetizer of raw fish.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the terminology used for Italian cooking, you can begin to expand your repertoire of dishes inspired by Italian cuisine and cooking techniques.

Pandoro vs. Panettone | Which Should you Serve? + Bonus Recipe

What is pandoro? This is one question that circulates in the culinary forums daily. Pandoro is traditional Italian sweet yeast bread. It is normally served during the holidays (Christmas and New Year). Pandoro is normally shaped like a frustum with an eight pointed-star section. Tradition calls for pandoro to be served dusted with vanilla scented icing sugar that resembles the beautiful peaks of the Italian Alps during Christmas.

What is Panettone? Panettone is sweet bread loaf that comes from Milan. Panettone is also served during Christmas and Italy.

Which one should you serve?

This subject has been debated by many Italian families over the years. Some prefer pandoro, while others are fond of panettone. Panettone lovers feel that pandoro is too simple and buttery. Pandoro followers do not like panettone because it is filled with candied fruits and raisins. They are highly in favor of one bringing a delicious pandoro recipe to life. Buying both is the solution to making both factions happy!

Let’s take a close look at the differences between both treasured treats.

Panettone is a Christmastime cake that comes from Milan. It takes several hours to make the cake dough because it must be cured in a way similar to sourdough. The cake dough will rise and fall three times before being baked. Panettone has a sweet taste and unique domed shape.

In many instances, panettone is compared to fruitcake because both are made with delicious candied fruits and raisins. Originating in Verona, it has a bright yellow color. This star-shaped cake dusted with powdered sugar can be recognized with ease.

It is vital to point out that both cakes must be made with specific ingredients to be traditional. You will be in good company if you serve pandoro or panettone on Christmas. Italian bakers sell close to 117 million cakes each year!

Pandoro Recipe

Ingredients (16)

For the starter:

-1/2 warm water (106 degrees Fahrenheit to 110 degrees Fahrenheit)

-1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

-1 large egg yolk

-1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

For the cake:

-6 large egg yolks

-3 cups of all-purpose flour

-1/2 cup of granulated sugar

-1 large egg

-8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick), at room temperature and cut into tiny pieces

-3/4 teaspoon of orange zest

-1 tablespoon of kosher salt

-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

To serve:

-Slivered almonds (toasted)

-Powdered sugar (for dusting)

-Tuaca-Mascarpone Cream


Pandoro (Golden Cake) is like panettone when it comes to its sweet yeastiness. This is one of the main reasons why it is a well-known Christmas time treat. It is challenging to make at home, but it is worth the effort. Pandoro is traditionally flavored with lemon zest or citron, but we used orange zest for this recipe.

Special equipment: You can find star-shaped pandoro molds at specialty kitchen stores.

Main Game Plan: Some ovens are equipped with a “proof” setting. If yours does not have this setting, set it at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Consistent warmth will help the dough rise faster.


For the starter:

  1. Put all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until it doubles in size. This process normally takes 1 1/2 hours.

For the cake:

  1. Thoroughly coat a large bowl with butter. Set aside.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups of your flour to the starter, and mix (using the hook attachment on a stand mixer) on low until incorporated (about one minute). Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and mix until incorporated (about one minute). Add three of the egg yolks. Mix until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add half of your butter pieces, 1 or 2 at a time, waiting until each are incorporated before adding the next. Knead at medium speed until dough is stringy (three to five minutes).
  3. Place your dough in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours). Clean the mixer bowl thoroughly.
  4. Carefully place risen dough in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of flour, remaining 3 egg yolks, salt, the egg, zest, and vanilla. Using the hook attachment, turn the mixer to low and knead until incorporated (about one minute). Add remaining half of the butter pieces to the bowl (1 or 2 pieces at a time). Make certain that each piece is incorporated before adding the next. Increase speed to medium and knead until your dough is stringy and sticky (about 5 to 8 minutes more) In the meantime, generously coat a large bowl with butter. Place dough in the coated bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow your ingredients to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size. This process will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  5. Coat a 9-cup pandoro mold with 1 to 2 tablespoons of melted butter with the aid of a pastry brush. Sift flour into the mold to evenly coat. Tap out the excess. Make certain that you get all the corners to prevent potential sticking.
  6. Take the risen dough out of the bowl and transfer to the prepared mold (the dough should fill the pan about halfway). cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm area until the dough is about 1/2 inch from the top of your pan (about one hour). Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven.
  7. Allow the pandoro to bake for fifteen minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow it to bake until the pandoro has a dark golden brown color, and the cake tester emerges clean from the center (about 20 to 25 minutes more).
  8. Allow your finished masterpiece to cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes. Carefully remove the cake from the pan and allow it to cool on the rack for about one hour.

To serve:

  1. Turn the cake upside down and dust with powdered sugar when it has cooled completely. Serve with fresh toasted almonds and Tuaca-Mascarpone Cream.

Can Adding Champagne to Your Food Make it Better for You?

Great news for fans of bubbly, a growing body of evidence suggests Champagne is good for you. Scientists have revealed that a glass or two of Champagne can have a range of wonderful health benefits. They have discovered that champagne is crammed with polyphenols. These plant chemicals are believed to widen the blood vessels. This in turn eases the strain on the heart. Imbibing Champagne is also associated with improved memory.

Dr F Drouard, author of The Healing Power of Champagne credits the fizz as a cure for a number of ailments including low libido, insomnia, obesity and appetite loss.

Champagne has of course a long history of use in cooking. The first French cookbook by Viandier of Taillevent included champagne based sauce for serving with fish. Champagne as an ingredient features in recipe books and historical accounts since the 17th Century.

The welcome news for devotees of fizz is that the health benefits associated with drinking an occasional glass are also found in food cooked with champagne added. Zero fat is added to the receipe by adding champagne. Food cooked with champagne is packed full of antioxidants such as polyphenols and contains high amounts of other phenolic compounds, such as caffeic acid and tyrosol. Most of the alcohol in wine is eliminated in the cooking process.

Any recipe which calls for white wine can be given the deluxe treatment by using sparkling instead. Using champagne in your recipes is a great way to use up any leftover sparkling wine from the festive season. Like any other wine it is useable for a week after it has been opened. After this time it sadly turns to vinegar. In fact because its high in natural acidity sparkling wines do tend to survive better than other whites when opened. When cooking with sparkling wine or champagne its’ best to avoid anything other than a Brut or very dry wine to get around too much sugar which is not desirable in cooking. For a really healthy food swap, substitute Champagne or sparkling wine in any recipe that calls for sherry or Marsala.

Champagne combines especially well with fish, chicken and asparagus. It can be used in savory dishes and desserts. It makes an excellent addition to a sauce, marinade or vinaigrette. It adds great depth to any dish and finishes any meal with great elegance.

Champagne recipes

For an extra special Thanksgiving turkey that is juicy and succulent try this recipe. This is a wonderfully indulgent way to prepare the traditional turkey and guarantees that the meat will be moist and full of flavor. 

Get your morning fiber hit and some of your five a day with a healthy and great start to any day, try this granola with sparkling fruit.

For a classic take on the champagne and fish pairing you will love Salmon poached in Champagne with capers. This characteristic fish dish includes no added fat . The only fat the recipe contains is the health giving fats of the fish oils.

Champagne is a distinct ingredient that adds flavor and enhances any recipe.

Sos Ragu

Ingrediente: 3 cepe medii, 1 ardei gras, 2 morcovi, 10 căţei de usturoi, lujeri (beţe) de ţelină, 1 kg carne tocată (vită şi porc), 250 ml vin roşu sec şi mai puţin aromat, 500 ml suc de roşii (roşii în bulion tocate mărunt), piper, sare, boia iute.
Mod de Preparare: Se toacă legumele cât mai mărunt, după care se călesc în puţin ulei (preferabil de măsline). Se adaugă carnea şi se lasă să se rumenească la foc iute (are tendinţa să se adune în cocoloaşe şi să se lipească, de aceea se amestecă şi se mărunţeşte continuu). Se adaugă vinul şi se reduce focul. După ce a scăzut bine, se adaugă roşiile (sucul), se condimentează şi se lasă pe foc până atinge consistenţa potrivită (o pastă mai moale).
Carnea se poate înlocui cu 2-3 conserve de ton în ulei (se foloseşte de la început uleiul din conserve, adăugându-se alt ulei numai dacă este necesar), caz în care se pune vin alb sec.
Sugestie de servire: Se scoate cam 1/4 din sos, iar restul se amestecă cu 500 g paste (fierte în prealabil). Cantitatea rămasă se pune în farfurii deasupra pastelor, după care se presară cu parmezan sau caşcaval ras şi pătrunjel.

Veggie Lasagna Recipe

One of my favorite meals to have during the holidays is Lasagna. There is something about cutting into the warm layers of pasta, cheese and sauce.

It has been one of our family traditions since I moved to the United States years ago. We always lasagna in the week or two leading up to Christmas.

Here is a great recipe we found on AllRecipes.com for my personal favorite – Veggie Lasagna.

Here’s how you can put it together… Buon Apetito!



1 (16 ounce) package lasagna noodles

1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

3/4 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 (26 ounce) jars pasta sauce (Shortcut: Use Ragu Chicken Tonight Pasta Sauce Regular Cacciatore)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Rinse with cold water, and drain.
  2. In a large saucepan, cook and stir mushrooms, green peppers, onion, and garlic in oil. Stir in pasta sauce and basil; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Mix together ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, and eggs.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread 1 cup tomato sauce into the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Layer 1/2 each, lasagna noodles, ricotta mix, sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering, and top with remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

How to make perfect pasta – from Gennaro Contaldo

One of the first things you need to know when cooking in an Italian kitchen is how to cook great pasta. It’s really easy once you’ve done it a few times, but it’s much easier to show you how to do it than it is to write about it.

Gennaro Contaldo (who is a great cook in his own right) shows you how to cook perfect pasta. This will be the base of so many meals that we’ll cover in the coming months.

Please enjoy!