I’ve added these Italian to English food terms for the recipes you’ll find on my site. Also included are other Italian food terms used in the Italian culinary world that you might find helpful as you cook Italian food.
Because I rarely heard the Italian language in conversation when I was growing up, I have a strong desire to know more. I also hope by adding Italian cooking terms here, I will begin to assimilate some of the language into my vocabulary.
Italian was not spoken very often when I was growing up. Upon emigrating to the United States, my ancestors were proud to be “American” and spoke English (with NO accent!) to show it. My great-grandmother did speak both languages so my mother remembers hearing it. While she knows many words and their meanings, she does not speak Italian fluently.
I long to learn conversational Italian and hope this will get me closer to my goal. I hope these Italian food terms are useful for you too.
Italian Food Terms A-Z
Al dente: a term used to describe the point at which pasta is properly cooked; firm to the bite but not chalky.
Al Forno: baked
Antipasto: Italian word for appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. Antipasti are served at table, just before the primo piatto (first dish).
Bocconcini: small, fresh mozzarella balls
Bolognese: tomato gravy (sauce) made with meat
Bruschetta: thick slices of stale bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. In the U.S. it is mostly topped with finely cubed vegetables, freshly chopped herbs and cheese, crisped in the oven.
Bucatini: thick spaghetti that is hollow in the middle
Cacciatore: (means “hunter”) prepared in the hunter-style with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, herbs, bell pepper and wine.
Caldo: hot (temperature hot, not spicy hot)
Cannelloni: tube pasta stuffed with meat, sauce and baked with cheese.
Cannellini: white beans (like the ones used in Pasta Fagioli or bean soup)
Cannoli: a dessert of Sicily – fried pastry tubes stuffed with a creamy filling of Ricotta cheese, fruits, nuts, and/or chocolate dusted with powdered sugar.
Capicola: a traditional Neapolitan Italian cold cut (salami) made from pork shoulder or neck, and dry-cured whole.
Cappuccino: frothy hot coffee prepared from steamed milk and espresso. Usually served with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, cocoa or nutmeg. Served in Italy only during the morning hours. Cool & interesting: It’s named for the light brown color of the Capuchin monks’ robes.
Carbonara: a sauce made with cheese, eggs, pancetta and black pepper.
Ciabatta: Italian white bread with crisp crust and open texture.
Crostini: Much the same as Bruschetta, but the toasted bread is sliced much thinner. Used as an appetizer and topped with vegetables, cheese and/or sauce.
Dolce: sweet; often used when referring to dessert.
Espresso: finely ground black coffee with forced steam through the grounds that produces a strong flavored drink; served black usually in the afternoon in small cups.
Focaccia: a bread of Southern Italy; yeast dough shaped and flattened into an oval or square and topped with herbs, olive oil, pesto.
Gnocchi: this has got to be the MOST mis-pronounced word in America! Pronounced ‘nyaw-kee’ – Italian for dumpling. It’s a specialty of Rome, but is prepared all over Italy and America. The dough is made from flour and eggs with either semolina, polenta, or potatoes, then formed into small shapes and boiled. The most common type of gnocchi made in my family is from potato and semolina. Our family serves it with our traditional ‘gravy’ (our bolognese sauce). Gnocchi can also be made from flour, ricotta and spinach.
Gnocchi alla romana: gnocchi made with semolina that has been boiled with milk. After set, it’s cut into disks, drizzled with butter and cheese, and baked. Yum!
Gratinate: Topped with a brown crust, usually bread crumbs or cheese.
Mascarpone (mäs’kär-pō’ně, -pōn’): A fresh, soft Italian cheese with a high butterfat content, made from cow’s milk enriched with cream.
Minestrone: a hearty vegetable soup with pasta and/or beans; often served with a spoonful of pesto.
Mortadella: a large Italian sausage/cold cut delicately flavored with spices, including whole or ground black pepper, myrtle berries, nutmeg, coriander and pistachios, jalapeños and/or olives.
Panettone: a light egg-rich yeast dough with chopped fruits and nuts usually baked in a tall cylindrical shape; I use a deep bowl. Eaten throughout the Christmas season with coffee at breakfast.
Pepperoncino: small, hot pepper; can be found in most pickle sections of U.S. grocery stores. I use these in my basic greens salad.
Polenta: thick cornmeal flavored with just about anything you want – cheese, herbs, vegetables, etc. It’s kind of like grits and will take on any flavor you season it with or can be served plain as a base for a hearty sauce or meat.
Primo piatto or primo: the first course of an Italian meal – usually pasta, risotto or soup.
Quanto basta: a common term used in Italian recipes ‘more or less’, ‘to taste’, ‘as much as is needed’, ‘just enough’.
Ragu: long-simmering tomato-based sauce, typically made with meat. My family uses beef and pork (ragu alla bolognese), known as Bolognese sauce. Ragu alla napoletana is made with a single piece of beef chuck.
Ravioli: small pieces of pasta dough filled with meat or vegetables and covered with sauce or melted butter. My family has traditionally stuffed ours with ricotta cheese that has been flavored with herbs and served with our traditional ragu.
Ricotta: moist, unsalted variety of cottage cheese.
Risotto: creamy, long grain rice cooked in broth or milk.
Sambuca: anise seed liqueur served after dinner.
Secondo piatto or secondo: second course of an Italian meal, most commonly meat or fish. The primo and the secondo are equally filling parts of an everyday meal.
Sopressata: an Italian dry-cured salami made with wine and spices; varieties range from hot to sweet – all have a rich, pork flavor.