One of our biggest motivations for crisscrossing the globe? To get inspired by all that we eat.
Learning from the talented food lovers we encounter — be it at a tiny, family-owned panini joint in Florence or a vibrant tequila bar in Baja California — gets us amped to cook recipes inspired by our travels.
It’s no secret that we love Italy, so we travel there as often as we can. But, we can’t always be street-food crawling in Milan, day-tripping to Lake Como, or wine tasting in Franciacorta as we do on our boutique group trips to Italy.
The next best thing? Cooking some of these classic Italian recipes, inviting friends over, and daydreaming about travel.
Here are more than 20 classic Italian recipes to give you all the feels for when you can’t be in Italy in real life.
For many of us, there’s no better way to jump start the day than some quality coffee. For all of us, there’s no better way to beat the summer heat than a refreshing drink. Enter the caffe shakerato (pronounced shake-err-ahto): a drink made by shaking a shot of espresso, ice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker until it’s frothy and ice cold. The shakerato is like Italy’s answer to iced coffee but with a decidedly Italian twist.
Caffe Tazza D’Oro is a classic place to try a caffe shakerato in Rome; otherwise, go ahead and make it yourself! The only decision to make? The sweetness level. It’s a personal preference, so add as much or as little simple syrup as you’d like (or order it senza zucchero in Italy if you don’t want sugar)!
If you’re a fan of European-style hot chocolate (we’re talking melted ganache, not hot cocoa) and like a mocha, you’re going to want to try the layered mocha-like coffee drink known as the bicerin (pronounced bee-chur-reen). Hailing from Turin, aka the chocolate capital of Italy, you can find the bicerin served across the city but Caffè al Bicerin (where it is claimed to have been created) is the most classic spot.
With layers of dark espresso, velvety hot chocolate, and freshly-whipped cream, this is a next-level caffeine fix that’s packs both a sugar and caffeine jolt. If you make it yourself, pour in the ingredients with care (like so) so there is a layer of hot chocolate followed by a shot of espresso and topped with a layer of whipped cream.
To call aperitivo Italian happy hour doesn’t quite do it justice — it’s a time of day that’s just as much about meeting up with friends as it is about cocktails. Oh, and there are almost always some small bites involved.
One of the highlights of the Salt & Wind group trips to Italy is always aperitivo whether it’s in the shadow of Milan’s duomo or on a lakeside dock in wine country. And one of our all-time favorite ways to toast aperitivo? The Spritz, which is arguably the most classic aperitivo cocktail in the book.
Hailing from Northeastern Italy, the classic Spritz is merely Campari or Aperol mixed with white wine (sometimes flat and sometimes sparkling) and it’s as refreshing as it is delicious.
Another one of our favorite classic aperitivo cocktails is the Negroni Sbagliato. This cocktail isn’t that well known outside of Italy but it’s like a hybrid of a Spritz and a Negroni (with equal parts sparkling wine, sweet vermouth, and Campari) so it’s a great variation on either drink.
Cocktail folklore has it that a bartender at Bar Basso in Milan created the Negroni Sbagliato when he accidentally used sparkling wine instead of gin while making a classic Negroni. It’s known as sbagliato because that means “messed up” or “mistaken” in Italian. If you ask us, it’s a very happy accident!
One thing is for sure: when you’re talking classic food in Rome, fried food has got to be near the top of the list. This Italian city has all sorts of classic fried food, from fried artichokes to, one of our personal favorites, fried zucchini flowers.
To satisfy that Roman fried food fix, we love Rome food expert Kate Parla’s elegant take on zucchini flowers, stuffed with ricotta, herbs, and lemon zest. Definitely the one recipe that we love to fry, and definitely worth it every time. Though they’re originally from Calabria, these fried zucchini flowers can be found just about anywhere during the summer in Italy.
Speaking of fried food from Rome, these classic risotto croquettes, aka supplì al telefono, will have you instantly transported to the city’s vibrant street food scene. We’ve always loved these risotto croquettes but found our favorite ones when our Aida Mollenkamp dove deep into the Roman street food scene for her travel show, Off Menu.
On the topic of Italian rice croquettes, there is a difference between supplì and arancini. Supplì are the Roman version typically have a cheese filling, whereas arancini are Sicilian fried rice balls and often have a filling of meat sauce and peas.
Looking to jazz up those fried zucchini blossoms or risotto croquettes even further? Turn to this sweet-sour, herb-y sauce known as salsa verde.
Hailing from the Northern Italian region of Piedmont, this sauce is classically used as an accompaniment to boiled or braised meats. Through some very informal taste tests, we can attest that it goes well beyond meat and works with just about anything (panini! poached eggs! roast chicken!).
Side note: even though both sauces are seriously delicious, this one has nothing to do with the Mexican tomatillo-based sauce also known as salsa verde.
The reason this simple summer salad from Garga restaurant in Florence (now known as Trattoria Gargani) is so popular? Yes, the combination of arugula, pine nuts, tomatoes, avocados, and hearts of palm is seriously delicious. But it stood out because it was one of the first restaurants in Florence to serve a salad that had more going on than the classic mixed green side salad that’s so commonly served in Italy.
The original chef and owner, Giuliano, was a total tour de force, entertaining diners with his antics one minute then running to his not-so-legal barge-cum-garden on the banks of the Arno to pull fresh basil the next. If you go, our perfect meal starts with this salad then is followed by an order of the tagliata di manzo or the scalloppine di avocado.
On the topic of truly legendary salads: we’d be remiss not to talk about the classic Caprese salad.
Legend has it that a particularly patriotic bricklayer from the island of Capri created this simple combination of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil as a nod to the red, white, and green colors of the Italian flag.
If you make it yourself, buy the best ingredients you can get your hands on (we don’t usually make it unless we can get super fresh tomatoes). Oh, and pro tip: it’s totally sacrilege to add in balsamic vinegar!
If we had to live on one salad for the rest of our lives, it very well might be the Italian dish panzanella. This classic Tuscan bread salad is traditionally made with nothing more than day-old bread, tomatoes, and onions, but don’t let its humble origins fool you — it’s delicious!
This grilled peach version of panzanella is by no means traditional but we’re all about it when stone fruit is in season. Made with grilled peaches, ripe summer tomatoes, and a vinegar-soaked country bread, it’s a twist on the classic that’s a major favorite around here.
Schiacciata is the Tuscan version of foccacia that is found all over the city. The difference from the better-known Genoan focaccia? It comes down to the technique. The term schiacciata means “squashed” or “pressed,” so, when you make the Tuscan version of foccacia, you press the dough down with your fingers rather than using a rolling pin.
Schiacciata all’uva is a seasonal version of the bread that is made with leftover wine harvest grapes and is usually only found in Tuscany during the month of September.
Though you may not find this unique dish too often outside Italy, we promise it’s absolutely worth searching out!
The piadina is an Italian flatbread that originated in the region of Romagna and is always at the top of our list of what to scope out when we travel to that area. Loaded with spicy greens, creamy mozzarella, and salty prosciutto, our twist on the classic piadina is served open faced and topped with a drizzle of quality balsamic vinegar.
Like panzanella and so many other Tuscan recipes, ribollita soup comes from the cucina povera, aka the historic “kitchen of the poor.” Ribollita literally translates to “reboiled” and was a way to use up leftover ingredients and stale bread. It also happens to remain a super nutritious and comforting stew for cold weather when a cozy night is in order. Keeping with tradition, this soup makes for a delicious way to give new life to any leftover veggies.
We start our group trips to Italy in Milan, so it’s no surprise that we love cooking classic Italian recipes from that Italian region. When we do, we always find ourselves coming back to the rich saffron risotto known as risotto alla Milanese.
Legend has it the dish was born when a glassmaker was working on the windows of Milan’s great Duomo, poured some saffron (which was used to color glass) into a rice that he was making and turned it yellow. To make this classic saffron risotto super legit, add some bone marrow to your final dish.
There are few things for stereotypically Italian than pasta and few things more delicious than homemade pasta. With a mix of semolina flour, 00 flour, and eggs, this is our go-to recipe for making homemade pasta — it’s sturdy, flavorful, and easy to work with!
Tomato, basil, and garlic come together in this one of the most quintessential pasta sauces. This is a quick-cooking sauce (you want the “freshness” flavor of the tomatoes intact!) so you can make the sauce in the time it takes the pasta water to boil and cook!
The only thing fresher than pasta al pomodoro is this fresh heirloom tomato sauce. Except maybe when you finish that very pasta with some fresh burrata. The classic pasta alla checca uses an uncooked tomato sauce, meaning those tomatoes had better be super fresh to really give the dish flavor.
We make our variation on the classic by marinating the tomatoes in good-quality olive oil and then topping it with burrata and flaky sea salt.
Everyone at Salt & Wind Travel agrees that this is one of the absolute best pasta sauces on the site (and maybe ever created), and for good reason — it’s a super creamy and authentic Genoan pesto (as in sans cream).
Coat the mandilli (basically super-thin lasagna sheets) in the pesto, fold them over, and the result is one of the most luxurious pastas you’ll ever taste.
If you’re not on board with our stance on pasta with heirloom tomato sauce and burrata then perhaps you’re one to believe that Cacio e Pepe is the end-all be-all classic Italian recipe. To be honest, we’re pretty sure there’s no wrong answer.
Either way, be sure to try cacio e pepe where it originated: Rome and preferably at Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto, one of our favorite restaurants in the city.
Gnocchi lovers, cheese lovers, and everyone in between, rejoice: this version of the epic Piedmont-originated gnocchi is everything your heart could ever wish for.
Made with chestnut flour, the airy and nutty-tasting chestnut gnocchi get drenched in a simple-to-make yet complex-in-flavor cheese sauce. The sauce is made with the local cheese that’s akin to brie, made with a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk, and known as robiola bosina.
This pasta is pretty unknown outside its home region of Lombardy but we think it should be way more known. The candy-wrapper shaped pasta is adorable as can be and the filling — a sweet-savory mix of pears, amaretti, and sausage — is incredibly delicious!
This version of brown butter chicken, or pollo al burro, is inspired by how they do it at the legendary Florentine restaurant, Trattoria Sostanza. The place has been cooking this butter chicken of epic proportions for nearly 150 years.
And, for as long as they can remember, our Aida Mollenkamp has been loyally making the version they created after first trying it one trip to Florence. As for those epic proportions, fear not how much butter it calls for but just trust in the ways of Sostanza!
Okay, have we made it clear that we kind of have a major thing for Florence and its phenomenal cuisine? Served with arugula and shaved parmesan, this Florentine steak dish known as tagliata di manzo is an absolute showstopper.
Note the difference between tagliata and bistecca fiorentina: tagliata is just the rump (sirloin) or rib-eye (bone-in), while bistecca fiorentina is an enormous cut along the lines of a tomohawk chop that includes not only the tagliata but also meat from below the rib cage as well as from above the rump.
Both cuts orginate in Tuscany and are historically made using chiannina beef that is not only one of the oldest breeds in the world but has been raised in Tuscany for more than 2,000 years. Bottom line: these are two dishes you want to be sure to order when you’re in the region.
How could we talk classic Italian recipes without taking a deep dive into dessert? This Pear Ricotta Hazelnut Cake is inspired by a recipe of Sal Del Riso, a celebrity pastry chef from the absolutely dreamy Amalfi Coast region, and it really is as delicious as it is beautiful, we promise.
By the way, we recommend switching up the fruit from pears to peaches to berries based on the season.
These walnut shortbread cookies are a recipe straight from our Aida Mollenkamp’s family recipe archives. The more popular shortbread cookie are Italian wedding cookies, but, while those are crumbly, these shortbread cookies are cakey and moist. Make them by the dozens during the holiday season and gift them or just freeze the mixed dough and bake it whenever you have a craving for something sweet.
What we love most? Like so many classic Italian recipes, these shortbread cookies are just barely sweet so the flavors comes through without it being in your face.
True, this Torta di Ricotta e Polenta is like a cheesecake, but calling it that’s a bit misleading because it has little in common with the classic American dessert. This classic Italian recipe is made by mixing together ricotta cheese and polenta and the result is a light-as-air cake with a sweet, subtly polenta flavor.
If you make this, be sure to avoid the rubbery ricotta found in the supermarkets in a red-white-and-green tub and search out the best whole milk ricotta you can find. For any and all ricotta recipes, we love using the whole milk basket ricotta from Bellwether Farms.
There are a lot of Italian cookies to love but arguably none are better known that biscotti. When you travel to Italy you may get served a biscotti alongside an afternoon espresso and you’ll see bakeries everywhere selling all sorts of varieties. We like making this chocolate orange flavored biscotti but this base dough would be just as good with a mix of say pistachios and lemon or even aniseseed and vanilla!
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