Italian Words Gone Wrong – 6 Mistakes Native Italians Don’t Make

For a narrated version of this article, please check out: Italian Words Gone Wrong – Mistakes on the Menu

Even though Italian food is prominent in North America as well as other English speaking countries, restaurant menus often use Italian words in ways that are not even remotely close to what would sound natural to a native Italian. And it isn’t just because of spelling mistakes, the grammatical and logical use of Italian words is also frequently incorrect.

This post started as a chat with two Twitter friends, Cecilia Razelli (@cocci_ge) and Carlo Settembrini (@csettembrini.) Cecilia found it amusing that I titled one of my articles “Formaggio Cheese,” given that she had noted a similar trend with constructs like “salsiccia sausage” and “prosciutto ham” (if you don’t see why Italians can find this amusing, keep reading!) Then Carlo joined the conversation, expanding to other types of mistakes that English speaking people make when using Italian words. We kept chatting on Twitter for a bit, then we moved the conversation to a shared Google Document, which eventually became the outline for this article. I would like to thank Cecilia and Carlo for engaging in this collaboration – literally, this post wouldn’t have happened without you!

To help illustrate the variety of errors that are commonly made when non-experienced Italian speakers use the Italian language, we grouped the mistakes according to their nature into six distinct families. So, let’s get started!

1. Spelling

When native Italians look for authentic Italian restaurants abroad, they often assess their authenticity merely on the number of spelling mistakes they can spot on the menus. Since the Italian language is mostly phonetic (i.e. written as pronounced,) there are no spelling competitions in Italy – spelling is generally not an issue over there(1)! This is why spelling mistakes stand out even more to the Italians.

Some spelling mistakes seem to reflect the way Italian words tend to be pronounced by English natives. Take ‘focaccia’ as an example: its misspelled counterpart ‘foccacia’ is gaining popularity because it’s closer to how it sounds in English. At other times, alternate English spellings appear to reflect the dialect of the first Italian-Americans. Words like ‘Cappicolla’ and ‘Macaroni,’ for instance, bear clear signs of a southern Italian heritage as opposed to their national counterparts: ‘Capicollo’ and ‘Maccheroni.’ Other words, like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini,’ reflect a combination of causes: their dialectal origin and the way the correctly spelled ‘linguine’ and ‘zucchine’ sound when read with an English accent.

To a native Italian, it’s bad enough to hear a misspelled word, but things get even worse when the alternate spelling has a different meaning in Italian. For instance, ‘panini’ is sometimes misspelled as ‘pannini.’ Now, while ‘panini’ is a diminutive of “pane,” which means ‘bread,’ the word ‘pannini’ is a diminutive of ‘panni,’ which is equivalent to “items of clothing” or “rags.” So now you know why a native Italian may get a giggle when they read that the chef’s special is the “house pannini.”

2. Plural vs. singular

Even when spelled correctly, Italian words may be misused in the context of a sentence because of an incorrect “grammatical number.” A classic example of this mistake is using the word ‘panini’ (which is the plural of ‘panino’) to refer to a single sandwich. It’s not clear why the plural ‘panini’ entered the English language instead of the singular ‘panino,’ although one theory is that ‘panini’ is assonant with other Italian-sounding words like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini.’ Regardless, a sentence like “I’d like a panini” sounds to a native Italian as wrong as “I’d like a sandwiches.” And it goes without saying that the word “paninis” doesn’t make any sense to a native Italian since it’s a double-plural. The same mistake occurs when ‘biscotti’ is used to refer to a single cookie (in Italian it’s the plural of ‘biscotto.’) The word ‘gelati’ instead is often used interchangeably with the word ‘gelato,’ when in reality it’s its plural form and should be used when referring to two or more Italian ice creams.

When using the English language, however, nobody is expected to use Italian grammar. Therefore, words like ‘paninos,’ ‘gelatos,’ and ‘pizzas’ are perfectly acceptable. In fact, Italians do the same with English words: they adopt the singular form and use it interchangeably both as singular and as plural (“un computer, due computer” = ‘one computer, two computers.’)

3. Feminine vs. masculine

In the Italian language, nouns have gender. Moreover, articles and adjectives must match the gender of the nouns they are used with. Because of this, besides knowing if nouns are plural or singular, in order to write proper Italian one must know the gender of nouns. Luckily, most of the times it’s easy to tell if a word is masculine or feminine: if it ends in ‘a’ it’s feminine; if it ends in ‘o’ it’s masculine (this for singular words, for plural words it’s ‘e’ for feminine, ‘i’ for masculine.) So, for example, because ‘pizza’ is feminine, one should say ‘pizza classica,’ not ‘pizza classico.’ And it’s ‘pasta ai gamberi,’ not ‘pasta alle gamberi.’ Consistency is important!

4. Adjective vs. noun

Many Italian dishes bear colorful names also thanks to the use of descriptive adjectives. As an example, ‘Bolognese’ means “from the city of Bologna.” When native Italians use words like ‘bolognese’ to refer to the famous kind of ragù (a generic word for meat sauce), they say “alla bolognese,” meaning “in the style of the city of Bologna.” Although it’s acceptable to say “Bolognese sauce” (“salsa bolognese,”) it doesn’t make sense to say: “I’ve had pasta with Bolognese” (leaving out the noun.) The sentence: “I’ve had Bolognese pasta” is also likely incorrect since it means “I’ve had pasta from the city of Bologna” with no reference to its sauce. Worse yet, if you order “a Bolognese” in a restaurant, it will sound like you are ordering a person from Bologna – that would be a very dubious kind of meat sauce!

Similarly, ‘Parmigiano’ or ‘Parmigiana’ means “from the city of Parma” (referred to a masculine/feminine subject respectively.) As for the famous eggplant dish, however, it’s equally correct to say “melanzane alla parmigiana” (“parmesan eggplants”) or “parmigiana di melanzane” (“parmesan of eggplants,”) the latter using ‘parmigiana’ as a noun.

And to conclude this category of mistakes, let’s not forget that the word ‘balsamic’ is an adjective, and it means “curative,” or “having the same properties of a conditioner” (‘conditioner’ = ‘balsamo’ in Italian.) It makes no sense to an Italian to use ‘balsamico’ without a noun or a pronoun. So, you can’t have anything like “I’ll have balsamic on my salad.” Balsamic what?

5. Generic vs. specific

‘Formaggio cheese,’ ‘salsiccia sausage,’ ‘prosciutto ham’ don’t make sense to a native Italian because they are redundant. ‘Formaggio’ is Italian for cheese, ‘salsiccia’ is Italian for sausage, ‘prosciutto (cotto(2))’ is Italian for ham. So, in Italy, all you are saying when you say ‘salsiccia sausage’ is “sausage sausage,” or “‘ham ham,” “cheese cheese.” We know the prospect of Italian food is exciting, but just one term will do!

As for the origin of this construct, it may come from the North American practice to use generic product names combined with specific adjectives. For instance, people say “cheddar cheese,” or “tuna fish,” when really ‘cheddar’ or ‘tuna’ can’t be anything other than ‘cheese’ and ‘fish’ respectively.

Interestingly, however, ‘gelato ice cream’ is technically correct since gelato is not exactly Italian for ice cream: it’s a particular kind of ice cream (denser, less sweet, and less fat.) Because of this, it may be justifiable to use ‘gelato ice cream’ as a marketing strategy to indicate a specialty product (likely to be sold at a higher price.)

Also technically correct is ‘espresso coffee’ since ‘espresso’ is indeed descriptive of a distinct kind of coffee extraction. In Italian coffee bars, however, people just call it ‘espresso,’ or even simply ‘coffee’ since the coffee sold in coffee bars is almost exclusively espresso. When ordering a coffee, Italians also often shorten the name when they order an espresso variation, which comes with its own descriptive adjective. Examples are ‘corto’ (short), ‘macchiato’ (stained or spotted with steamed milk,) ‘corretto’ (corrected with liquors or spirits,) etc. Sometimes they even leave out the noun altogether and order directly a ‘macchiato,’ which ironically also happens in North America.

The construct: ‘ricotta cheese,’ instead, is completely wrong since ricotta is technically not even cheese (being it made from whey, and therefore considered just a dairy product, or ‘latticino’ in Italian.)

In the Italian language, the following are generic names as well:

  • ‘Panino’ is the generic name for ‘bread roll’ or ‘sandwich,’ whether grilled or not.
  • ‘Biscotto’ is the generic name for ‘cookie,’ though Italian cookies tend to be crunchy, rather than chewy.
  • ‘Antipasto’ is the generic translation of ‘appetizer.’ Not a particular kind of appetizer made of pickled vegetables, olives, and often tuna, or (worse) this “invention” from Kraft.
  • ‘Latte’ is the generic name for milk, cold milk to be precise – which is what you would get if you ordered a ‘latte’ in Italy. The proper name for the espresso-based drink is ‘latte macchiato’ (steamed milk stained or spotted with coffee.)

6. Food vs. preparation

To end the list of mistake families, we can’t leave out one of the most mysterious ones exemplified by the Italian-American dish called Shrimp Scampi. Scampi, plural of scampo, is a crustacean similar to a small lobster. For some reason, it also became the name of a preparation (based on tomato, garlic, and white wine) that is generally used for shrimp and other crustaceans. But if “Shrimp Scampi” makes no sense to a native Italian because it’s essentially “Shrimp Shrimp,” Olive Garden’s Chicken Scampi makes even less sense, since it’s like saying “Chicken Shrimp.”

Sometimes Shrimp Scampi is instead used to refer to a crustacean, possibly just to make a dish sound more mysterious, or “elevated,” and definitely more “Italian.” Dishes like “Linguine with Shrimp Scampi” from “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten are a clear indication of how mainstream this misconception has gone. It goes without saying that actual Scampi are nowhere in the ingredients.

To make matters worse, dictionaries such as the Merriam-Webster define ‘scampi’ as “a usually large shrimp; also: a large shrimp prepared with a garlic-flavored sauce,” also reporting ‘scampi’ as a singular noun with an invariant plural form. Fortunately, heroic bloggers like my friend Frank Fariello set the record straight by correctly explaining the naming issue behind this dish.

To end the category and this article, ‘Calamari’ is another example where non-native Italians may confuse an ingredient with its preparation. Whereas in Italian it generically means ‘squid,’ outside of Italy, and especially in North America, it refers to its deep-fried ring-shaped slices.

(1) In some regions of Italy, Italians make certain kinds of spelling mistakes due to how words sound in their dialects. As an example, those who speak a Venetian dialect tend to drop double consonants. In southern Italy, instead, double consonants tend to be added where they don’t belong (e.g. Carabbinieri instead of Carabinieri.)

(2) In Italy, there are two kinds of prosciutto: ‘cotto’ (“cooked” similar to ham) and ‘crudo’ (“raw, cured.”)

Chard and Spinach Gnudi, the Naked Ravioli

This recipe was adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s “Swiss Chard and Spinach Ravioli Nudi”, part of her great cookbook The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, entirely dedicated to the prominent role of vegetables in Italian food.

I chose this recipe because I wanted to recreate the gnudi I tasted in a restaurant in Florence during a recent Italian trip, which also happen to have been the first gnudi I ever tasted! Florence is a mere 300 kilometres from my hometown, but regional specialties often remain confined to their native areas.

As pointed out by Domenica, “nudi” (or “gnudi” in Tuscan dialect) means naked. This is because essentially they are “naked” ravioli, i.e. ravioli filling without the pasta wrapper. The use of ricotta makes them light and fluffy, unlike potato gnocchi, which are much denser. It’s important to note that gnudi are used in first courses instead of pasta or gnocchi, they’re not meant to be served with pasta like some kind of vegetarian meatballs!

Gnudi can be prepared in several different ways. The version chosen by Domenica (and which I recreated) sees the addition of spinach and chard (“bietola” in Italian) for a “green” dough that is delicate and smooth, and which pairs well with plain tomato sauce (described here). The process of rolling the gnudi into shape is relatively easy, but it requires time and some patience. The result is spectacular – gnudi are a great first course which can set the tone for a very special meal.

Chard and Spinach Gnudi, the Naked Ravioli

Yield: 2-3 servings

Total Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Chard and Spinach Gnudi, the Naked Ravioli


  • 8 oz (225 g) green chard* leaves, ripped (*a.k.a. Swiss chard)
  • 4 oz (115 g) fresh spinach leaves
  • 6 oz (170 g) cow ricotta, well drained
  • 1 yolk
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) Parmigiano, grated
  • 1/8 cup (15 g) white flour, plus 1/4 cup (30 g) to coat the gnudi
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (240 g) tomato sauce


  1. Wash the green chard, coarsely rip the leaves and place them, still damp, into a large pot. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes at a medium heat until wilted, stirring occasionally. They will reduce their volume considerably.chard, cooking
  2. Meanwhile, wash the spinach leaves and cook them in the same way as the chard, but only for 5 minutes.spinach, cooking
  3. Remove the greens from the heat and place them in a colander to cool. When cold enough to handle, squeeze them vigorously with your hands or by wrapping them into a clean tea towel. As Domenica predicted, these quantities yielded about ½ cup of squeezed, cooked greens. Place the greens on a cutting board and chop them finely.gnudi greens
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped greens, the ricotta, the yolk, Parmigiano (keeping 1 tablespoon aside), flour, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly.gnudi mix
  5. As you bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil, start forming the gnudi. Prepare one bowl filled with flour, next to a plate coated in parchment paper. Using your hands, make balls of dough of about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Roll them in the flour until uniformly coated, then place them on the parchment paper.ready to cook gnudi
  6. Boil the gnudi a batch at a time making sure not to overcrowd them (so that they don’t stick to one another, and to ensure the water remains boiling). Gently place them into the simmering water and allow them to cook undisturbed for 6-8 minutes. About half-way through the cooking, they will start floating.
  7. Gently remove the gnudi from the water using a perforated ladle, and place them into a colander. Keep them warm as you cook the next batch.
  8. Have the tomato sauce ready and kept warm in a skillet. Place 2-3 tablespoons of tomato sauce in preheated bowls. Roll the gnudi into the skillet with the sauce until coated, then gently place them into the bowls. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano, serve immediately.

[Thoughts on the Table – 22] Grandma’s Wartime Memories: Food in Northern Italy

During my last trip to Italy, I had a chance to record an unusual episode featuring Chiara, my grandmother, who just turned 94. She doesn’t have a blog, but nonetheless she has lots to say 🙂 The topic is very serious, life during World War II, but her stories are fascinating and a very important testimony.

Join me as I ask grandma about the times before, during and after the war (naturally, with a special focus on food and cooking) and learn why in wartime it’s “better to be a farmer!”

Since the recording is in Italian and in northern Italian dialect, for the first time on Thoughts on the Table, the episode has been voiced over. I would like to thank Candace Beisel, my wife, for giving grandma her English voice.

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.


Rice and Parsley (Ris e Erburin)

Having some more Italian (flat-leaf) parsley in my fridge, not an easy find in Vancouver, and looking for something quick to make for dinner, I naturally went back to my childhood for a dish where parsley is the absolute star of the show: a simple soup of rice and parsley. I remember very well my grandma making this dish in the summer, especially when there was a storm approaching and the parsley in the orchard had to be cut quickly so that it wouldn’t get mangled by the rain.

Like for most northern Italian preparations (Pizzoccheri, for instance), this dish is almost unknown outside of its region of origin. For this reason, for the first time in this blog, I decided to mention in the title the dish’s name in Lombard dialect: “ris” (rice, or “riso” in Italian) “e” (and) “erburin” (literally ‘little herbs’, referring to parsley, or “prezzemolo” in Italian). Certainly, that’s how my grandma called it!

This soup can definitely be considered an example of Cucina Povera (“Cuisine of the Poor”) for it simplicity and its affordable ingredients. However, the version that I’m illustrating below (adapted from SaleDolce) is slightly more “decadent” thanks to the generous use of Parmigiano and of butter.

Rice and Parsley (Ris e Erburin)

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Rice and Parsley (Ris e Erburin)


  • 3 cups light meat stock or flavorful vegetables and herbs stock
  • ½ cup Carnaroli rice (other medium-grain rices can also be used)
  • 1 ½ oz Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • ¾ oz unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch of fresh Italian (flat-leaf), parsley (should yield over 1 oz of leaves)


  1. Bring the stock to a boil, then cook the rice for 15 minutes at medium-low heat.
  2. Wash and dry the parsley, then rip off the leaves and finely mince them.
  3. When the rice is ready, take it off the heat and stir in the butter, Parmigiano and parsley.
  4. Mix gently and serve in bowls, optionally sprinkled with more grated Parmigiano.


Ravioli: the Food of Kings and Peasants

The word ‘ravioli’ (plural of ‘raviolo’) refers to all kinds of filled Italian pasta where a thin layer of dough wraps around a filling (‘ripieno’, in Italian). Ravioli are either boiled and dished out with sauce (a popular first course) or served in broth (a classic dinner option, especially during winter). The pasta layer, generally egg-based and rolled into a thin sheet, serves as more than an enclosure – it overextends around the filling and binds with the sauces or gains flavor from the broth. Common fillings may include anything from meat, to cheese, to vegetables and vary greatly among the countless regional recipes. Special types of deep-fried sweet ravioli also exist, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the earliest written documents on filled pasta.

The recipe book “Liber de Coquina” (Naples, end of 13th century) defines “torta” as a thick pie shell used as a sealed pot and not meant to be eaten. The torta was filled with a mixture of minced meat, grains, vegetables, and spices, and placed in the bread oven(1). Large and elaborate versions of the torta – made of multiple layers and decorated with plums – were served in important banquets, whereas simpler preparations were accessible to everybody.

Inspired by the idea behind the torta, pasta makers started to incorporate similar types of fillings into their pasta shapes. The word ‘tortello’ (small torta) was used to refer to the pasta enclosure, whereas the word ‘raviolo’ (probably from late Latin rabiòlæ) was generally used to refer to just the filling. In addition to being boiled and served with sauces, the savory-filled tortelli were also fried and served with sugar and honey(1).

As a testament to its ancient origins, filled pasta changes name and often also shape, size, and fillings based on the region of Italy. Here is a list of the most popular kinds:

    • Agnolotti (Piedmont, and other northern Italian regions) are made by layering two sheets of dough and cutting out a circle (a) or a square (b), or by folding a circle or square of dough in half (creating a half-circle shape (c) or a rectangle). If the folded agnolotti are pinched, they are called “al plin” (e). Agnolotti are usually relatively large (∅ 50 mm). The traditional Piedmontese style is filled with braised beef, ham, spinach, Parmigiano and egg, and served with the gravy from the beef or with butter (with optional sage or truffle) and Parmigiano(2).
Circular pasta cutter
  • Anolini (provinces of Parma and Piacenza) are medium-sized (∅ 40 mm) and generally round (a, in the picture below) or almost half-circle shaped (d), cut with a circular pasta cutter. Usually, anolini have meat-based fillings and are served in broth or with a sauce made from beef.
  • Cappelletti (Emilia-Romagna, but especially Romagna) are slightly larger than ‘tortellini’, about 30 mm in diameter. They are obtained by placing the filling in the middle of squares of pasta dough, then by folding the dough diagonally to form a triangle, and by wrapping it around a finger until the opposing corners overlap and can be pressed together (h). The name ‘cappelletti’ means small hats in Italian, from the resemblance of the finished product to small paper hats. The filling generally includes different kinds of meat (pork, veal, prosciutto) and Parmigiano. Cappelletti are normally had in chicken broth.
  • Casoncelli (Lombardy, and particularly Val Camonica, Bergamo, and Brescia) are medium-sized (∅ 40 mm), generally in the shape of a half-circle (c), or of a candy wrapper. The fillings used in casoncelli vary substantially based on the area in which they are made, even from town to town. The ones from Bergamo are filled with veal, sausage, raisins, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper), Parmigiano, and breadcrumbs. They are generally served with melted butter (with optional ‘pancetta‘) and sage.
  • Fagottini or Sacchetti are a modern creation, their shape is obtained by closing squares of pasta dough to form small bags (i) around meat-based or vegetarian fillings.
  • Pansotti (Liguria) are quite large (∅ 50 mm) and made by cutting squares or circles of dough and folding them in half (c, f). The name means “big bellies” in Italian dialect. Traditionally, the Genoa-style pansotti are filled with ricotta, Parmigiano, endive, turnip, and garlic, and served with a sauce made with walnut, milk, and bread(2).
  • Ravioli (the whole of Italy) are usually square with a side of about 40 mm. They are made by layering one sheet of pasta dough, small lumps of filling, and another sheet of pasta dough. A common variety is filled with spinach, ricotta, and Parmigiano(2), a type of filling which is called ‘di magro’ (literally, “lean” in Italian). This name was introduced by the Catholics to indicate that the filling doesn’t contain meat and this dish is allowed to be consumed during Fridays in Lent. Another variety is the Neapolitan-style, filled with ricotta, Parmigiano, parsley, and egg, and generally served with tomato sauce and Parmigiano(2). Ravioli with meat or fish-based fillings are also popular.
  • Tortelli (all northern Italy) are commonly square and flat (b) with a side of 50 mm, but they may also be round (a), or half-circle shaped (c). In some cases, they may also look like big ‘tortellini’ (g). A famous kind of tortelli from Lombardy is ‘Tortelli con la Zucca’, filled with pumpkin, Parmigiano, bread crumbs, ground ‘amaretti’ (almond macaroons), and eggs, and usually served with butter and sage(2). Tuscan-style tortelli, instead, have a meat-base filling. Just like in Medieval times, sweet versions of tortelli also exist; nowadays, however, they tend to have more neutral fillings (e.g.: ricotta and cinnamon) and they are sometimes cooked in the oven instead of being fried in oil. A different kind of sweet tortelli is ‘Tortelli Cremaschi’ (from the city of Crema), which have a sweet filling, savory pasta dough, and savory serving sauce (butter and Parmigiano). The filling is made with ground ‘mostaccini’ (spiced hard cookies typical of Crema), ground ‘amaretti’, raisins, candied citron peel, lemon zest, egg, Parmigiano, Marsala liquor, nutmeg, and (optional) ground mint. This dish is served on special occasions and during the traditional mid-summer festival.
  • Tortellini (Emilia-Romagna, but especially Emilia and particularly the cities of Bologna and Modena) are quite small (∅ 20 mm) and have a shape similar to ‘cappelletti’ except that they are usually made starting from a circle of pasta instead of a square (g). The name is a diminutive of ‘tortelli’. The filling is usually meat-based (mortadella, prosciutto, veal, Parmigiano, egg(2)). Tortellini are commonly served with tomato sauce or in meat broth.
  • Tortelloni (northern Italy), are generally a larger version (∅ 30-40 mm) of tortellini (g) or cappelletti (h), but they may also be a larger version of the flat tortelli (b). Tortelloni may have several types of fillings, both meat-based and vegetarian. A well-known filling is mushroom-based (with porcini mushroom, ricotta, onion, Parmigiano), served with butter and sage(2).
Common shapes of Italian filled pasta

(1) “Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History” by Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari – Columbia University Press. ISBN: 978-0-231-12232-0
(2) “The Silver Spoon” – Phaidon Press. ISBN: 978-0-714-84531-9

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Bruschetta, Properly Pronounced :)

Bruschetta , plural ‘bruschette’ (brus-ket-teh), is a very popular appetizer born in the 16th century in central and southern Italy, which then spread to the entire country and eventually followed the Italian emigrants around the world.

Classic bruschetta can be made in several ways, but it’s always based on a salad of fresh diced tomatoes on a toasted slice of rustic bread. The name bruschetta, in fact, derives from ‘bruscare’, Roman dialect for the verb to toast. Traditionally, a hint of garlic is added by rubbing a peeled garlic clove onto the char-roasted bread. However, it can also be added in small amounts directly to the tomato salad.

Bruschetta can also be made with other toppings (e.g.: cooked beans, stewed mushrooms or bell peppers, tuna salad). In Italy, however, these are substantially less common than the classic tomato topping. Unless otherwise specified, the term ‘bruschetta’ refers to the tomato version and always to the whole preparation (bread plus topping), never to just the topping. So, no bruschetta burger, please!

For the best results, the bread has to remain crunchy. To this effect, the topping should be not too soggy and it should be put on the bread only a few minutes before serving. Some restaurants even have do-it-yourself bruschette, where a tomato salad is served in a bowl along with toasted bread.

This recipe describes a variation of the classic where a few extra ingredients are added.


Yield: 2-4 servings (as an appetizer)

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 25 minutes



  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • (optional) ½ shallot
  • 1 ½ cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 leaves fresh basil
  • 1 T olive oil
  • ½ T balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 slices of artisan bread
  • (optional) some ground black pepper


  1. Gather the ingredients. Wash and prepare the tomatoes for peeling by removing the bottom and by cutting a cross on the top. Slice and toast the bread.
  2. Blanch the fridge-cold tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds, and then cooling them off quickly in cold water. The skin will come off easily.
  3. Remove the seeds and the cores, then dice the tomatoes.
  4. If using shallot, cut it into small dices.
  5. Cut the garlic into small dices. Slice the basil leaves by first rolling them up.
  6. Dress the bruschetta topping with balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil.
  7. Place a generous amount of tomato salad on each bread slice. If desired, sprinkle with ground black pepper. This appetizers goes well with a full-bodied white wine, such as Malvasia Bianca, Soave, or Vernaccia.

Antipasto – A Primer on the Italian Starters Course

The word ‘antipasto’ (plural, ‘antipasti’) comes from anti- (before) and pasto (meal) and has absolutely nothing to do with pasta. An antipasto is the Italian equivalent of the starters course, but it also defines each individual appetizer (or hors d’oeuvre) that this course is made of. For instance, an Italian would say: “We started the meal with an antipasto [course]”, as well as: “They served us three types of antipasti [dishes]”.

It is common for any formal meals, home cooked as well as in restaurants, to begin with antipasto and then continue with first course (pasta or rice), second course (meat or fish), cheese, dessert, fruit, coffee, and digestive liquor. Everyday meals, instead, generally only include first course, second course, and optional coffee. Occasionally, however, an informal antipasto can be a nice addition to every meal.

Antipasti are often served in small portions meant for sharing; some restaurants even offer a buffet of antipasti, allowing the diners to mix and match their favorite items. More informal establishments, such as pizzerie and trattorie, are instead more likely to feature only a limited number of individual antipasti platters.

Legend for the feature image.
Legend for the feature image.

The most common antipasti are cold dishes, but there are a few regional specialties that are served warm or hot, all of which are almost completely unknown in North America. Some warm appetizers are:

  • ‘Olive all’Ascolana’ (7). A particular type of green olives, stuffed with a meat paste, then breaded and deep-fried in olive oil (typical product of the Marche region).
  • ‘Gnocchi fritti’ (6). A type of fried bread (see The Mystery of Bread, typical of the Emilia region).
  • ‘Mozzarella in carrozza’. Literally: “mozzarella in the carriage”, breaded and deep fried mozzarella (typical of central Italy).
  • ‘Bagna càuda’. Piedmontese dialect for “warm bath”, a sauce made with anchovies, garlic and oil, used as a dip for raw or cooked vegetables (typical of the Piedmont region).
  • Deep fried, grilled or oven roasted squid. Common all throughout Italy.

Typical cold antipasti include:

  • Cold cuts. E.g.: prosciutto crudo (2) (raw, cured pork – sometimes served with cantaloupe), prosciutto cotto (Italian ham), pancetta (Italian bacon), coppa (1) (called capicollo in southern Italy, also a type of cured pork), salumi (3) (cured sausages – including ‘bologna’ and other kinds of ‘mortadella’), lardo (4) (aromatized, cured pork fat), bresaola (cured lean beef – often served with slivers of Parmigiano, lemon and olive oil).
  • Grilled vegetables. E.g.: thinly sliced eggplants, zucchini, bell peppers.
  • Deli preparations. E.g.: ‘insalata di mare’ (seafood salad, with cooked squid, octopus, mussels and shrimp, marinated in lemon, oil and parsley), ‘insalata russa’ (cooked vegetables, mostly potatoes, peas, and carrots in mayonnaise), marinated anchovies, ‘sarde in saor’ (sardines in an onion marinade, typical of the Veneto region), Sicilian ‘caponata’ (fried eggplant in a tomato, onions, celery, olives and capers stew).
  • Savory Tarts. E.g.: spinach and ricotta ‘tortino’, cut into bite-size chunks.
  • Egg-based preparations. E.g.: cold ‘frittate’ (5) (for instance with roasted zucchini and herbs, with asparagus or with mushrooms) and ‘uova ripiene’ (halved hardboiled eggs where the yolk has been mixed with mayonnaise and canned tuna).
  • ‘Sottaceti’. Pickled vegetables (preserved in vinegar), e.g.: cipolline (small onions in white vinegar), ‘cetriolini’ (baby cucumbers marinated in vinegar, and without any dill!).
  • ‘Sottòli’. Vegetables preserved in olive oil, e.g.: black and green olives, artichokes, mushrooms, mixed vegetables, ‘cipolline borettane’ (a particular type of pearl onions, in a sweet and sour preparation).
  • Cheeses. E.g.: mozzarella (sometimes served in a Caprese salad – with sliced tomatoes and olive oil), provolone or any other fresh and mild cheeses.
  • Breads. E.g.: sliced artisan bread (served without butter!), flatbread (e.g. Sardinian ‘pane carasau’, possibly served with a tapenade of olives or mushrooms), breadsticks (sometimes wrapped in prosciutto slices).
  • Bread-based preparations. E.g.: ‘bruschetta’ (toasted bread with diced fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil) and ‘panzanella’ (a red onion, tomato and cucumber salad, either with chunks of moistened stale bread – as commonly prepared in Tuscany, where it originated -, or served on a toasted bread slice – as typical in all central Italy -).

One particular preparation that can be served as an antipasto as well as a side is a mix of cooked vegetables (e.g.: cauliflowers, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, green peppers), pickled vegetables (e.g.: artichokes, onions, cucumbers), canned tuna, olives and tomato paste. In North America, a modified version of this dish (also containing dill pickles and various vegetable oils), sold under the generic name Antipasto, has become quite popular as a snack – completely obfuscating the original meaning of the word ‘antipasto’. This is why North Americans think of ‘antipasto’ as the Italian, “higher class” alternative to salsa, meant to be enjoyed with crackers, nachos or chips – what a great example of Italian food aberration!

Formaggio – An Introduction to the Many Varieties of Italian Cheese

Even though Italy is a pretty small place, its regions are quite different from one another. And cheese (formaggio , in Italian) is one of the products that changes the most across the territories. Since the area of origin is a big part of what defines each cheese’s properties, many Italian cheeses have a protected denomination under European Union law (PDO – “Protected Designtrecciation of Origin”, or DOP – “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” in Italian). For a cheese to be labeled as PDO, every step of its production needs to happen in a specified geographic area: from local cows eating local hay, through production happening entirely in local facilities, to aging (or, for fresh cheeses, just packing) occurring rigorously in place.

Since Italian cheese names are so representative, in Italy they are never used as adjectives. For instance, you just say Mozzarella , not formaggio Mozzarella. And this even when the cheese name is indeed an adjective (for instance in the case of Parmesan which means ‘from the city of Parma’ – in Italian you just say Parmigiano , in English Parmesan cheese is instead more common). It has to be noted, however, that the name alone doesn’t guarantee the origin. For instance, “Mozzarella” isn’t a PDO cheese per se, while Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is (

Specialized cheese stores in North America can provide a good sampling of the most important cheeses found all around Italy. However, even the best stores are incapable of handling fresh cheeses (some need to be consumed within 3-4 days from their preparation), and locally made equivalents are sometimes sold instead (although, generally, they don’t compare with the originals).

Cheese is considered very highly in Italy. Italians are very proud of and take their cheeses very seriously. They use them in their cuisine, but mostly eat them on their own, just with some bread or accompanied by fruit (pears, grapes), by compotes (figs), or kinds of honey. All aged cheeses go very well with wine. Often, cheese is a course on its own (served at the end of the meal, before fruit or dessert). Eating Italian cheese is a true multi-sensorial experience, from the look, to the aroma, to the deeply multi-faced flavor. And, with the many varieties found from north to south, cheese is also a fascinating journey, both geographically and historically.

Let’s go over the main Italian cheeses, classifying them by the process used to make them.

Formaggi a Pasta Cruda (Uncooked Cheeses)

Fast ripening (less than 30 days):

  • Caciotta (e.g. Caciotta Toscana DOP) –usually a blend of ewe (70%) and cow (30%)– traditional creamy farmhouse cheese.
  • Mascarpone cow– one of the main ingredients of Tiramisù , also used in other preparations as an alternative to heavy cream or butter.
  • Stracchinocow– gets its name from the word ‘tired’ (in Lombard dialect: stracco), referring to the fact that used to be made from the milk of cows who were tired because of the transhumance to the valley after the alpine summer.
  • Caprinogoat– an aged version also exists.

Medium ripening (1-6 months):

  • Bel Paese (trademark) –cow-.
  • Taleggio (PDO, Taleggio Valley, Lombardy) –cow– [pronounced “ta’leddʒo”, not “ta’lejeeo”!] when very young, tastes similar to Bel Paese.
  • Gorgonzola (PDO, Lombardy) –normally, cow– soft and creamy if is less than 2 months aged, crumbly and spicy-hot when aged for longer.

Formaggi a Pasta Semicotta (Semi-cooked Cheeses)

Medium ripening (1-6 months):

  • Fontina (PDO, Aosta Valley) –cow– soft when younger, harder and more pungent when aged. Differs from Danish fontina which has a red wax rind.
  • Asiago (PDO, Veneto region) –cow– great on its own as a table cheese, can be used on pasta (grated or in slivers).
  • Montasio (PDO, Friuli and Veneto regions) –cow– also consumed on its own or added as an ingredient to several dishes.
  • Piave (trademark, Veneto region) –cow– mostly a table cheese, three varieties are produced: mezzano (medium aged), vecchio (old), and stravecchio (extra-old).

Formaggi a Pasta Cotta (Cooked Cheeses)

Slow ripening (more than 9 months):

  • Grana Padano (PDO, northen Italy) –cow– considered inferior to Parmigiano Reggiano because aged less (9 months minimum) and produced with less strict quality regulations.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (PDO, Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Mantua) –cow-, one of the most representative Italian cheeses in the world – its origins can be traced back to the middle ages and the recipe hasn’t changed substantially (this cheese is aged at least 12 months and up to 30). It’s eaten on its own or used as a complement to hundreds of recipes, most pasta dishes, and risottos.
  • Aged Pecorino – (4 varieties of PDO: Sardo, Romano, Toscano, Siciliano from the corresponding regions) –sheep– a mildly aged variety also exists.

Formaggi a Pasta Filata (Spun Paste Cheeses)

Fast ripening:

  • Mozzarellacow, water buffalo– can be made of cow milk, but the one made of water buffalo milk is more renowned and “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” is PDO. Small sized mozzarellas, usually with high water content are called bocconcini. Similar products are fior di latte and Treccia.
  • Scamorza (from the Naples area) –cow– both smoked and mild varieties are used for instance on pizza and with pasta.
  • Burrata (also from southern Italy) –cow or water buffalo- mozzarella on the outside and cream plus mozzarella on the inside. Eaten as is at room temperature is a true delicacy.

Medium ripening (1 month):

  • Caciocavallo (southern Italy, e.g. PDO Caciocavallo Silano) –sheep, cow– a smoked variety also exists.
  • Provolone (e.g. PDO “Provolone Val Padana”) –cow– [pronounced provolone-eh!] originated in the south but is now produced mostly in northern Italy.

One characteristic of Italian cheeses that definitely stands out in North America is that they often have some kind of moldy rinds. In general, the rinds are not meant to be eaten (with a few exceptions, e.g. scamorza and provola which have edible rinds), but they are essential for the aging process. Italian stores, whenever possible, try to keep the cheese wheels whole and only slice them to order (this is especially true for fresh or medium ripened cheese; aged cheese gets more “stable” and better maintains its properties when stored).

Even though Italy is a big producer of cheese, a few foreign brands managed to make their way into the Italian cheese market, with moderate success. For instance, in 1971 the American Kraft introduced Philadelphia, a pre-packed cream cheese, and in 1975 a type of cottage cheese (sold under the brand name “Jocca”). Kraft also introduced a kind of processed cheese slices called “Sottilette” (Italian for “thins”). It has to be noted that the words “cottage cheese” and “cream cheese” don’t even exist in Italian, let alone “processed cheese” – these products are exclusively known by their brand names (to Kraft’s advantage).