Most of the tourist areas in Italy will have a menu translated into English, but if you’d prefer to head away from the piazza’s and to more off the beaten track restaurants on your next holiday to Italy, let my menu-buster be your guide!
I’ve been to restaurants that don’t even have a menu, they just tell you what’s on offer based on what’s fresh in that day, cue my friends all turning to look at me for a translation. But with a little help from us, it won’t be long before you know your Gnocci from your Gnudi, your Bresaola from Prosciutto and your Pollo Alla Milanese from your Saltimbocca. Let’s get started…with starters…
Let’s begin with antipasti
An Italian meal often starts with antipasti which literally means ‘before the meal’ and often includes a mixed antipasti option with is generally a selection of cured meats, olives, bread and cheese. Italy produces some delicious cured meats and here’s what you might be served:
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Bresaola – Salted beef from Lombardy, thinly sliced but harder than a prosciutto and a dark red colour.
Mortadella – A large pork sausage from Bologna, served cold and sliced with large pieces of pork fat throughout the pale pink meat.
Prosciutto – dry cured ham readily available in UK supermarkets, sometimes referred to as proscuitto crudo which means raw.
Salame – there are many variations of salame which is essentially a cured sausage made typically from pork, but other types of meat can be used, and has a marbled appearance.
Coppa – made from pork shoulder and neck with a balance of white fat to meat.
Other items you might see listed as individual dishes are:
Carpaccio di manzo which is very finely sliced raw beef usually served with olive oil, lemon and parmesan shavings. Melanzane Parmigiana, a baked dish of layered aubergine slices, mozzarella and tomato sauce, and one of my favourites, Arancini – a deep-fried risotto ball.
Get stuck in
Following antipasti is the primo piatto (first plate), typically a pasta dish. There are an astonishing amount of pasta shapes that you could see on an Italian menu, all are used for a specific purpose to suit the sauce they are being served with.
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Something I’ve noticed quite a lot of in Italy is wild boar (cinghiale) often served in a ragu sauce with pappardelle and found in the more mountainous areas of central Italy.You’ll also see stuffed pastas like ravioli and tortellini.
Some menu items you might be less familiar with are gnocci and gnudi. Gnocci are little soft potato dumplings and can be served topped with a sauce or as a baked dish, this is not to be confused with gnochetti which is a pasta shaped in a similar way to gnocci but smaller.
Gnudi looks like gnocci but is made from ricotta cheese, rolled into balls and coated in semolina. It’s often served with simple sauces like a sage butter and can be found served in Tuscany.
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Bring on the main course!
Now it’s time for Secondi! Your main course options in Italy will range right across a variety of meats and fish and will vary depending on the region you’re in.
In Milan you’ll be sure to see Ossobuco on the menu, which uses cross-cut veal shanks braised in a sauce and often served with polenta (cornmeal).
Saltimbocca is a popular dish using veal topped or rolled with prosciutto and sage and cooked in wine and butter.
You may see ‘alla Milanese’ on the menu alongside the word pollo (chicken) or vitello (veal). Other meats can be served ‘alla Milanese’ but it’s quite often chicken or veal and basically means the meat will be thin and breaded with some lemon to squeeze over the top.
Some words to keep an eye out for are:
Fritti – fried
Ripieno/Ripieni – stuffed/filled
Al forno – oven baked
Arrosto – roasted
Affumicato – smoked
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If you fancy something sweet after your previous three courses, prepare to be tempted by one of these delightful desserts…
Panna Cotta, literally meaning ‘cooked cream’ is cream set with gelatine and often served with a fruit coulis.
Semifreddo means half cold and is often made up of half ice-cream, half cream with other ingredients to add flavour like fruits or coffee. It’s often made as a bar and then sliced for each individual serving.
Tiramisu is perhaps the most famous Italian dessert and is made predominantly from coffee soaked lady fingers and mascarpone cheese. If you’re a fan, be sure to try out my aunt Gianna’s recipe.
Zuppa Inglese means English soup and reminds me of a classic English trifle because it’s made up of custard and sponge layers.
Feeling pretty stuffed, you’ll probably wind up your meal with an Espresso….Buon appetito!
Why not put our menu buster to the test and try it out on a holiday to Italy?