For gourmands around the world, Italy is the number one destination for experiencing authentic Old World cuisine. From Abruzzo to Veneto, Italy offers a wide range of regional food thanks to a variety of landscapes and climates. For centuries, Italians have relied on natural resources as inspiration for distinctive cuisine in each region. If you can’t make the trip to Italy, use our gastronomic guide as inspiration for creating Italian meals in the comfort of your home. Bon appetito!
Abruzzo & Molise
Known for their simple approach to cuisine, Abruzzese cooks are masters at transforming basic ingredients into memorable meals. A favorite type of pasta is maccheroni alla chitarra (guitar pasta), which is made with sheets of egg dough that is cut into strips using a special rolling pin on a stringed wooden box. You’ll also find popular seasonings in many Abruzzo dishes like hot chili peppers, saffron, and olive oil with a fruity flavor. In the neighboring region of Molise, the peasant tradition continues but with a slight twist—their cuisine features the region’s golden olive oil along with locally cultivated herbs like fennel and rosemary.
Situated in southern Italy, this region is known for its rural cuisine that’s deeply rooted in peasant traditions. Aromatic and flavorful sauces are a Basilicata specialty, including basil-scented tomato sauce, sautéed zucchini, herbs, scallion sauce, and spicy chili-garlic paste, which are featured in The Best Pasta Sauces cookbook by Micol Negrin. Another popular Basilicata dish is Cialled, a hearty soup that showcases vegetables from the midsummer harvest, such as broccoli raab, fresh peas, or whatever you can find at the market.
Calabrese cooking features Greek, Arab, and Albanian influences, which is why you’ll find many dishes seasoned with the region's famous chili pepper, as well as a punch of sweet and sour flavors. Nduja, a spicy, spreadable salami, is another Calabrian specialty.
A coastal region in southern Italy, Campania style food is bursting with the flavors of fresh vegetables, which grow in great abundance and variety thanks to the rich volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius in Naples. Their most famous food is pizza, which features locally sourced toppings like sun-kissed vegetables and herbs, along with briny capers and fresh buffalo mozzarella. The Amalfi Coast is famous for its many dishes showcasing fresh seafood that is tossed in homemade pasta.
Emilia-Romagna & Tuscany
Known as Italy’s food basket, this northern Italian region is known for producing the countries’ most iconic foods, such as Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and balsamic vinegar. Cooks in this region have a passion for rich flavors, like variations of stuffed tortellini seasoned with herbs and locally made sausage. In nearby Tuscany, you’ll find their famous ravioli, which is typically filled with ricotta and pancetta, and then coated with butter and sage, a tomato sauce, or meat Ragu.
Situated in northeastern Italy, the region’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea gives the food a special flavor that is heavily influenced by Austrian and Hungarian cuisine. The most iconic ingredient in this region is brovada, a rich and pungent dish of fermented turnips that are served with lightly spiced pork. Other favorites from this region include slow cooked beef cheek Ragu and salami sauce quick-stewed in white wine.
A farming region that includes Rome, the capital of Italy, the countryside of Lazio remains nearly the same since the days of the ancient Empire. In this region, lamb and pork are common ingredients, as well as farmhouse cheeses made with sheep’s milk. Cooks here also have a passion for simple pastas featuring locally grown vegetables.
This Mediterranean region features the best food that Italy has to offer. In fact, Ligurian cuisine uses the best ingredients from the land and sea, including meaty porcini mushrooms, buttery and flavorful pine nuts, and succulent anchovies. The region also produces a delicate olive oil, which is cherished around the world.
With three distinct landscapes, this region in northern Italy makes the most of its fertile farmland, verdant foothills, and snowy mountain peaks. In this cold northern climate, rice and corn are grown in abundance, which is why you’ll find a rich menu of risottos and polentas. Veal, beef, and cow’s milk cheeses are also common ingredients in almost every meal.
Situated off the coast of the Adriatic Sea, this region is famous for its stuffed olives from the village of Ascoli Piceno. Using special food production techniques that take on the distinct characteristics of the land, Marches cuisine stands out with a bouquet of unique flavors. A regional specialty is sheep’s milk cheese that is aged in caves for several months. Many meals are also paired with griddle-cooked flatbreads, the perfect vehicle for soaking up any remaining pasta sauce.
Piedmont & Alto Adige
Thanks to a diverse landscape of mountains, green hills, and pristine lakes, Piedmont produces first-class exports, including award-winning wines from hillside vineyards. The region’s rich and complex cuisine makes for a noble wine pairing, especially with starchy and robust pastas stuffed with meat sauce and seasoned with aromatic white truffles. Nearby Alto Adige also produces Speck.
Known as Italy’s heartland, Puglia produces a long list of semolina pastas and rustic loaves of bread. The region is also Italy’s largest producer of olive oil, which is used in almost every Italian dish. Fava beans are the region’s favorite legume, which is often showcased in salads, side dishes, and hearty soups.
The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, the isolated and mysterious Sardinia features a distinctive cuisine that reflects the unique landscape. With wild animals roaming the mountainous inland terrain, many dishes feature boar, mountain goat, and hare, among others. The most popular meat is lamb, which is seasoned with fennel and made into succulent stews and pasta dishes.
Featuring some of Italy’s most famous cuisine, Sicilian food showcases a menu of rich and complex dishes like elaborate homemade pastas (e.g. busiate pasta) for dinner entrees and gourmet stuffed meats as antipasti. Sicilians have a love affair with eggplant, resulting in everyday recipes like caponata and pasta alla norma.
Situated in central Italy next to Tuscany, this landlocked region uses pork in most of its classic dishes. In fact, pork butchers from Umbria are known as the best in Italy and were also the first to produce Guanciale, a type of cured meat from the pig’s cheek. Aromatic black truffles also grow wild in the forests, which chefs use for adding a gourmet touch to pasta and risotto.
A mountainous terrain in northern Italy, this region features a heavy influence of French and Swiss cuisine. You’ll find a menu that includes rich and hearty ingredients like nutty polentas, creamy Fontina cheese, and crusty homemade bread made with hearty northern grains like rye or buckwheat.
Veneto borders a handful of northern Italian regions, which makes it an excellent destination for sampling a variety of cuisines. With the famous city of Venice as the region’s capital, Venetian food is a common fixture on local menus. Traditional Venetian dishes include a selection of hearty soups and risottos studded with rich local seafood. Farther north in hill country, you’ll find a tantalizing selection of cured meats and aged cheeses. Another specialty is braised beef, which is often paired with the region’s famous Amarone wine.