Essential Italian Food Terms

Italian Food Terms

Here is the definitive list of common Italian food terms – these are terms you might see at a local market or restaurant. Italian food is popular the world over, so we have not included any which are common knowledge, not commonly used or ones which a novice could translate by guessing.

This of Italian culinary terms is also a useful partner to Italian cookbooks or watching your favourite cookery show. If you find this list of Italian cookery terms interesting, you might also like our summary of French cooking terms too.

If we have missed any Italian food terms please let us know.


Affumicato means smoked.

Al dente

Translates literally as ‘to the tooth’, a term used to describe the point at which pasta is properly cooked: firm to the bite but not chalky.

Al forno

Al forno literally means “in the oven”, but could actually mean any item which is baked, roasted, or gratinéed, depending on the context.

We have a recipe for al forno meatballs you might enjoy.

Al vapore


Alla griglia

Alla griglia is the most common Italian way to say grilled or barbecued.

Antipasti / antipasto

Antipasto is an appetizer, and translates as ‘before the meal’. Antipasti are always served at the table, just before the primo piatto (first course).



This word Arancini means “little orange” and refers to the delicious deep-fried risotto balls which are popular throughout Italy.

Bianco / bianca

Bianco or in bianco: literally means ‘white’ or ‘in white’ are terms used to describe the tomato-less version of a dish that can be made either with or without tomatoes.

A popular example is pizza bianca, which a pizza made only with cheese (or sometimes a white sauce replaces the tomato sauce). Lasagne in bianco means lasagne made with béchamel sauce but not ragù.


A very widely used example of some Italian food terms which would be difficult to guess. A battuto is a collection of vegetables, usually onion, celery and carrot used as the foundation of a dish. It can also include bigger flavours like; garlic or parsley.

A battuto is usually cooked in oil or butter as the first step in many dishes, after which it is referred to as a soffritto.


Bresaola is air-dried spiced beef; usually thinly sliced, and served with some olive oil and lemon juice.


Whilst the Italian translation of casalinga is housewife, casalinga also refers to any food which is homemade.


Ceci means chickpeas or garbanzo beans. This is often seen in various soups and pasta dishes.


One of the more confusing Italian food terms, as it’s commonly mistaken to mean condiment, condimento refers to anything that can dress another ingredient for flavour, examples being the dressing on a salad or the sauce for pasta.


Contorno is a vegetable based side dish served with the secondo or main meal (second course).


Crema refers to soups made of puréed vegetables, so describes the texture, not the actual usage of dairy cream.

Cucina povera

One of my favourite Italian food terms; Cucina povera, literally means ‘poor cuisine’ and is used fondly to refer to a simpler style of Italian cooking which focuses on simplicity and more modest ingredients.


Not strictly one of the Italian food terms, but commonly seen – DOC stands for ‘denominazione di origine controllata’, or ‘controlled name of origin’.

In Italy DOC is a legal process used to safeguard the usage of culturally important names of wines, cheeses and other products.

Filo d’olio

Un filo d’olio: literally, a ‘thread of oil’. A term usually used to describe a thin stream of oil drizzled on top of a dish to finish it a technique often used for thick, bean-based soups. Can also be used more generally to describe adding a small amount of oil to a dish or to a skillet.


Fried, as in ‘pollo fritto’, or fried chicken. Fritto can also refer to a plate of mixed fried foods.

Making gnocchi
Making gnocchi


One of the most famous Italian food terms is Gnocchi. Gnocchi pronounced ‘nyaw-kee’ is the Italian word for dumpling.

The most common type of gnocchi is made from potato, but gnocchi can also be made from flour, semolina or a mixture of ricotta and spinach.

We have a delicious recipe for seafood gnocchi if you want an excuse to try some!

In padella

in padella: Or more fully, ripassati in padella, a term that refers to sautéing leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard, escarole or chicory simply in garlic and oil, sometimes with a bit of peperoncino.

The leaves are usually parboiled or wilted before being sautéed. The term can also apply to other vegetables like artichokes and potatoes, that are prepared in the same way. Very similar to the trifolati technique.

In umido

in umido: A term to refer to a dish that is stewed, usually in a tomato sauce. Can apply to fish, meat or vegetables.

In zimino

In zimino a term used in Tuscan cooking to refer to a dish in which the main ingredient (classically, seafood) is simmered in spinach or swiss chard, for example seppie in zimino (squid) or baccalà in zimino (salted codfish).

Keep reading the next page to learn some more popular Italian Food terms.