The Italian Larder
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Search by type of ingredient:
Acciuga – See Fish: Anchovy or Sardine (Regional name)
Aceto – See vinegar
Agarico delizioso, fungo– See Mushroom: Saffron milk-cap
Aglio– See Garlic
Agnello – See Lamb
Agnello da latte – See Lamb
Agnellone – See Lamb
Agretto – See Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle
Aguglia– See Fish: Garfish
Aguglia imperiale– See Fish: Spearfish, Mediterranean
Aguglia maggiore – See Fish: Needlefish, Agujon
Alaccia – See Fish: Sardinella
Alalunga– See Fish: Tuna: Albacore
Alborella– See Fish: Bleak
Albicocca – See Apricot
Alice – See Fish: Anchovy
Alloro – See Bay leaf
Alosa– See Fish: Shad
Alosa agone – See Fish: Shad
Amaretti are dry, hard biscuits shaped into rounded mounds about the size of an unshelled walnut. They are typically made with almonds, egg whites, and sugar but can be flavoured with cocoa or other flavours. Sometimes almonds are substituted for other nuts such as hazelnuts. Amaretti are found all over Italy.
Buy: Amaretti come dry (amaretti a pasta secca), soft (amaretti a pasta morbida), and sprinkled with sugar (amaretti cosparso con zucchero a granella). The most famous are from Saronno near Varese but are closely related to the amarettus from Sardegna.
Store: Amaretti can be stored for a long time if hermetically sealed to preserve their flavours.
Prepare: When used in recipes, the amaretti are often ground, either in a food processor or placed between tea towels and rolled over with a rolling pin.
Eat: Amaretti are used to stuff pears and peaches (pesche ripiene), in stuffed pastas (tortelli di zucca mantovani), in fritto misto (fritto misto piemontese), garnish ice cream, in cakes (torta di amaretti), in pastries, and are served as an accompaniment to coffee and puddings (bonet). They can also be eaten on their own.
Amberjack, greater- See Fish: Amberjack, greater
American lobster – See Lobster
Anchovy- See Fish: Anchovy
Anchovy paste- See Fish: Anchovy
Angler – See Fish: Monkfish
Anguilla – See Fish: Eel
Anguria – See Melon: Watermelon
Apple (Mela) (Malus domestica)
Equivalent: 1 apple = 150 grams/5 ounces (on average)
Apples are a fruit which are harvested from late summer through autumn, but are stored in a way that they are sold year round. Apples are rich in phosporous, anti-oxidants, B-complex and vitamins C, B, PP, and E.
There are more than 250 varieties of apples in Italy. The most important groupings in order of importance are the Golden Delicious (includes the Stark variety), the Red Delicious, and the Rome Beauty (includes the Imperatore variety). Other important varieties include the Renetta, Granny Smith, Stayman, Ozark Gold, and Gravenstein. There are some notable native Italian heirloom varieties such as Limoncella and Annurca which are entirely unique.
Buy: Apples range in colour from green to yellow to red to a combination of any of these colours. Look for apples which are fragrant and have firm flesh which is free from holes, bruising, and soft spots. You can squeeze an apple to test for firmness and smell it to determine if it has any fragrance. They do not need to be completely free from brown spots and wrinkles if they are to be cooked. Ideally apples should have a hint of tartness while maintaining their sugar. They should be firm and juicy.
The variety will determine how sweet or tart an apple is and how crunchy or soft the flesh is. The apple’s attributes will determine if they are better for eating or cooking, or can be used for either. Test the apple for its texture and flavour when cooked by peeling a piece and boil it in water until tender. Prod it with a fork to see if it retains its shape or mashes easily. Taste to see if it is flavourful or watery and how sweet it is. The best apples for flavour are from Trentino Alto-Adige and the Annurca variety from Campania.
Golden Delicious is sweet and flavourful and can be used for both eating and cooking.
Granny Smith variety is tart and crunchy and good for cooking. They are good for baking as they retain their shape, and their tartness offsets the sweetness of the dessert, but the flavour is not very complex.
Gravenstein is juicy and tart.
Imperatore is large, juicy, and crunchy and can be used for eating or cooking.
Jonathan is tender and juicy.
Ozark Gold is juicy and tart.
Red Delicious is generally better for eating than cooking.
Stark is sweet and flavourful and can be used for both eating and cooking.
Store: Apples can be stored in a dry, cool, dark place or in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but should be placed apart so they are not touching. If kept at room temperature, apples can overripen quickly.
Prepare: Apples should be rinsed in cold water. For dessert preparations requiring cut apples, use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Supermarket apples are often coated in wax so you will want to peel these anyway. You can use an apple corer to remove the core particularly where the apple is to be used whole. Otherwise a paring knife can be used to slice the flesh away from the core if the apple will be cut up. Apples which are not going to be used immediately can be tossed with lemon juice to prevent them from browning. When cooking, adding sugar and/or butter together with the apples will inhibit disintegration.
Eat: Apples are eaten raw, used to flavour liqueurs, and prepared in desserts such as strudel, tarts, fritters, biscuits, crepes, fruit salad, baked apples, stuffed apples, and pastries.
Apricot (Albicocca) (Prunus armeniaca)
Equivalents: 1 apricot = 40 grams
Substitutions: figs or plums
Apricot is a soft, round, stone fruit with a fuzzy skin that ranges from yellow to orange in colour. It has a delicate flavour and is both sweet and acidic. It is in season from June until August. It is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, carotene, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
In Italy the varieties Cafona, Boccuccia, S. Francesco, Reale d’Imola, Precoce Cremonini, and Caldesi are eaten.
Buy: Apricots can be bought fresh, dried, candied, or made into syrup (sciroppata), liqueurs, conserves or jam. Fresh apricots do not continue to ripen once picked, so buy ripe apricots. Ripe apricots are soft to touch when gently squeezed, not hard. They should also be plump, blemish free, without any hints of green or pale colour. They should not be soft, mushy, mouldy, or have dark spots.
Store: Ripe apricots can be kept, loosely covered, in the refrigerator for 2 days. If the apricots are a bit too firm, keep them at room temperature for up to two days until they soften and then store them in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Rinse the fruit with cold water. Cut the fruit in half using the line in the skin as a guide and twist apart to remove the pit. Both the fruit and the nut inside the stone of the fruit are eaten in Italy. To extract the nut, bake the pits on a tray at 150˚ C for about 15 minutes and crack open with a nutcracker or hammer. Roast the extracted nuts for about 10 minutes. The nut is used in making amaretti cookies and the liqueur Amaretto Di Saronno. The nut is eaten in small quantities however. The nut inside the Reale d’Imola variety is sweet while the nut inside the Precoce variety is bitter.
Eat: Apricots are eaten fresh after meals or used in desserts in Italy. They are used in cakes, tarts, stewed, pudding, coulis, dumplings (strucolo), and as a syrup for whipped cream. They can also be used as a substitute for plums in the savoury dumpling dish, gnocchi di susine.
Apricot jam (marmellata di albicocche/confettura di albicocche)
This is a traditional way of preserving fruit so that it can be used when not in season. Generally the fruit is cooked with honey or sugar and sealed in glass jars.
Aragosta – See Lobster
Arctic char – See Fish: Char, arctic Salmerino
Artichoke (Carciofo) (Cynara cardunculus)
Equivalent: 1 baby artichoke = 60-90 grams; 1 medium artichoke = 200 to 250 grams; 1 jumbo artichoke = 550 grams
edible part = 30% whole artichoke weight
Artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables and I consider them a great delicacy. They are in season from the spring to autumn. Artichokes are rich in fibre and minerals (iron, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium).
The artichoke is actually an edible type of thistle flower related to cardoons which can be green (as are those from Liguria, Campania, and Sicilia), or violet-tinged (as are those from Veneto, Toscana, and Sardegna). They can have spines or not. Different varieties have different flavours and the spring artichokes are cooked differently than the more mature artichokes. The most common varieties in Italy are: Spinoso sardo, Violetto di Toscana, Precoce di Chioggia, Spinoso di Palermo, Castraure della laguna veneta, Romanesco, Violeto di Ponza, Canarino giallo, Precoce di Jesi, Mazzaferrata, Ascolano, Empolese, Spinoso di Liguria, Violetto di Catania, Violetto di Provenza, Castellammare, and Campagnano. The two varieties awarded the PGI status are the carciofo di Paestum and the carciofo romanesco del Lazio.
Buy: You can buy them fresh, frozen, and tinned or jarred in oil, water, or brine. Tinned varieties simply do not compare in flavour to the fresh or marinated kind (sott’olio). When buying fresh artichokes, buy the freshest you can find- they should be firm, tightly closed (although late in the season they may be more open), vibrant in colour, and the bracts (similar to leaves) and stem should be unwrinkled and free from brown spots and holes. The outside leaves may have some scratches or blisters from frost and this does not indicate there is anything wrong with the artichoke. The stem end will tell you how recently it was cut. If you squeeze the artichoke it should squeak. Stems can be up to 20cm long. They should be heavy for their size to ensure the choke is not too large.
Earlier in the season, in the winter, the artichokes are small, about the size of an unshelled walnut, whereas later in the season, the spring through the summer, the artichokes can become very large, about the size of your hand.
Store: If they have long stems, they are best preserved in a vase of water in the refrigerator. Otherwise they can be stored dry in a plastic bag or sealed container in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 days.
Prepare: If the artichokes are to be eaten raw, then the internal bracts (leaves) must be completely soft and uniformly light coloured. Artichokes should be prepared just before eating or cooking as they discolour easily and cut parts should be rubbed with lemon and immersed in acidulated water to prevent discolouration. Preparing an artichoke to eat is one of the most complicated preparations for any vegetable but is time well-spent as their flavour is unparalleled. The preparation also stains your hands (which can be removed with lemon). Do not use iron or aluminium (including foil) when preparing artichokes as it discolours them.
First prepare a bowl of cold water and squeeze half a lemon into it. Then wash the artichoke, dry and cut the stalk off. Peel the stalk with a small knife or vegetable peeler and slice into 1/2cm rounds and place into the water. Take the flower and beginning at the bottom slide your thumb down the inside of a bract (leaf) until it is where the bract connects to the flower and snap off and discard. Repeat this until all the tough outer bracts are removed (the inside is a light greenish yellow). Do not try to retain any of the harder bracts as it will make the entire dish unpalatable in texture. (If you don’t want to waste them, add the removed leaves to the dish on the bottom, and after they are cooked you can pop the end in your mouth and scrape the pulp off with your bottom front teeth.) Cut the top of the remaining flower off and trim the base with a small knife. In the centre of the flower is a hairy choke (that literally sticks in your throat and chokes you). Use a small spoon or a melon baller to remove this hair. Your artichokes are now ready to use.
Eat: They can be eaten raw (only for baby artichokes), boiled (cacocciuliddi spinusi), roasted, steamed, sautéed (carciofi al funghetto), baked, braised (carciofi alla romana), stuffed, fried, deep-fried (carciofi alla giudia), or preserved in oil or vinegar. They are used in liqueur (Cynar), starters, in pastas, soups, savoury pies (torta pasqualina), risotto, and side dishes. Artichokes pair well with marjoram, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leave, lemon, orange, capers, fennel, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, goat cheese, olive oil, butter, peas, beans, asparagus, potatoes, and mushrooms.
Arugula – See Rocket
Ascolana – See Olives
Asparago – See Asparagus
Asparagus (Asparago) (Asparagus officinalis)
Equivalent: 1 medium asparagus = 25 grams
Asparagus is a vegetable with a long, thin, white, violet or green stalks culminating in a tip. Asparagus can be eaten while young whilst the stalks are still thin and tender, or later in the season when the stalks are more fibrous and thick (preferably no more than 8 mm in diameter). They are in season from March until June. Asparagus has folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, and beta-carotene.
The white asparagus are green or violet asparagus which have been deprived of sunlight in order to preserve their white colour. The white varities in Italy include: Bianco di Bassano PDO, Bianco d’Olada, Bianco di Germania, di Pescia, di Cesana, bianco di Cimaldomo PGI, and Grosso di Erfurt. The violet varieties include: Precoce di Argenteuil, Tardivo di Argenteuil, violetto di Albenga, and Napoletano. A green variety with PGI satus is verde di Altedo. Asparagus from Ravenna are considered to be some of the best.
Buy: They should be sold in a cooled environment. The cultivated varieties of asparagus range from thin when young (about 4 mm in diameter) to thick when later in the season (2 cm or more in diameter). These have green stalks, may have a green or violet tip, and are intense in flavour.
The white varieties are milder in flavour and more delicate. They are considered a great delicacy in Europe.
There are also wild asparagus (selvatico) and forest asparagus (di bosco / bruscandoli).
Look for tightly closed tips which are dry, firm (but not hard), free from discolouration, and have not begun to bud. Stalks should be dark green, unwithered, uniformly firm with no wrinkles and not limp. There should be no signs or rotting. The stalks should be heavy for their size. Tips which are not tightly closed and are separating are not fresh. Look at the cut end to see how fresh the asparagus is- moist, firm, unoxidised ends are the best. Select stalks of uniform thickness to ensure even cooking time. Thinner asparagus are often, but not always, more tender. Thicker, more fibrous asparagus may need to have its outer skin peeled. An ideal thickness is about 1cm.
Store: Asparagus should be eaten as quickly after harvesting as the sugar in the plant converts into starch which destroys the flavour and texture as it becomes woody. Do not wash asparagus before storing. Remove any binding from the asparagus as this encourages rotting. Asparagus can be stored with the cut ends of the stalk standing in 2cm of water in a jar, or the cut ends wrapped in wet paper towel, covered with a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Prepare: Rinse the asparagus, paying particular attention to the tips, gently rubbing the asparagus with your fingertips under cold water to remove any sand. Start bending the stalk from the bottom to feel its natural snapping point where the stalk snaps cleanly, preferably 1 to 2cm from the bottom. Discard the woody ends. If the stalks are 5 mm in diameter or more, then cut the woody bottoms off as they will not snap uniformly. Then use a vegetable peeler to delicately remove only the waxy outer skin on the bottom 2/3 of the stem.
The challenge when cooking asparagus is that often the tips cook faster than the stalks, and may break when being transferred. The solution (if a pot is not used which can hold the asparagus standing on end) is to tie the stalks together when cooking. Be careful not to cook the asparagus in rapidly boiling water or they can be easily damaged.
Eat: Asparagus can be eaten hot or cold and are served raw, fried, deep-fried, boiled, grilled, roasted, sautéed, steamed, or braised. Asparagus should be cooked quickly until tender but still crisp. Poke one with a knife to ensure it can be inserted easily but still has a little resistance. Be careful not to overcook as they will turn dark green and go limp. For many recipes, the asparagus is already cooked before adding to the recipe. These can be eaten lightly cooked and dressed with a sauce (asparagi alla bolzanina) or just olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper or used in risottos, pasta sauce, moulds, pies, omelettes, soups, and fried. Asparagus pairs well with olive oil, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fontina cheese, eggs, parsley, basil, sage, mint, lemon, orange, capers, peas, artichokes, leeks, and broad beans.
Astice – See Lobster
Atlantic Cod – See Fish: Cod
Atlantic white-spotted octopus – See Octopus
Aubergine / Eggplant (Melanzana) (Solanum melongena)
Equivalents: 1 medium aubergine = 500 grams
Aubergines in Italy are purple, white, pink, green and yellow, orange, mottled purple and pink, or mottled purple and white. They are vegetables and can be round, egg-shaped, oblong, or long. Aubergines have a slightly bitter flavour. The Italian name for aubergine, “melanzana“, derives from “mela insana” meaning noxious apple. They are eaten all over Italy but are particularly popular in the south. They are in season from June to October. Aubergines are a good source of iron.
The round varieties include Violetta di Firenze, Mostruosa di New York. The egg-shaped varieties include Bianca ovale, Melanzana rossa, and Madras. The oblong varieties include: Black beauty (Bellezza nera), and Larga Morada. Long varieties can be up to 20cm long and include Violetta lunga di Napoli and Slim Jim.
Buy: Aubergine can be bought fresh, dried, or preserved in oil. To buy fresh, the elongated varieties tend to have a stronger flavour and be better for frying while the round and oblong varieties are more delicate in flavour and are better for layering. Generally, the lighter the colour of aubergine, the lighter the flavour. Look for aubergines which are smooth, firm, unblemished, and have a deep, evenly glossy colour. Ones with a smaller navel on the bottom indicate that the aubergine is male and will therefore have fewer seeds. Bright green stems indicate freshness. Aubergines which are heavy for their size but small for their variety are tastier.
Store: Aubergine can be stored in wrapped in paper inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator, covered for up to a week. Aubergines become increasingly bitter with time so consume them as soon as possible. If this is not possible, salting as part of the preparation will help remove any bitter flavours.
Prepare: Some recipes call for the aubergine to be sliced and salted in a colander to draw out the moisture. This is done to draw out any bitterness, reduce the amount of water to facilitate frying, and change the texture of the aubergine. Typically the smaller and elongated varieties are salted to remove bitter juices (and generally also because they are used for frying and salting the aubergine means it will absorb less oil). If you do not salt the aubergine, then rub the sliced aubergine with lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring. Typically the skin of the aubergine is retained when cooking, so to prepare just rub the aubergine skin under cold water and cut off the stem. If you are frying the aubergine, use very hot oil and fry the aubergine quickly so that it does not absorb much oil. Drain the aubergine on a wire rack or paper towel to drain excess oil.
Eat: Aubergines are often fried, deep-fried, grilled, roasted, stuffed, sautéed, braised, or stewed (caponata). They are used in salads, fritters, pastas (alla Norma), and baked with various toppings (melanzane alla parmigiana). Aubergines pair well with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, garlic, basil, saffron, vinegar, lemon, pine nuts, tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, chickpeas, and potatoes.
Avellana – See Hazelnut
Baby onion – See Onion
Baccalà– See Fish- Cod, Pacific
Baking powder (Lievito chimico / Lievito minerale / Lievito in polvere)
Substitute: To make your own baking powder mix 1 part bicarbonate of soda / baking soda with 2 parts cream of tartar in a 1:2 ratio.
Baking powder is used in baking to help a batter to rise. It is composed of an alkaline ingredient, bicarbonate of soda, an acidic ingredient, cream of tartar, and a starch as a filler to absorb moisture. These ingredients, when mixed with liquid, produce carbon dioxide gas that forms bubbles which leavens dough.
Buy: Baking powder is normally sold in small pots or in envelopes, sometimes mixed with vanilla.
Store: It should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Do not use baking powder past the expiration date as it may have lost its rising effect.
Prepare: When using baking powder, mix it into or sift together with the flour to help ensure its even distribution. Because baking powder starts to work when liquid is added, do not let batters and doughs containing baking powder to sit once added.
Eat: It is used in baking cakes or biscuits to help them rise. It can also be used in fried breads.
Balsamic vinegar – See Vinegar
Bavettine– See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Belle di Spagna – See Olives
Bella di Puglia – See Olives
Barba di Becco – See Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle
Barba di Frate – See Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle
Barbabietola – See Beet
Barbel- See Fish: Barbel
Barbo– See Fish: Barbel
Barbo canino– See Fish: Barbel
Barbone – See Fish: Mullet, red/Mullet, striped
Barracuda- See Fish: Barracuda
Basil (Basilico) (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is a leafy herb, and is one of the signature flavours of Italian cooking. It pairs very well with tomatoes. Basil has a distinct flavour and is second to none. The Genovese variety is the most popular. Basil is in season from May to September. Italians believe basil stimulates digestion and diminishes stomach cramps.
Buy: There are many varieties of basil, some with very varying flavours, such as Asian basil which is distinctly different from Italian sweet basil. Dried basil is no substitute for fresh basil. Buying a pot of fresh basil is even better. The leaves should be bright green, not wilted, and without holes or brown spots. Basil plants are easily grown in a pot on the windowsill (also said to keep flies away).
Store: Basil is fragile and should be used quickly after being cut. It can be stored in the refrigerator with the cut ends in a small vase of water and the tops covered with a plastic bag for 2 days.
If you can only occasionally find fresh Italian basil, you can preserve it by freezing the leaves. Otherwise you can wash the basil in cold water, patting it dry with a dishcloth, and storing it submerged in olive oil (you may need to weigh them down). The oil can also be used in sauces. Alternatively you can preserve them by washing, drying, and layering them in a jar between layers of salt. Either way, store the preserved basil in a cool, dry place.
Prepare: Basil leaves should be torn (not cut) just before using. The most flavourful leaves are those nearest the tip of the plant, near the flower.
Eat: Basil can be eaten raw or cooked and is used in salads, with pasta (pasta alla norma), in sauces (pesto genovese), and on pizza. Basil pairs well with tomatoes, courgettes, aubergine, green beans, rice, and pumpkin.
Basilico – See Basil
Bay leaf (Alloro) (Laurus nobilis)
Bay leaf is the leaf of a laurel tree or bush and it is used as a herb. It has been used since antiquity.
Buy: Bay leaves can be purchased fresh or dry. Fresh are preferable as they have a stronger flavour but both are fine.
Store: Store in a dry, cool, dark place. Dry bay leaves should be used within a year. To dry fresh bay leaves, lay in a single layer, not touching each other, on a paper lined tray in a dark, dry place.
Prepare: Rinse the leaves in cold water, dry and use. They are normally removed from a dish once cooked, prior to serving.
Eat: Bay leaves are used as an aromatic for broth, fatty fish, and spit-roasted, grilled, and roasted meats. Bay leaves are also used in perfume, liqueurs, and with dried figs.
Bean (Fagiolo) (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Equivalent: 100 grams dried beans = 300 grams fresh beans (shelled) = 600 grams fresh beans (unshelled) = 480 grams tinned beans
Beans are legumes and are well-loved in Italy, particularly in Toscana (where the people are called “mangiafagioli”, meaning “bean eaters”) and in Veneto. Every region in Italy has a local bean dish. Beans have been popular since Roman times. Beans are extremely nutritious and an excellent protein substitute for meat, if mixed with other cereals.
They can be eaten fresh or dried. Beans grow in a long pod which is opened and the beans inside removed. There are many varieties of beans eaten in Italy. The main varieties are borlotti (medium length and are white and red mottled), cannellini (small and white), Scottish beans (white mottled with violet), and Spanish beans (big and are either violet “kidney beans” or white coloured). PGI varieties include fagiolo di Lamon, fagiolo di Sorana, and fagiolo di Sarconi.
Fresh beans are in season from June until September and are generally 8 to 15cm long. They are a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Beans are generally not considered a refined food, despite being quite nutritious, probably due to their property of creating flatulence in those who eat them.
Buy: Beans are typically bought dried, tinned / jarred, or fresh. Beans are best fresh. If fresh beans are not available, cooking dried beans are also very good. If the process is too cumbersome or time consuming then tinned are fine.
Fresh beans should be mature, crisp, firm, full-coloured (no discolouring), lumpy so you can see the beans inside have matured and are not dried out (although the pod should feel tough and leathery), and be unblemished (free from black or brown spots and holes). Shelled beans will be about half their weight with the shell so adjust this according to your recipe.
Dried beans should be purchased as close to their harvest date as possible as they harden over time. Try to use within 6 months of purchase but definitely within 1 year. The beans should be bright and shiny. Dried beans should not be wrinkled as this is an indication that they are old. Inspect the packaging for any signs of insets, dust, or mould.
Tinned beans have a softer texture than fresh or dried beans and will disintegrate if cooked for too long. For tinned beans, add them to the recipe during the last 10 minutes of cooking to ensure they remain whole and reduce the salt in the recipe if the beans contain salt.
Store: To store fresh beans, place them in the refrigerator and ensure that they are dry and have good air circulation so that they don’t mould. Do not shell them until you are about to cook them. They are best consumed as soon as possible but may be stored in the refrigerator like this for 3-5 days. If you can’t use them within this time period, shell and freeze. To shell fresh beans, snap off the stem end and pull downwards along the spine to remove the string. Use your thumbs to pull the pod open and then slide your thumb along the inside to remove the beans.
Dried beans should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place and should not be kept for more than a year or they will stay hard when cooked. They should be kept in an airtight container.
Tinned beans can be kept in the cupboard until their expiration date indicated on the package. Tinned beans can be used directly from the tin without soaking or parcooking.
Prepare: To shell fresh beans, hold the stem end and break open using your thumbs to open the shell and dislodge the beans into a bowl. Discard the shells.
To prepare dry beans, rinse them and discard any stones, as well as any mouldy, damp, wrinkled, broken, or discoloured beans, then soak them overnight- or even for 2-3 days. Make sure the beans are covered by about 8 cm of fresh, tepid water. If the weather is hot, refrigerate the beans while they soak. The older the beans are, the longer you will need to soak them. (If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, you can wash them, then put them in cold water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat, let sit for 1 hour, strain, discard the water, and then the beans are ready to use.) Pick through the beans to ensure there is no debris, discard the water.
To cook fresh or dried beans: add new, fresh water and any aromatics. Some people say that adding salt when cooking beans makes them hard but I have never had this issue with beans that are not old. Simmer the beans in the water until tender as per the recipe. The older the beans are, the longer they need to be cooked. Cooked beans can be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Eat: Beans are used in starters, pastas (pasta e fagioli), soups (minestra di fagioli), salads, and as accompaniments to meat (fagioli all’uccelletto).
Borlotti bean / Cranberry bean (Borlotto) (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Substitute: cannellini beans
A borlotti bean is an oval-shaped bean which is cream coloured with dark red streaks with a nutty flavour.
Buy: Lamon PGI beans are a high quality borlotti bean from the town of Lamon in Veneto. Use the same criteria as in the general bean section above.
Store: Fresh borlotti beans should be kept in a bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Prepare: Fresh borlotti beans can be prepared by snapping off the stem and using your thumbs to open the pod and slide out the beans. Use dried beans as per the recipe but they are generally cooked slowly for 1 to 1.5 hours.
Eat: Borlotti beans are often boiled or sautéed. They are used in stews, mixed with rice, mixed with pasta (pisarei e faso) as an accompaniment to meat, and in soup (pasta e fagioli alla veneta, fagioli con le cotiche, minestra di fagioli alla emiliana, and minestra di fagioli alla friulana).
Broad Bean / Fava Bean (Fava) (Vica faba maior)
Substitute: fresh or frozen soy beans, peas
Yield: 1 kilo broad beans in the pod = 2 to 3 cups of shelled beans
Fava beans are one of my favourite vegetables and are well-worth the time and effort to prepare. Fava beans are meaty and strongly flavoured with herbal notes. These beans are one of the oldest foods of the Mediterranean. Fava beans are a spring vegetable that come in long pods ranging from 10 – 30cm long. They are light green in colour. When opened, they have a thick, soft lining nestling the beans inside. These fresh beans are available from March to May. Fava beans are a good source of protein, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, fibre, and vitamins (A and C).
The main varieites are Auperaguadulce, Aguadulce Supersimoia, Reina mora, and Baggiana.
Buy: You should select pods which are with no brown spots, look plump, crisp, are green (not yellow) and which are about 15cm in length. You should not be able to easily define the shape of the bean inside or the bean is past its prime. Avoid beans with blackened ends and if you can, split one open and look inside. The soft inner lining should be moist and the beans firm. If you twist off an end, the pod should be crunchy and juicy. Eat one if you can to taste if it is sweet and tender. The young beans should be tender and sweet although slightly bitter. Beans which are too old will have lost their bright green colour and will be starchy. They are also available dried, canned, or frozen. Only the frozen ones are substitutable for fresh ones.
Store: Fresh fava beans may be wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. Frozen fava beans should be stored in the freezer, tightly sealed for up to 10 months. Dried fava beans may be kept in a cool, dry place sealed for up to a year.
Prepare: Podding fava beans can be a chore so get the family to help out and make it fun. I get my 2 year old son to help me with podding as he loves to help out. To prepare fava beans, remove the pod, parboil for 2 minuted if fresh and 4 minutes if frozen and then cool in ice water to stop the cooking and bring out the colour. When cool, use your fingernail to pierce the waxy skin around each bean and squeeze the opposite end to pop the bean out. Cook as required in the recipe but typically about 8 to 10 minutes. Prepare dried fava beans as described in the main bean section above.
Eat: Only the fresh, young, tender, springtime fava beans can be eaten raw (with salami or pecorino cheese). They are used in starters, pastas, soups (favata alla sarda, zuppa di fave alla calabrese, and minestra di fave alla pugliese), salads (fave in insalata di Campania), with meat (fave a coniglio alla siciliana), and side dishes (fave col guanciale alla romana). The dried beans can be cooked and pureed (macco and ‘ncapriata).
Cannellini bean (Cannellino) (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Substitute: Borlotti beans
Cannellini beans grow inside a green pod about 8cm long. The beans are white, small, flat with rounded ends. They are eaten regularly in Toscana.
Buy: Cannellini beans come dried or tinned.
Store: Fresh cannellini beans need to be kept in a bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Prepare: For dried beans, prepare according to the general bean section above but they are generally cooked for 1 to 1.5 hours.
Eat: Eaten cold in salads (insalata di fagioli), as a side dish to meat (fagioli all’uccelletto or fagioli al fiasco), and in soups (ribollita).
Chickpea / Garbanzo bean (Cece) (Cicer arietinum)
Chickpeas grow on a plant inside a husk with a nutty flavour. They are rounded, cream in colour, and are smooth and resemble a hazelnut in shape. They are harvested between June and October but are not eaten fresh.
Buy: Chickpeas are typically sold dry, tinned, or ground into flour. The tinned variety can be interchangeably used with the rehydrated dried chickpeas.
Prepare: For dried beans, prepare according to the general bean section above. They take much longer than other legumes to soften and may need to be cooked for 1 to 3 hours.
Eat: Chickpeas are eaten in salad, lightly dressed on their own, in soup (cacciucco di ceci alla pisana and minestra di ceci toscana), in pasta (tria, ceci e pasta alla pugliese, lagane e ceci alla basilicata, panelle alla sicilia, and pasta e ceci alla romana), and in stews (ceci con la tempia di maiale and cisra). The flour is used in Liguria to make farinata and panissa.
Green Bean – See Green Bean
Lentil (Lenticchia / Lente) (Lens esculenta)
Lentils have been eaten for over 9,000 years. Lentils are the flat rounded seeds of a plant and come in pods with 2 to 3 lentils inside. They range in colour from yellow to orange to brown to green. Lentils are rich in nutrients, protein, phosphorous, iron, and vitamin B.
The main varieties in Italy include Egizina, di Villalba, del Fucino, di Castelluccio, di Altamura, and di Mormanno. The most prized variety is Lenticchia di Castelluccio di Norcia PGI from Umbria.
Buy: Lentils are sold dried. The quality of the lentil is determined by the variety and the soil in which it was grown.
Prepare: Lentils do not need to be soaked in advance, but they can be. They are boiled or braised in liquid but should not be cooked in untreated aluminium. They take between 25 to 60 minutes to cook depending on their age and variety.
Eat: Lentils are eaten on New Year’s Day in parts of Italy for good luck. They can be eaten hot or cold in soups, salads, pasta (pasta e lenticchie alla Campania), and as an accompaniment to sausage (lenticchie con il cotechino).
Beef (Carne bovina / Manzo / Bovino / Toro / Vacca) (Bos taurus)
Beef is the meat from a castrated male cow between 2 and 4 years old or a female cow between 2 and 3 years old which has never given birth. The meat from cows less than 2 years old is called either “vitellone”, for cows between 18 to 24 months old, or veal (vitello) for cows less than 18 months old (See Veal below). Male cows older than 4 years are called “bue” and female cows over 3 years are called “vacca”. More veal is consumed in Italy than beef. The special breeds of cows for meat include: Chianina, Marchigiana, Piemontese, Maremmana, Podolica, and Romagnola. My favourite breeds are Chianina and Fassone piemontese.
Buy: When purchasing beef, the meat should be moist but not shiny, have a good colour, and should not have an off-putting smell. The packaging should be tear-free. Depending on the cut, the qualities to evaluate beef are the marbling (the fat mixed into the meat), colour, ratio of bone to meat, ratio of fat to meat, and the shape of the cut. The colour of the meat varies from pink to dark red according to the cut, age, breed, and gender of the cow, and whether the beef is fresh or dry aged. Aging beef enhances the flavour of the beef, although it costs more as the meat will have lost some of its water weight which they make up for in the price. Beef should be aged for no less than 2 weeks. The colour of the fat varies from white, if the beef was grain fed, to yellow, if the beef was grass-fed.
Every part of Italy divides the cow up into different cuts with varying names. This creates a lot of confusion as one can imagine. The cuts and names given above are for the nationally named and recognised cuts in Italy.
Here are the nationally defined cuts of beef according to the Associazione Italiana Allevatori:
These are the most prized cuts of beef which are tender and easy to cook:
1 Full Loin (Lombata / Costata) – less tender than the fillet, good for steaks, bistecca fiorentina (Fiorentina steak), rare roast beef, or grilling
2. Fillet (Filetto) – this is the most tender but not most flavourful part of the cow, good for steaks, steak tartar, larding and roasting, or grilling
3. Topside (Fesa) – good for roast beef, grilled steaks, cutlets, and steak tartar
4. Thick flank (Noce) – a prized cut of beef good for escalopes, slices, steaks, and roasting
5. Tri-tip steak (Fianchetto) – a small triangular cut of beef above the thick flank, very tender and flavourful cut, suitable for rare steaks
6. Rump (Scamone) – a cut which needs to be cooked quickly, so it is good for large roasts and steaks or can be larded and braised
7. Top round (Sottofesa) – good for boiling or larded and braised
8. Silverside (Girello / Magatello) – good for steaks, escalopes, roast beef, braising, or carpaccio
9. Leg (Campanello / Pesce) – used for stews, pot roasts, and boiling. The outside part of the cut, once free from connective tissues, can be used as steak.
10. Shin (Muscolo posteriore / Geretto) – rich in connective tissues so is best for slow cooking such as braising (osso buco) and stewing; the knuckle is good for making gelatin
These are the firm and compact cuts:
11. Shank (Muscolo anteriore) – rich in connective tissues so is best for slow cooking, good for braising and stewing; the knuckle is good for making gelatin
12. Blade (Copertina di sotto) – is flavourful and tender, good for steaks and roulades
13. Arm clod (Fesone di spalla)- a large and lean cut good for steaks, roulades, cutlets, and roasts
14. Chuck (Copertina) – a cut with some cartiledge suitable for braising, stewing, and boiling
15. Top clod (Girello di spalla / Fusello) – lean cut of beef which should be larded before cooking; suitable for braising, stewing, roasting, and pan-frying
16. Shoulder (Polpo di spalla) – suitable for slow cooking such as braising or stewing
17. Neck (Collo)- a cut with lots of connective tissue so it needs to be boiled for a long time to be tender and flavourful; suitable for boiling, mincing, and stewing
18. Rib (Costate) – this is a tender and flavourful cut suitable for roast beef, chops, grilling, and pan frying
19. Flank / Middle rib (Pancia / Biancostato)- a flat and elongated cut with good flavour suitable for soup, stocks, boiling, braising, stews, and meatballs
20. Brisket (Petto) – a fatty and flavourful cut suitable for baking, stewing, or boiling (particularly the part towards the neck) although it should not be cooked too long and should remain pink inside
21. Chuck (Sottospalla / Cappello del prete) – suitable for braising and stewing
22. Chuck (Reale) – lean, flavourful meat suited to slow cooking such as boiling and making broth
Store: Beef should be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator at 5˚C on a tray to catch any drips. Meat should be unwrapped and stored, lightly wrapped in parchment paper or aluminium foil in the refrigerator as an airtight container may promote bacterial growth. It should be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so it doesn’t contaminate other food. Cuts of beef should be eaten within 3 to 5 days of purchase and minced beef within a day of purchase. If your time requirement is longer than this then the beef can be frozen at – 18˚C and then thawed in the refrigerator (6 to 7 hours per 450 gms), or in a sealed bag immersed in cold water until thawed. Cuts of beef can be stored, well-sealed in thick freezer bags, in the freezer for 6 to 12 months and minced beef for up to 3 months. If the meat begins to show signs of grey, white or brown patches on the meat, it is developing freezer burn and is dehydrating. It is still edible but it will be dry and not taste nice. Organ meats such as liver, brain, tripe, and sweetbreads are more highly perishable and should be consumed within a week of slaughter or purchased frozen.
Prepare: Remove the packaging, rinse the beef under cold water, dry on paper towels, and prepare according to the recipe. Steaks and roasts are often prepared rare in Italy (so the meat is not completely cooked and is pink). Beef is considered rare (al sangue) at 51˚C and will be very pink inside, medium (a punto) at 60 to 65˚C and will be slightly pink inside, and 70˚C is considered well done (ben cotto) and will have no sign of pink. The meat should be removed 2 to 3 degrees below this temperature however as it will continue to cook after being removed from the heat. Overcooked steaks and roast will turn to leather. Stewed, braised, and boiled beef are always completely cooked.
Eat: Beef can be braised (brasato and arrosto), roasted, grilled (bistecca alla fiorentina), stewed (coda alla vaccinara, garofolato, and stufato), or boiled (bollito misto). It can also be minced and added to sauces (ragù alla bolognese), meatballs, or meatloaves.
Beet / Beetroot (Barbabietola / Rapa rossa) (Beta vulgaris)
Beets are a winter root vegetable with a pleasantly sweet and earthy flavour. Beets are very beautiful and come in hues of purple-red, red, yellow, and orange. The root can be round or elongated. The leaves are eaten more frequently in Italian cooking and salads. Beets are in season from July to November and can be kept through the winter. The best varieties in Italy are Nera piatta d’Egitto, Chioggia, and Ossa cilindrica.
Buy: Choose beets with their greens attached so you can verify their freshness. If this is not possible, try to buy beets with at least 5cm of stalk attached so that their colour stays intact during cooking. Beetroot should be firm, regularly shaped, unwithered, and free from holes and black marks. They should have a long tipped whispy end where the tip of the root is and ideally be around 5cm in diameter or less. The smaller the beet, the more tender it is. Irregularly shaped beets are often due to bolting and will be woody, tough and bitter. Jarred or tinned beets do not compare to fresh ones, especially when freshly roasted at home.
Store: If the greens are attached to the beet, then cut them off about 5cm from the root. See beet greens below for more details. Beets are best kept in a dry, cool place unpeeled and loosely wrapped, for up to 3 weeks. Cut the greens off and reserve separately, wrapped and refrigerated.
Prepare: Beets must be cooked until tender otherwise they can be bitter. They should not be overcooked as they become mushy. They are best when roasted as it concentrates their flavor. Cookeing them with their skins on preserves their colour. They can be peeled afterwards.
Eat: Beets can be roasted, baked, boiled, steamed, pickled, and grated raw for salad. They pair well with onions, apples, olive oil, butter, lemon, orange, mustard, capers, parsley, rosemary, and garlic.
Beet greens (Barbabietola / Rapa rossa) (Beta vulgaris)
Substitutes: spinach or chard
This is the top leafy part of the beetroot which is green with streaks of red. The greens are delicious and are not so much sweet as slightly nutty in flavour. I love beet greens in savoury tarts such as torta verde. They are similar to chard, or spinach. They have a thick texture and mild flavour.
Buy: Choose greens which are tender looking (small bunches with small, bright green leaves and thin ribs) as older leaves can be chewy. The leaves should be bright green and unblemished and free from holes, yellowing, withering, rot, or brown marks. Although even if the leaves are withered and yellowing, the root is still good to eat.
Store: The greens are best used within a day of purchase and can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Wash thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Discard any yellow or rotting leaves. If the leaves are wider than the length of your fingers, cut the leaves from the ribs and prepare according to the recipe.
Eat: Beet greens can be used interchangeably with chard or spinach. Beet greens are also used in pastas and pies (torta verde) and are well suited to slow braising. Baby beet greens are used in salads.
Bell pepper – See Pepper
Belon – See Oyster
Bergamot – See Orange
Bianchetti – See Fish: Whitebait
Bianchetto – See Truffle
Bieta – See Chard
Bietola – See Chard
Biga – See Yeast
Bilberry – See Blueberry
Bisato – See Fish: Eel
Black peppercorn (Pepe nero) (Piper nigrum)
Black pepper is a spice. It is the sun-dried berry of the pepper vine that comes in whole corns. The black peppercorn is round, hard, and wrinkly with a spicy, pronounced flavour. When stripped of the outer shell, dried, and ground, this pepper then becomes the white pepper known more commonly in China. Black pepper is more pronounced in flavour and is spicier than white peppercorn. Pepper has preservative properties which is why it is often used in making salumi.
Buy: Buy in small quantities and use the whole peppercorn, rather than the pre-ground pepper. Invest in a pepper grinder to freshly grind the pepper as the flavour of the pepper diminishes rapidly once ground. Black peppercorns should be uniform in colour, aromatic, hard, and free from dust. The best black pepper is grown in Mangalore and Malabar, India and Sumatra, Indonesia. The best varieties are Tellicherry and Lampung.
Store: Store in a cool, dark, dry place in an airtight container.
Prepare: Use as per the recipe, but typically you can just grind directly from the pepper grinder. Otherwise you can use a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder, or chop and crush finely with a large knife.
Eat: A spice regularly used in Italian cooking, particularly in making soups, with meat, beans (fagioli al fiasco) and pastas (alla carbonara and cacio pepe). It is often used to top salads and pastas which do not have cheese as a topping (such as pastas that contain fish or shellfish). Black pepper can be used as a preservative so is used in cured meats such as ham, pancetta, etc.
Blackberry (Mora) (Rubus fruticosus)
These are dark purple berries which are a grouping of sacs filled with juice and seeds. Blackberries are fruit which are in season at the end of the summer and beginning of the autumn with the peak months being July and August. They are rich in vitamin B1, vitamin C, and minerals. The best varieties are the American black satin and thornfree.
Buy: Blackberries tend to be wild and are available frozen or fresh. Buy fresh blackberries which are soft to touch, dry, plump, shiny, black, and free from mould or bruising. They should not be shrivelled, dried out, or mouldy. Blackberries can be black and still be sour so check to ensure they are ripe by touching to see if they are soft. They should not have the stem attached or have any redness to them or they will not be ripe. There should not be juice in the packaging as the berries will be damaged and then very quickly mould. Turn over the packaging to check the bottom for any juice or mould. If you buy berries loose, then package them in smaller packages of 200 grams each so that the weight of the berries don’t crush the ones on bottom.
Store: Berries mould very quickly so they should be used as soon as purchased. The berries should be placed on trays lined with paper towels so that they are not touching each other in a single layer and placed in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Throw away any soft berries as they will mould quickly. Otherwise, they can be rinsed and frozen on trays lined with parchment paper. Once frozen, they can be sealed in bags and kept in the freezer.
Prepare: Rinse with cold water, pat dry, and use whole.
Eat: Blackberries are always included in any “woodland fruit” (ai frutti di bosco) preparation. They are eaten on their own after lunch together with strawberries and raspberries. They also pair well with peaches, apples, pouring cream, whipping cream, or cream flavoured gelato. Blackberries are used in tarts, pies, dumplings, cakes, candies, fruit salads, jams, syrups, gelato, sorbet, and to decorate biscuits. Normally the first berries of the season are used to make mixed bowls of berries and later in the season they are used for baking, gelato, jams, and syrups.
Bleak- See Fish: Bleak
Blood orange – See Orange
Blueberry / Bilberry (Mirtillo) (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Blueberries are a fruit which can be wild or cultivated. In Italy there are wild blueberries which are blue, black, and red. Cultivated blueberries are always blue with a silvery bloom and are much larger than wild ones although have less flavour. Blueberries are a fruit which are in season from late spring through summer. There are many varieties of blueberries which range in intensity of flavour but at the store they are rarely labelled.
Buy: Buy blueberries which are plump but not hard. Don’t buy blueberries which are shrivelled, have soft spots, are broken, mouldy, or have juice in the packaging. Smell them to make sure there is no spoilage. Make sure to look at the bottom of the packing for signs of spoilage. If they are bought loose, only package 200 grams at a time to ensure they don’t crush each other.
Store: They can be kept spread on a sheet pan in in the refrigerator for up to a week (discard any mouldy berries).
Prepare: Rinse in cold water and remove any stems. Discard and mouldy or shrivelled berries.
Eat: Blueberries are eaten in Italy fresh with gelato or semifreddo or made into gelato, drinks, jellies, jams (confettura di mirtilli), or in desserts (crostata di mirtilli, torta di mirtilli). They pair well with lemon.
Bluefish- See Fish: Bluefish
Boga – See Fish: Bogue
Bogue – See Fish: Bogue
Bolete– See Mushroom: Porcini
Boletus of the steppes – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Bondella– See Fish: Whitefish, European
Borlotti bean – See Bean
Bosega – See Fish: Grey mullet
Boston lobster – See Lobster
Bottarga – See Fish: Grey mullet
Bovino – See Beef
Branzino – See Fish: Sea bass
Every area in Italy has different bread and there are more than 1,000 types of bread in Italy. It is probably one of the most discussed foods in Italy. If an Italian moves from one area to another, one of the things they miss the most will be the bread they grew up on. Ordinary bread (pane comune) uses only wheat flour, water, salt, and a rising agent whereas special bread (pane speciale) can have other ingredients or different flour. Breads can be made with whole wheat flour, white flour, semolina (in the south), cornmeal, or rye flour (in the north) mixed with water, a rising agent, and usually salt. They can be flavoured with olives, nuts, cheese, onion, herbs, fruit, honey, or meat. Typical bread shapes are long, round, wreath, rolls, disks, flattened, thin threads, tile, and braid. There are many special shapes used for festive breads.
Buy: The best bread is bought from a bakery which has a special bread oven. Home ovens cannot replicate the effect of these commercial ovens, although very nice bread can be made at home. Historically much of the bread was made at home but then taken to a communal oven to be baked properly.
Store: Store bread in a cool, dry place. It should be consumed as soon as purchased although some types of bread can last 1 to 2 days.
Prepare: No special preparation is needed. If the bread was not purchased that day, it will improve after being warmed in the oven or toasted.
Eat: Bread can be eaten at any time with every type of food. Bread is eaten for breakfast and at lunch and dinner as a starter like bruschetta or crostini, served in soups and salads, made into dumplings (canederli), ground and sprinkled over pastas, used in stuffings, and even dessert (torta nicolotta). Stale breads can be used for salads (panzanella), soups (pappa col pomodoro, pancotto, and ribollita), dressed and served (pancotto), and made into breadcrumbs (see below).
Here are the superstar breads of Italy:
Ciabatta means slipper because the bread is shaped like a slipper with a rounded side rectangular low loaf. Ciabattas have a thin crispy crust and are typically made without salt. They originate from Toscana but now can be found throughout Italy. It was traditionally made once a week and is baked directly on the oven floor free form (no tin). It has large irregular holes inside. Stale ciabatta is used in salads and soups as it can be soaked thoroughly and then squeezed without disintegrating.
Focaccia is a dimpled, fluffy yeasted bread infused with olive oil and has a range of toppings or fillings to choose from such as onions (focaccia con le cipolle / sardenaria), potatoes, tomato, cheese (focaccia di Recco), olives, rosemary, sage, eggs, walnuts, anchovies, pork cracklings, lard, and oregano. It is baked in the oven on large metal baking tin or in discs. Focaccia is from Liguria but enjoyed throughout Italy, typically eaten as a snack or starter.
Grissini are long thin breadsticks with a fine, crunchy texture from Piemonte. Freshly handmade grissini are incomparable to factory produced grissini. They are made from flour, water, and salt. There also exist versions with whole wheat, olive oil, butter, seeds, cheese, spinach, pancetta, onion, fennel, or herbs. Grissini are eaten with drinks, with starters, or with a meal instead of bread. Grissini are often sold prepackaged with quality varying widely. They should be stored well-sealed in a dry place (but not in a plastic bag).
Rosemary bread (Pan di ramerino/Panmarino)
This Tuscan bread is flavoured with sugar, raisins, olive oil, and rosemary and was typically eaten at Easter. Now it is eaten throughout the year. Traditionally pan di ramerino are bread rolls, nowadays there is also a rosemary loaf known as panmarino.
Rye bread (Pane Nero)
Pane nero is a bread made with rye flour from Valle d’Aosta. It is quite hearty and spicy.
Schiacciata means squashed because the bread is flat. The dough has been squashed with a spoon and sprinkled with olive oil and salt after it has been baked. It is generally a variation on focaccia. There is also a crisp bread called schiacciata or schiacciatina which is paper thin and salted, sometimes flavoured with herbs. There is also a sweet version of the fluffier schiacciata using grapes called schiacchiata con l’uva which is traditionally made in the autumn. Both versions are traditionally Tuscan. It is said that historically schiacciata was the last bread to be baked in the oven.
Breadcrumbs (Mollica di pane)
Equivalents: 1 cup of breadcrumbs = 50 grams
Breadcrumbs can be made from fresh and stale bread alike, depending on what a recipe specifically calls for. Bread is never left for waste in Italy and resurfaces again and again in different dishes.
Buy: You can also buy bags of dried breadcrumbs. I prefer the ones with a larger crumb but this is a matter of preference.
Store: Fresh breadcrumbs should be used immediately. Dried breadcrumbs can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place.
Prepare: To make fresh breadcrumbs, cut the white bread into slices, remove the crust and then cut the interior of the bread into cubes and then chop them even smaller by hand with a large knife, in a food processor, or grate them.
To make dried breadcrumbs, put your stale bread into an oven set to 75˚C until it is dry and golden in colour. Place it inside a clean plastic bag or a cloth and pound it with the side of a knife or a mallet or roll it with a rolling pin until they make crumbs. You can filter out the bigger pieces through a mesh and pound the large pieces again.
Breadcrumbs are generally soaked in water, milk or broth prior to using for stuffings, meat balls, and meatloaves.
Eat: Breadcrumbs are used to bread and fry meat and vegetables, used in stuffings, made into dumplings (minestra mariconda, passatelli, and minestra del paradiso), soup (stracciatelle), fried with flavourings and used to top pastas and risotto in place of cheese, and used in meatballs and meatloaves, etc. They add crunch to a dish when needed and help more cohesively bind meat dishes while softening the texture.
Breadsticks – See Bread
Bresaola is a cured meat from Lombardia. It can be made from one of five cuts of beef (also horse although quite rare), often the fillet, which has been lighty salted, either dry cured with aromatics or marinated in wine and aromatics, and aged for two to three months.
Store: Store wrapped securely in wax paper in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Slice thinly.
Eat: It is eaten as a starter, dressed with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and lemon juice which is left to infuse for an hour before eating. More mature bresaola can be dressed with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and thinly sliced onion or spring onion.
Brill – See Fish: Brill
Brisaola – See Bresaola
Bottatrice – See Fish: Burbot
Broad Bean – See Bean
Broccoletti / Broccoli raab / Sprouting broccoli / Turnip tops
(Broccoletti / Broccoli raab / Rapini / Friarielli / Cavolo broccolo ramoso / Cime di rapa)
(Brassica rapa subsp. Sylvestris var. esculenta)
Broccoli raab is a vegetable which is actually the leafy greens of the turnip. The flavour of turnip tops is more bitter than Calabrian broccoli. The stalks and leaves are similar to gai lan which has long stems. They are in season from spring through summer, although some varieties are in season during the winter.
Buy: Turnip tops should be young, tender leaves and unopen flowers of the turnip plant. The stalks should be as thin as possible and the leaves tender.
Store: Turnip tops can be kept for 1 day in the refrigerator but are best consumed upon purchasing.
Prepare: Remove the leaves from the stems and discard any damaged, yellow, or tough leaves. Rinse the leaves in cold water. Peel the inner stalk and use the chop the white part inside.
Eat: Turnip tops can be cooked just with their washing water attached but then have a stronger, bitterer flavour. Instead, if they are boiled in salted water, strained, and shocked in cold water, they become sweet. Turnip tops are often boiled in salted water and dressed with olive oil and vinegar or lemon. They are typically served as a side dish (such as broccoletti gratinati friarielli ala napoletana, and broccoletti di rapa affogati alla pugliese). Turnip tops pair well with fried or stewed with garlic, olive oil, and chilli, gratineed, cooked with tomato, or cooked with wine and then used to dress pasta or flavour cooked bread.
Broccoli (Broccoli / Cavolo broccoli ramoso) (Broccoli oleracea italica forma cimosa)
or Broccolini / Tenderstem broccoli (Broccolini) (Brassica oleracea)
or Romanesco broccoli (Cavolo broccolo / Broccoli Romanesco / Romanesco) (Broccoli oleracea italica forma caput / Brassica oleracea italica forma cimosa)
Equivalent: 1 medium head of broccoli = 500 grams
Broccoli is a vegetable which is part of the cabbage family and comes in many forms in Italy. Broccoli in Italy can be green, pink, or purple (in Calabria and Sicilia) or white. It has many different regional names but typically is consumed in the south. Broccolo in some regions, such as Sicilia, even means cauliflower. Broccoli is full of vitamins A and C, calcium, and phosphorus.
Buy: Broccoli flowers should be dry, firm, closed tightly and not have started to open and show petals. The leaves should be brightly-coloured and fresh looking. Broccoli heads should not have yellow flower buds or any sign of yellowing. The florets should snap cleanly and the buds should be juicy and firm. You can prick the stalk with your fingernail to ensure it is crunchy in texture but not hard.
Broccoli / Calabrian broccoli (Cavolo broccoli ramose / Broccoletti) (Brassica oleracea italic forma cimosa) is the most common type known in the West. It resembles a tree with a large green head. Broccoli is harvested from September until December.
Broccolini / Tenderstem broccoli (Broccolini) (Brassica oleracea) is a hybrid of Calabrian broccoli and kai-lan. It has long, thin stalks and dark green florets similar to Calabrian broccoli florets on the ends. It is sold until the spring.
Romanesco broccoli (Cavolo broccoli / Broccoli romanesco / Romanesco) (Brassica oleracea italic forma caput) is a yellow-green variety with pointy, compact florets whose texture more closely resembles cauliflower. It is a winter broccoli which is harvested from December to March. The most common varieties of romanesco broccoli are Bronzino di Albenga, Precoce di Verona, Grosso romanesco, and Violetto di Sicilia.
Store: Broccoli can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Prepare: Broccoli should be washed well and soaked for half an hour in cold water to remove any insects and sand. Cut off the hard bottom end of the stalk. The florets of the broccoli should be removed from the stem with a paring knife and should be further broken into similar sized pieces. The stem can be peeled (with leaves removed and discarded), chopped or sliced, and cooked. Broccoli can be steamed or sautéed but should be bright green when cooked. Care should be taken not to overcook broccoli as it turns dark green, goes limp, and develops an unpleasant smell.
Eat: Broccoli can be eaten raw or cooked (steamed, sautéed, or boiled). Broccoli is eaten on its own in a side dish, on pizza with sausage, used in soups, or is incorporated into a pasta dish like orecchiette and broccoli. Broccoli pairs well with garlic, chilli, olive oil, butter, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, olives, capers, marjoram, parsley, and oregano.
Broccoli raab – See Broccoletti
Broccolini – See Broccoli
Bronzino, fungo – See Mushroom: Porcini
Brown mushroom – See mushroom: Button
Bubbot – See Fish: Burbot
Burbot – See Fish: Burbot
Burrata – See Cheese
Burro – See Butter
Butter (Burro / Manteca)
Equivalents: 1 cup butter = 230 grams
1 “uovo” (egg) of butter = 30-40 grams
1 “noce” (nut) of butter = 20 grams
Butter is the fat which separates out when churning or centrifuging the cream of a cow. It is more frequently used in the north than in the rest of Italy. Butter contains vitamins A and D but also contains high levels of cholesterol so should be eaten in small amounts.
Buy: Butter comes salted or unsalted. Unsalted is generally preferable as it must be sold as fresh as possible without the salt to help preserve it. Salt also masks the flavour of butter which has begun to sour and lowers the temperature at which butter begins to burn. In Italy butter is required to have a minimum of 82% fat content. Make sure when you purchase the butter that it is solid, smooth, and there are no signs that the butter has melted and then solidified. There should be no visible moisture. It should be evenly light yellow in colour. The best butter should be sweet and delicate in flavour, similar to cream.
Store: Butter should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container as foods with strong odours will transfer their flavour to the butter. Follow the expiration date on the packaging. It can also be frozen to preserve it longer.
Prepare: Butter can be used raw for eating or dressing food, room temperature for baking, melted for baking and dressing food, or used to fry or sauté. Butter melts at 28 to 33˚C and burns at 130˚C (unless the fat solids are separated out, called “clarified butter”, in which case it has a smoking point of 250˚C).
Eat: Butter is eaten raw, spread on bread and used to dress risotto, pasta, and boiled vegetables. It is melted and served with boiled fish, seafood, and vegetables. Browned butter is used to dress pan-fried meat, cutlets, and some fish. Butter can be mixed with oil when cooking to benefit from the flavour of the butter while the oil prevents the butter from burning.
Button mushroom – See Mushroom: Button
Cabbage (Cavolo / Verza / Cavolo verza / Cavolo nero) (Brassica oleracea)
Equivalent: a small cabbage weighs about 1.3 to 1.4 kilos and yields 6 to 8 cups
Cabbage is a vegetable with mainly three varieties in Italy: white cabbage (cavolo cappuccio), Savoy cabbage (cavolo verza), and black cabbage / Tuscan cabbage (cavolo nero). Cabbage is rich in Vitamin C and minerals but loses some of its nutritional content when cooked.
Buy: Look for cabbage which feels solid and heavy for its size and has tight, crisp, blemish-free leaves. The cabbage should not appear puffy, have a split end, be dry, slimy, or woody. The heart of the cabbage should be compact, unless they are spring cabbages and have not developed a heart yet. Summer cabbages may have leaves which are more open than the winter varieties. It is best to buy whole heads of cabbage as they begin to lose their nutritional value once cut.
Store: Cabbage can be kept for weeks in the refrigerator but the nutritive values degrade rapidly. It is best to keep it for 1 to 2 days (particularly once cut) wrapped in the refrigerator drawer.
Prepare: Cut the cabbage into quarters and discard the tough, blemished, outer leaves. Cut out the hard heart and discard. Do not overcook cabbage or it will become sulphurous. The briefer the cooking time the better.
Eat: Cabbage pairs best with olive oil, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, horseradish, mustard, marjoram, sage, apples, lemon, potatoes, and buckwheat.
White cabbage / Dutch head cabbages (Cavolo cappuccio) (Brassica oleracea var. Capitata)
Buy: White cabbage can actually be green, white, or red in colour. It has smooth leaves which are tightly packed around a large heart. White cabbage can be round or conical (summer varieties). The leaves are crunchy but become tender when cooked.
Prepare: White cabbages have tightly wrapped leaves which rip when separated so it is best to cut in quarters, discard the outer leaves, cut into strips, and then wash the leaves. Cut out the hard heart and discard. Red varieties should be cut with a stainless steel knife or will turn blue and they take longer to cook than the green varieties.
Eat: The red coloured varieties of white cabbage lose their colour when cooked unless a bit of vinegar is added when cooking. White cabbage can be eaten raw in salads (ancioada) or cooked. It is stuffed (gaggette pinn-e), preserved (crauti), steamed, braised, stewed (verze soffegae), sautéed (capuzi in tecia and cappucci e cicorie), or boiled (cavolo rosso stufato, pecora e cavoli, and piedini di maiale con cavolo). Cabbage is used in soups (tognaque), pastas, rice dishes, and is served on its own as a side dish.
Savoy cabbage (Cavolo verza) (Brassica oleracea var. bullata subar. Sabauda)
Buy: Savoy is a green cabbage with loosely-packed, bumpy leaves primarily found in northern Italy. Some varieties have a shade of blue to them. Savoy cabbage is more prized than white cabbage as it has a delicate flavour and is tender thus requiring less cooking. Frozen cabbages (verze gelate) which have frozen outer leaves and a tender heart are considered a delicacy. Smaller varieties such as the Precocissimo d’Asti are harvested in the summer while the larger varieties such as Tardivo di Milano and Testa di ferro are harvested in the autumn and winter.
Prepare: Savoy cabbage is easier to separate the leaves so you can discard the outer leaves, then pull off the individual leaves, and discard the hard heart. Wash the individual leaves and then cut as per the recipe.
Eat: It is cooked primarily in soups (minestrone, riso e vere, zuppa di cavoli alla canavesana, and seupa vapellenentze), stews (casoeûla, coda di valdostana, and castagne e verze), is stuffed (caponet, valigini, and involtini di verza), is served as a side dish (verze offegae, pipeto, and verze imbricate) , or can be cooked with goose (such as oca con le verze), sausages (such as verze e luganega), or tripe (such as trippa con le verze). It can be steamed, braised, or sautéed.
Black cabbage (Cavolo nero / Cavolo toscano) (Brassica oleracea var. acefala subvar. Viridis serotina)
Buy: Black cabbage has long, dark green, bumpy leaves with curly tips and no heart. Black cabbage is harvested in the autumn and winter and is most popular in central Italy.
Prepare: Pull the leaves away from the base, discarding any damaged leaves. Discard the heart and wash the leaves. Prepare the leaves as per the recipe.
Eat: Black cabbage is best in soups (ribollita, zuppa frantoiana, bordatino, and riso e cavolo sul lampredotto), with polenta (arbada and farinata con le leghe), sautéed, boiled, steamed, and stewed (feta col cavolo nero).
Caesar’s mushroom – See Mushroom: Caesar’s mushroom
Calabrese – See Orange
Calamari – See Squid
Calamaro – See Squid
Calamita- See Fish: Grey mullet
Cannelli Beans – See Beans
Canocchia – See Prawn
Cantaloupe – See Melon
Cantalupo – See Melon
Cantarello, fungo – See Mushroom: Chantrelle
Cantaro – See Fish: Sea bream, black
Cappasanta – See Scallops
Caper (Càppero) (Capparis spinosa)
Capers are the flowering buds of a plant that grows wild on the coast in Italy. It is one of the most ancient of flavourings in the Mediterranean.
Buy: The best capers are the small ones as they have the most intense flavour. Capers are sold in vinegar, salted, or brined. The best are said to come from the island of Pantelleria in Sicilia.
Store: Store in a cool, dry cupboard.
Prepare: If you are using capers soaked in vinegar or brine, then rinse them in cold water, dry, and then use. If you are using salted capers then soak them in cold water for a few minutes, rinse with cold water, dry, and use. Capers are used as a flavouring, added to dishes at the end of cooking so they don’t lose their flavour and develop a bitter taste.
Cappellaccio, fungo – See Mushroom: Button
Cappelletti– See Pasta: Pasta Fresca
Càppero – See Caper
Caprino cheese – See Cheese: Caprino
Capisco – See Chilli
Capone – See Fish: Gurnard, tub
Carabinero – See Prawn
Carciofo – See Artichoke
Cardarella, fungo – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Cardarello, fungo – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Cardoncello, fungo – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Carlino– See Fish: Sea bream, white
Carne bovina – See Beef
Carota – See Carrot
Carrot (Carota) (Daucus carota var. sativus)
Equivalent: 1 medium carrot = 100 grams = 4/5 cup chopped carrot
Carrots are a very old vegetable, eaten in Europe for almost 2,000 years. They are a root vegetable that grow long to a point although there are round ball shaped varieties. Carrots are typically orange but can be red, white, purple, or yellow. Different varieties of carrots are in season in different times of the year but carrots are harvested year-round. They are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and Vitamin A (carotene converts to vitamin A). Carrots are used to treat dermatitis and make cosmetic products.
Buy: Carrots can be cylindrical or conical in shape. It should be straight with a single point and free from wrinkles, black marks, holes, or soft spots. It is best to buy carrots with the greens still attached so you can see how fresh they are. In any case they should be slender (no more than 3 to 4 cm in diameter), hard, not withered, without black marks or any evidence of additional roots trying to grow from them. The more slender the carrot, the less likely to have a large central core which is woody in texture. Cracks in the carrot will also indicate a woody core. The length of the carrot is determined by the age and variety. Long carrots can be up to 30cm, medium-long carrots are 8 to 15cm, and short carrots are 4 to 7cm in length. The more intense the colour, the better the flavour. Carrots can also be sold frozen or preserved in vinegar.
Store: If you bought carrots with the leaves attached then cut the leaves and discard as they will drain the root to stay fresh. You can keep the carrots wrapped in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Do not store carrots together with apples and pears or else the carrots will deteriorate more quickly.
Prepare: If the carrots are very small, then they need only be washed. Larger carrots should be washed, peeled, and the ends removed. If the carrots are very large then the centre woody part should be removed. Cut according to the recipe.
Eat: Carrots can be eaten raw or cooked. Tender young carrots only need about 7 minutes to cook. Carrot, celery, and onion finely diced are combined with some other ingredients and are called battuto or soffrito (depending on the mixture) and often form the base for many Italian dishes, particularly soups, stews, marinades, and boiled, stewed, and braised meats. Carrots are a necessary ingredient in broth, salads, and pinzimonio. Carrots are cut into rounds, julienne, batons, or puréed. They can be boiled (in bollito misto), steamed, roasted, marinated, sautéed, or stewed and are a good accompaniment to white meat and fish. A little grated carrot can be added to a tomato sauce if it is too acidic. Carrots can also be used in moulds, pies, and cakes (torta di carote). Carrots pair well with butter, olive oil, mint, chilli, mustard, and honey.
Carp – See Fish: Carp
Carpa – See Fish: Carp
Carpione – See Fish: Carpione
Castrato – See Sheep
Catalogna – See Chicory
Catfish – See Fish: Catfish
Caustelo- See Fish: Grey mullet
Cavolo – See Cabbage
Cavolo broccoli – See Broccoli
Cavolo broccolo – See Broccoli
Cavolo cappuccio – See Cabbage
Cavolo nero – See Cabbage
Cavolo toscano – See Cabbage
Cavolo verza – See Cabbage
Cece – See Bean
Cefalo – See Fish: Grey mullet
Celery (Sedano) (Apium graveolens)
Celery is a vegetable which grows in long concentric rounded stalks around a base with green leaves at the top. The leaves and the root can also be eaten. It is in season all year-round. Celery is rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and vitamin A. Varieties include: Verde a canna pienna which is large, Bianco Pieno which is medium sized, Pieno Pascal, d’Elna verde, and Dorato d’Asti.
Buy: Celery has a strong flavour. The celery stalks should be crunchy, firm, and fresh and be light green or whitish. Dark green stalks will be stringier. The leaves should look fresh, the centre more light coloured, unblemished, and not withered. Celery should have no brown spots and the top of the celery where it has been cut will indicate how long the celery has been sitting around. Don’t buy celery with withered brown tops. The stalks should be straight, compact, and well-trimmed. White celery is deprived of light when grown to make it more tender, crunchy, and sweet. It can also have a yellow or pink hue.
Store: Celery should be wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Do not let the celery get too cold or it will get damaged. If the celery has started to go limp, you can cut the base, wrap it in moistened paper, and soak the end in water. Limp celery can still be used in stock.
Prepare: Remove the ribs you need from the base, discarding any damaged ones. Wash the celery well. If you are using the celery to feed children or in a salad, snap one end and pull down to remove the string. Cut both ends off and cut the celery as required for the recipe.
Eat: White celery is typically eaten raw in salad, with cheese, on its own, in pinzimonio or with bagna cauda. Green celery is typically braised, fried, or blanched. Celery, carrot, and onion finely diced are combined with some other ingredients and are called battuto or soffrito (depending on the mixture) and often form the base for many Italian dishes, particularly soups. Celery is typically cooked but may also be used in pinzimonio. It can be an accompaniment to red meat.
Cep– See Mushroom: Porcini
Cerignola – See Olive
Ceriolo – See Chicory
Cernia – See Fish: Grouper
Cervellata – See Sausages
Cervellatine – See Sausages
Champignon di Parigi – See Mushroom: Button
Chantrelle mushroom – See Mushroom: Chantrelle
Char – See Fish: Char, arctic
Chard / Swiss Chard (Erbetta / Bieta / Bietola / Costa) (Beta vulgaris var. cycla)
Equivalent: the yield varies depending how large the heavy ribs are: 1 kilo chard leaves = 27 cups; 1 kilo ribs = 9 cups of chopped ribs
Substitute: spinach or beet greens
Chard is a leafy vegetable which can have white, yellow, or red ribs with green leaves. Chard can be grown for its ribs or its leaves (erbetta) depending on the variety. It is in season from May until November. There is also wild chard (bietola selvatica/bietolina) which has very small ribs. Chard is rich in Vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus. It also has some iron. Varieties include Vere a costa larga argentata which have large ribs and Bionda di Lione.
Buy: Chard should have bright green leaves and clean smooth ribs free from holes, brown or yellow marks, and wilting. Chard may have large or small leaves. Smaller leaves will always be tender and cook quickly.
Store: Chard is best eaten fresh so that the vitamins are optimal. Otherwise, place in a plastic bag in the bottom of the refrigerator at 5 to 6˚C for a couple of days.
Prepare: Wash well in several changes of cold water and dry thoroughly and cut off the ends. If the chard leaves are small and the ribs are tender then they may be cooked together. Otherwise the ribs need to be cut out of the leaf. If the ribs are very fibrous then the fibers need to be pulled out by snapping the end off and pulling down along the rib to remove the strings. Cut ends and strings can be used in making vegetable stock. The ribs can then be chopped and boiled or braised separately from the leaves as their cooking time is longer. The red variety may stain red the other food is cooked with.
Eat: Chard may be eaten raw or cooked. I much prefer it cooked. The leaves are typically boiled and dressed, sautéed, steamed, braised, baked, or added to soups, stews, stuffed pastas, and savoury pies (erbazzone). Chard pairs well with olive oil, butter, saffron, garlic, chilli, lemon, vinegar, tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas, pasta, and eggs.
There are hundreds of cheeses in Italy. Cheese has been produced in Italy since ancient times and from the 5th Century, Sicilia has been well-known for its cheeses.
Buy: Cheeses come in all different types. Some cheeses, particularly soft, creamy cheeses, have mouldy rinds which are part of the cheese’s intended character. Additionally, some cheeses are purposefully veined with mould such as blue cheeses like Gorgonzola and Castelmagno. Note that fresh cheeses such as Mozzarella, Mascarpone, and Ricotta are technically categorised as a “latticino” rather than a real cheese although I have included them here. Here is a list of the typical variations in cheeses. Each cheese will be unique in terms of which characteristics it has. The Slow Food guide to Italian Cheeses divides the categories up as follows:
Milk: cow (vacchino), ewe (pecorino), goat (caprino), buffalo (bufalino), or mixed (latte misto)
Fat content: fat (42% or above), semi-fat (20-42%), or low-fat (20% or below)
Water content: hard (less than 40% water), semi-hard (40-45% water), or soft (45-60% water)
Cheese-making technology: uncooked (curd cut but not cooked), semi-cooked (curd cut and cooked at less than 48˚C), cooked (curd cut and cooked at 48 to 56˚C), stretched curd (curd ripens in acid whey for a few hours and stretched by hand), pressed curd (pressure placed on cheese for 1 to 24 hours to remove whey), blue or veined (blue or green mould formed in veins either naturally or having been introduced), bloomy rind (white microflora induced mould forms on the rind), and washed rind (outer rind washed with brine or water and alcohol, particularly used for soft cheeses).
Maturing period: fresh (to be consumed immediately), briefly matured (matured for up to one month), medium matured (matured for 1 to 6 months), and slowly matured (matured for more than 6 months)
Store: Cheese will continue to mature after you take it home. Fresh cheeses should be eaten as soon as purchased as they were not meant to mature and will spoil. Cheese should be wrapped individually in parchment paper and then in tin foil so that the cheese can breathe and placed in the drawer of the refrigerator. Do not commingle cheeses in the same packaging or they will affect the flavour of each other and will transfer mould.
Prepare: Remove the cheese half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If hard cheeses develop mould, you can simply cut the mould off and continue using. If fresh cheeses such as Mascarpone develop mould, they should be discarded. For Ricotta, check the Ricotta section below.
Eat: In creating a cheese platter, it is best to not buy fresh cheeses or flavoured cheeses unless it is a particularly special cheese. Normally there are an odd number of cheeses, typically 5 different kinds and should include a mix of hard and soft and have about 2 ewe’s milk cheeses, 1 goat’s milk cheese, and 2 cow’s milk cheeses (including one blue cheese such as Gorgonzola). They are normally placed from the mildest flavoured cheese to the strongest flavoured cheese (this would be the blue cheese). Cut the cheese cut into wedges or rectangular blocks. For hard cheeses, remove the rind on the top and bottom starting from the centre of the cheese and cutting down to the end. The cheese board can be accompanied by honey, grape must, walnuts, pear, or grapes. Each cheese should ideally have its own knife so that they flavours are not intermixed.
Burrata – See Mozzarella
Goat Cheese (Caprino)
Caprino is a cheese which is made in whole or in part with goat’s milk but can also mean a fresh cheese which is cylindrical in shape. Caprino made entirely with goat’s milk are made in the Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte (Cuneo), Lombardia (Barzio, Introbio, and Valsassina), Liguria (Valle dell’Arroscia), and Sardegna. Caprino made with mixed cow and goat milk is made in Abruzzo (around Rivisondoli) and Calabria.
Buy: Caprino can be sold fresh or mature and can be firm or soft. It can be stored in aromatised oil with garlic, bay leaf, and / or chilli.
Caprino a latte crudo from Sardegna (firm, goat’s milk)
Caprino dell’Aspromonte from Calabria (firm, goat’s milk)
Caprino della Limina from Calabria (firm, goat’s milk)
Caprino della Valbrevenna from Liguria (soft, goat’s milk)
Caprino de Cavalese from Trentino Alto Adige (firm, goat’s and cow’s milk)
Caprino di Montefalcone del Sannio from Molise (soft, goat’s milk)
Caprino di Rimella from Piemonte (soft, goat’s and cow’s milk)
Caprino ossolano from Piemonte (soft, firm, goat’s milk)
Caprino stagionato from Lombardia (compact, goat’s and ewe’s milk)
Prepare: If the cheese was sold with a mouldy white or grey rind, then is fine to keep attached.
Eat: Caprino can be eaten with oil and pepper or with herbs. It can be eaten as a table cheese or used in recipes.
Felciata – See Raviggiolo
Giuncata – See Raviggiolo
Grana Padano PDO (Grana Padano DOP)
Substitute: parmigiano-reggiano, gransardo
Grana Padano is from Lombardia and has a designated origin, produced in 27 provinces along the Po Valley. It is produced in Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte, Trentino, and Veneto regions. This is another type of Parmigiano-Reggiano, also a hard cow’s milk cheese, but it is not held as highly in esteem.
Buy: The hard, thick, smooth dark yellow or gold coloured rind of the cheese should have the mark “Grana Padano” with the date of production and the number of the dairy imprinted on it. Grana Padano from Trento may have a further designation of “Trentingrana” imprinted on it. The cheese should be dry, hard, finely granular and have a golden yellow colour to it. It should break up in flakes when cut. It is made of partially-skimmed raw cow’s milk cheese. The cheese can be matured over 12 to 36 months.
Prepare: Remove the cheese half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If there are any mouldy parts, cut them off and discard. Use the rest of the cheese as normal.
Eat: It is not used in cooking but used as a table cheese to eat as is or as a topping for pastas and risottos.
Mascarpone (Mascarpone / Mascherpone)
Substitute: Philadelphia cream cheese
A type of fresh cow’s milk cream cheese from Lombardia which is not strictly considered a cheese but a latticino. It is in some ways more similar to butter or Ricotta.
Buy: Mascarpone should have a delicate flavour, extremely dense and creamy texture, and should be pure white. The fat content varies from 20 to 45% but ideally purchase Mascarpone at the top end of this range. It has a mild, creamy flavour which can become slightly sour after a few days.
Store: Store in the refrigerator and use by the indicated date on the package. Mascarpone can be stored for 20 to 30 days after production.
Prepare: None needed but if you need to whip it for a pudding, it is more pliable if removed from the refrigerator an hour beforehand. If the cheese has moulded then discard it.
Eat: Mascarpone is used in many desserts, most famously in tiramisù. It pairs well with fruit and sugar. It is also used in savoury preparations in Lombardy such as with pasta or can be layered with Gorgonzola dolce cheese and garnished with nuts. It can also be eaten on its own sprinkled with sugar and cocoa.
Mozzarella Type Cheese (Mozzarella / Mozzarella di bufala / Fior di latte / Burrata)
Strictly speaking, the word “mozzarella” means curd cheese made from buffalo milk (sometimes referred to as Mozzarella di bufala). Most places around the world, the word “mozzarella” refers to Fior di latte, a curd cheese made from cow’s milk. They are similar in texture although buffallo milk mozzarella is creamier and softer with a more intense flavour. Mozzarella has been produced in Campania since the 13th century. The name “mozzarella” comes from the verb “mozzare” which means “to cut” referring to the cheese-making process it undergoes when the curd is cut to the desired size.
Buy: Mozzarella can be formed in to tiny or large balls, ovals, or braids. The weight of each individual Mozzarella can range from 30 to 600 grams. The outside should be smooth and shiny with a thin skin and the colour of white porcelain. The fat content should be a minimum of 50% and it should be mildly stretchy. Good Mozzarella is typically sold in liquid to maintain its freshness. The taste should be mildly salty and when cut open, cream should come out from the cheese. There are also smoked Mozzarellas which have been smoked in straw, wood, or leaves.
Caciotta di bufala di Amaseno from Lazio (firm, buffalo’s milk, complex and pungent)
Bocconcini di bufala alla panna from Campania (soft, elastic, cow’s and buffalo’s milk)
Burrata from Puglia (soft, creamy, cow’s milk shaped in a bag filled with cream and soft curd)
Fior di latte from Campania (soft, elastic, cow’s milk)
Fior di latte di Agerola from Campania (soft, elastic, cow’s milk cheese shaped in plaits)
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP from Campania (soft, springy, buffalo’s milk)
Mozzarella nella mortella from Campania (fresh, firm, cow’s milk wrapped in myrtle leaves)
Store: Store covered in its own liquid in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours but ideally use as soon as possible.
Prepare: If the cheese has moulded, then discard it. Normally you can just remove the mozzarella for the liquid and tear it by hand to use in dishes. For dishes such as pizza, calzone, and aubergine Parmesan you may want to strain the Mozzarella after breaking it up to remove excess liquid. If eaten raw, it is best enjoyed at 15 to 18˚C.
Eat: Mozzarella pairs well with tomatoes, herbs, olives, peppers, and olive oil. Mozzarella can be eaten raw in salads such as caprese or cooked in dishes such as mozzarella in carrozza, mozzarella impanata, pizza, calzone, and parmigiana di melanzane.
Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO / Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP)
Substitute: Grana Padano, Gransardo
Parmesan is a term used around the world for cheese in the style of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmigiano-Reggiano is from Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia. It is made from whole and partially-skimmed cow’s milk cheese and is one of the most famous cheeses in the world. It has a protected origin and can only be produced in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, the left bank of the river Reno in the province of Bologna, and the right bank of the river Po in the province of Mantua. Parmigiano-Reggiano has one of the highest quantities of calcium of any food and is often eaten by nursing mothers and children in Italy. It is also a good source of protein, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A and B.
Buy: Parmigiano-Reggiano is a golden yellow coloured cow’s milk cheese which should be hard and finely granular in texture. It is often sold grated which is generally vastly inferior as the flavour dissipates over time. When cut, it should flake. The rind should be 6 m thick, slightly oily, straw yellow in colour and be stamped with “Parmigiano Reggiano”, the producer’s registration number, and the date of production. Parmigiano-Reggiano comes in three maturities:
Parmigiano Reggiano Fresco (Young Parmesan)
This has been aged for 12 to 18 months.
Parmigiano Reggiano Vecchio (Medium Aged Parmesan)
This has been aged from 18 to 24 months.
Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio
This has been aged from 24 to 36 months. Parmigiano-Reggiano can be successfully aged for several years.
Prepare: Remove the cheese half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If you are grating it, cut off the rind and reserve in the freezer to add depth of flavour to soups. If the cheese has moulded, cut off the mouldy parts and discard them. Use the rest of the cheese as normal. Parmigiano-Reggiano can be shaved, grated, or broken into chunks.
Eat: Parmigiano-Reggiano can be eaten on its own but is often used to dress pasta, grains, risotto, and soups (unless fish or seafood is added). It is also cooked with vegetables and meat.
Substitutions: Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
Buy: Pecorino is an ewe’s milk cheese (pecorino means small sheep) produced in Veneto, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania, le Marche, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicilia, and Sardegna. Pecorino is a firm, dry, granular cheese which is white or straw yellow in colour and flakes easily. It has a sharp flavour. There are many types of pecorino but the ones most commonly found abroad are pecorino romano and pecorino sardo. It has a dry crumbly texture and is more often used in southern Italy in place of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) or Grana Padano. The flavour varies from mild to quite peppery and you can buy pecorino with black peppercorns inside. Some people do not like the flavour of pecorino so substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano instead.
Pecorino can be sold fresh (with a soft and elastic texture), primosale (salted with a medium firm texture), mature (firm and grainy in texture), or smoked. The fresh and salted versions tend to be eaten as a table cheese.
Prepare: Remove the cheese half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If the cheese has become mouldy, cut off the mouldy parts and discard them. Use the rest of the cheese as normal.
Eat: Pecorino can be served young as a table cheese, particularly accompanying raw broad beans and sausages. Mature pecorino can be used to dress pasta dishes or used for cooking in recipes. Certain recipes call for pecorino such as pasta all’amatriciana, pasta alla carbonara, pasta con ragù di castrato, and orecchiette pugliese con lardo e vedura)
Pecorino Romano PDO (Pecorino Romano DOP)
Substitute: pecorino of any type
Pecorino Romano is a hard ewe’s milk cheese from Lazio, Toscana, or Sardinia. Pecorino Romano is protected in origin and can only be produced in the Agro Romano area, the province of Grosseto, and in Sardegna.
Buy: Pecorino Romano has a black plastic film on its rind, although Pecorino Romano made for domestic consumption may not have the black film. It is typically aged for 5 months for table eating and for 8 months for grating.
Pecorino Sardo PDO (Pecorino Sardo DOP)
Substitute: pecorino of any type
Pecorino Sardo is hard ewe’s milk cheese from Sardegna. The fresh and primosale versions of Pecorino Sardo are served as a table cheese, classically paired with tender, young raw broad beans.
Buy: Pecorino Sardo is made from whole ewe’s milk and can be purchased fresh (20 to 60 days maturity) or mature (aged 2 to 12 months). The mature pecorino sardo may also be smoked. Fresh Pecorino Sardo has a smooth, thin, white coloured rind with a soft, elastic, white, firm textured cheese inside. The flavour is mild and slightly acidic. Mature Pecorino Sardo has a thick, straw yellow to brown rind depending on the age. The cheese inside should be firm, grainy, hard, white to straw white in colour, and have a few holes (eyes). The flavour is slightly tangy.
Pecorino Siciliano PDO (Pecorino Siciliano DOP)
Pecorino Siciliano is an ancient Sicilian cheese enjoyed even by the ancient Greeks. It is a hard cheese made from whole raw ewe’s milk. It is produced from October to June.
Buy: Pecorino Siciliano can be eaten fresh (in which case it is called Tuma), after salting (then called Pecorino Primo Sale), semi-mature after being aged for 50 days, and mature after being aged for a minimum of 4 months (only the mature bears the DOP label). The mature cheese is used for grating. The rind is pale yellow in colour and impressed with the markings of the basket it was made in. The inside is compact, white or straw yellow colour, and has a sharp flavour. Sometimes there are black peppercorns studding the cheese. The mature Pecorino Siciliano DOP is used for cooking and is used in dishes such as gnocchetti (potato dumplings), maccheroni al sugo (macaroni with meat sauce), and bucatini alla contadina (bucatini pasta with vegetables, legumes, meat, and potatoes).
Pecorino Toscano PDO (Pecorino Toscano DOP)
Pecorino Toscano DOP is a hard ewe’s milk cheese from Toscana, Umbria, or Lazio.
Buy: Pecorino Toscano DOP can be made with pasteurised or raw ewe’s milk cheese. It is slightly sweeter in flavour than other pecorinos. The outer rind is yellow in colour and the inside is a straw yellow colour which is firm in texture. It is sold soft which has been matured for 20 days or semi-hard which has been matured a minimum of 4 months. Maturities in excess of 8 months can also be used for grating.
Raviggiolo / Giuncata / Felciata
This is a fresh cheese made from goat’s, ewe’s, cow’s, or mixed milk in Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Apulia, and Calabria. In Calabria there is also a smoked matured version of Giuncata which is used to grate over rice or pasta or in recipes. It is made in rush baskets or wrapped in ferns.
Buy: The cheese has a buttery texture, and has a delicate and sweet flavour which tastes like milk and hazelnuts.
Raviggiolo dell’Appennino Toscoromagnolo from Emilia Romagna (fresh, soft, cow’s milk)
Raviggiolo di Pecora from Toscana (fresh, soft, ewe’s milk)
Store: This cheese will only keep 4 days from production so eat immediately after purchasing or store wrapped in the refrigerator until you can eat it.
Prepare: Remove from the packaging and use. If the cheese has started to mould, then discard it.
Eat: As this cheese is very delicate, do not pair it with strongly flavoured foods. It is used in pasta dishes.
Ricotta / Séras / Puina / Giunca
Substitute: 570 grams ricotta = cottage cheese + 1 beaten egg
Ricotta is not actually a real cheese but is considered a “latticino”. It is very easy to make from good, whole milk. Please see the recipe in the Basics section in Recipes to learn how to make this at home. Ricotta means re-cooked (from recoctus in Latin) and refers to the whey left over from cheese making which is reheated to separate out the proteins which are strained out and formed into ricotta. Ricotta is used all over Italy but particularly in Piemonte, Veneto, Valle d’Aosta, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Calabria, Abruzzo, Puglia, Basilicata, and Sardegna. In Calabria there is also a ricotta which is mixed with pecorino cheese and baked, sometimes it is also smoked and salted.
Buy: Ricotta is typically a fresh cheese made from cow’s, ewe’s, or goat’s milk whey. It can also be eaten after salting or dry-salted and matured for 15 to 30 days (ricotta salata). The dry salted version may also be smoked and is then called “ricotta affumicata” and may be aged for a week to a month. The best ricotta is unsurprisingly made from the best milk and is eaten as fresh as possible. The finest ricotta is considered to be that from Piemonte and ricotta romana. It can be made very creamy or skim fat.
Cuincîr from Friuli Venezia Giulia (fresh, cow’s milk whey)
Ricotta affumicata di Mammola from Calabria (firm, smoked with chestnut wood and heather, goat’s milk whey)
Ricotta al Fumo di Ginepro (dry salted, smoked with juniper wood, ewe’s milk whey)
Ricotta forte/Ricotta ascquante from Puglia (fresh, goat’s and / or ewe’s and / or cow’s milk whey)
Ricotta gentile/Ricotta Romana from Sardegna (fresh, ewe’s milk whey leftover after making Pecorino Romano)
Ricotta Mustia from Sardegna (dry-salted, smoked with herbs, ewe’s milk whey)
Ricotta Romana from Lazio (fresh, ewe’s milk whey)
Scuete Fumade from Friuli Venezia Giulia (aged, smoked, cow’s milk whey, sometimes infused with herbs)
Séras/Seirass from Valle d’Aosta (fresh, cow’s, ewe’s, or goat’s milk whey, sometimes matured and smoked)
Store: Cheese will continue to mature after you take it home. Fresh ricotta should be left in its packaging in the refrigerator and eaten as soon as purchased. Matured ricotta should be wrapped individually in cling film, parchment paper, or tin foil and placed in the drawer of the refrigerator.
Prepare: Fresh ricotta is simple to make at home using only whole milk and lemons. See the recipe section under “ricotta” for details. Fresh ricotta may need to be strained before eating, depending on the recipe. Remove the mature ricotta half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If the ricotta has started to mould this may or may not be an issue. If the ricotta is fresh and it was industrially produced in a sealed plastic container and it develops mould then discard it. If you buy ricotta in a basket and the top has a bit of mould, scrape away the top 1cm and taste a bit of the ricotta underneath, if it tastes sweet (it will have the characteristic flavour of the milk it was made with be it buffalo’s, ewe’s, or cow’s milk), then go ahead and use it. If it is a hard cheese, then cut off the mouldy parts and discard them, use the rest of the cheese as normal.
Eat: Ricotta pairs well with honey, cinnamon, chocolate, spinach, chard, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Fresh ricotta can be eaten on its own but is typically used in pastas, stuffed pasta (tortellini), savoury pies (torta verde and torta rustica di ricotta), fritters (ricotta fritta), calzone, polenta, and desserts such as cakes (torta di ricotta), puddings (budino di ricotta), pastries (sfogliatella), and tarts. Dry mature ricotta (ricotta salata) can be used as a table cheese, grating, or as an ingredient in pastas, salads, and desserts.
Séras – See Ricotta
This is a fresh “latticino” from Romagna.
Buy: Squaquarone is made year-round from pasteurised cow’s milk. It has a delicate sweet flavour and creamy texture. It is fairly liquid and cream white in colour.
Store: Use immediately after purchasing. Store in the refrigerator in its packaging for a day.
Prepare: Remove from the packaging and use. If the cheese has moulded, then discard it.
Stracchino derives its name from the word “stracca” which means “to be tired” in Lombardian dialect. The name refers either to the cows being tired from migrating during the autumn or to their milk being tired.
Buy: Stracchino is made from raw cow’s milk and can be sold fresh or briefly matured. It has a buttery texture, is white or pale yellow in colour, and has a sweet flavour.
Store: Cheese will continue to mature after you take it home. Fresh stracchino should be left in its packaging in the refrigerator and eaten as soon as purchased. Briefly matured stracchino should be wrapped individually in cling film, parchment paper, or tin foil and placed in the drawer of the refrigerator.
Prepare: Remove the cheese half an hour before serving, unwrap it and allow it to breathe before serving. If the cheese has moulded, then discard it.
Chestnut mushroom- See Mushroom: Button
Chickpea – See Beans
Chicken (Pollo) (Gallus gallus)
Both female (gallina) and male (gallo) chickens are used in Italy but the female is more common. Traditional varieties in Italy include: Razza gigante nera d’Italia from Liguria, Pollo combattente di corte padovana and Rustichello della Pedemontana from Veneto, Pollo della razza fidentina and Pollo della razza romagnola from Emilia Romagna, and Pollo del Valdarno from Toscana.
Buy: Chicken are categorised by age:
Broiler (Pollastro) is 3 to 4 months old and weigh 600 to 800 grams
Pollo di Grano is 6 months old and weigh 1 kilo
Roaster (Pollo/Pollastra) is about 16 weeks old and weigh 1 to 1.5 kilos
Capon (Galetto) is male and about 6 months old.
Gallo is a male which is two years old and is tough to eat.
Gallina is female which is old and is only good for its fat and for making soup.
The best category is the broiler chicken. Chicken should have firm, elastic meat. The skin should not be sweaty or sticky. The breast bone and the weight will tell you the age of the chicken. The lower part of the breast bone should be flexible and the rest of it rigid, indicating a relatively young chicken. There should be a reasonable amount of fat that is uniformly distributed. The best chicken is free-range as it will have been allowed to exercise so that the flavour of the meat develops. Frozen chicken will have less flavour than fresh chicken. Check to ensure the chicken does not have freezer burn or chunks of ice, indicating the chicken has been defrosted and then re-frozen.
Store: Chicken can be stored wrapped, in a container to contain any juices on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator at 5˚C for 1 to 2 days. If your time requirement is longer than this then the chicken can be frozen at -18˚C and then thawed when needed. Cuts of chicken can be stored, well-sealed in thick freezer bags, in the freezer for up to 9 months and whole chicken for up to 1 year. If the meat begins to show signs of grey, white or brown patches on the meat, it is developing freezer burn and is dehydrating. It is still edible but will be dry and not taste nice.
Prepare: Chicken can carry salmonella bacteria so chicken must be handled carefully and every surface raw chicken has touched should be washed thoroughly with soap. Never touch raw chicken and then cooked food. Never cut anything which will not be cooked on a cutting board where raw chicken has been handled. Never use the same tray which held raw chicken to then hold the cooked chicken without thoroughly cleaning it first. Frozen chicken should be thawed in the refrigerator. If time does not permit, soak the sealed frozen chicken in cold water, changing the water as the water temperature gets too cold. Keep repeating until the chicken thaws. Never soak a frozen chicken in warm water as this promotes bacterial gowth. Chicken can be eaten whole or cut into various cuts (see above).
Eat: Chicken should be cooked to 75˚C (170˚F) to ensure all the bacteria is killed. I normally cook mine to 65˚C as it is juicier. Remember to remove the chicken from the heat at 72˚C as it will continue to cook after it has been removed from the heat. Chicken can be boiled (better for older chickens), grilled (pollo alla griglia or pollo alla diavola), stuffed, stewed (pollo alla cacciatora), spit-roasted, pan-fried (pollo in padella alla romana, pollo alla Marengo, or pollo alla salvia), and roasted (pollo arrosto or pollo al mattone).
Chicory / Endive / Escarole / Radicchio (Cicoria / Scarola / Indivia / Radicchio / Catalogna) (Cichorium intybus)
Chicory is a category of vegetable that has many varieties which are completely distinct in appearance. Chicory can be white, green, red, or mottled red and white. It can be wild or cultivated. Chicory is a class of bitter lettuce that includes endive, escarole, and different types of radicchio. The most famous chicory comes from Treviso where there is a consortium to protect the geographic communities where they are grown. They have been used since ancient times in Europe in tonics and they are known to have a purifying and diuretic effect. Chicory is typically harvested from December through March, but there are also some summer varieties.
Buy: See the individual varieties below on how to purchase. In general young chicory is better for eating raw and the more mature chicory is best cooked.
Store: Chicory can be stored in a plastic bag in the drawer of the fridge for 2 to 3 days, 1 week maximum. If it starts to wilt, you can stand the stem end in water.
Prepare: Discard the external leaves and any damaged leaves, snap the leaves off from the base and discard the base, wash thoroughly in cold water, cut, if using raw, then soak in very cold water, and dry. Cut just before using as they discolour. They are best thinly cut. Internal leave are sometimes hard. They can be blanched in boiling water with a bit of lemon juice to reduce their bitter flavour.
Eat: These vegetables are excellent to eat as their bitterness offsets the fat in some dishes. Young chicory are great in salads. The mature chicory can be roasted, grilled, seared, boiled, sautéed, braised, steamed, used in risottos, soups, preserved, used in pastas, and even used as a substitute for coffee. Chicory pairs well with olive oil, cream, butter, chilli, vinegar, lemon, garlic, anchovy, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Catalogna chicory and Puntarelle (Catalogna / Cicoria asparago e Puntarelle)
This variety of chicory grows with long, thin, jagged, upward pointed green leaves. It grows to between 15 to 50 cm in length. Its season is from November to April.
Buy: The leaves should be a healthy green colour and unblemished. The ribs should be firm and plump.
Cicoria catalogna/ Cicoria asparago/Pan di zucchero/Puntarelle from Campania, Lazio, Piemonte, and Veneto (winter, long, crisp, green leaves, usually boiled or eaten raw, tender, bitter flavour)
Spadone/Lingua di cane from Treviso, Veneto (bitter flavour)
Zuccherina di Trieste (rounded leaves, less bitter, the entire head can be eaten in salad)
Prepare: Cut the base of the stalk of the catalogna, reserving the heart to finely slice. Remove and throw away any damaged leaves or hard parts. Remove the stalks and leaves and thinly slice using a knife or a puntarelle cutter. Wash well in cold water and soak in ice water until the leaves curl (about 30 minutes). Drain the leaves, dry and prepare according to the recipe.
Eat: They can be eaten raw or cooked. They are generally used in salads, as an accompaniment to roasted meat or fish, or sautéed with white meat. They are great raw in pinzimonio or are boiled and simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Puntarelle are dressed with olive oil, anchovy, garlic, and lemon juice or vinegar and eaten raw. It also features in cicoria in brodo (boiled chicory sautéed with lard and ham, cooked in broth, and served with grated pecorino cheese).
Radicchio (Radicchio / Rossa di Treviso)
There are many types of radicchio but many tend to be labour and cost intensive to cultivate. Many of the varieties are deprived of light during the latter part of their cultivation. They are available from December to April. Green radicchio is rich in vitamin A.
Buy: Buy leaves which are brightly coloured and don’t have any dark marks on the leaves. The red radicchio varieties are more fragile so you need to be more careful when you buy them. They can have round or oblong head with firm leaves and white ribs.
Cicoria spadona (green colour, in bunches)
Palla di fuoco rossa (winter and summer, red colour, heavy, round, and firm)
Radicchio rossa di Treviso PGI from Veneto (summer and winter radicchio, red colour, elongated or long curled tipped leaves which are tender and crisp)
Radicchio rossa di Verona (red colour, round and compact)
Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco PGI from Veneto (cream mottled with red leaves, flower formation, delicate and slightly bitter flavour, crisp, eaten raw)
Variegato di Chiogga (red with white leaves, compact)
Prepare: Cut in half compact heads of radicchio like Chiogga, tear the leaves and wash thoroughly in cold water. Green chicory which grows as a head should have the leaves peeled and washed. For radicchio di Treviso, use a knife to cut in half lengthwise and cut into slices, held together by the root (which has been peeled). For radicchio varieties which grow as a head, the root is also eaten after being peeled and cleaned. The root is the healthiest part of the vegetable.
Eat: Green radicchio should only be eaten raw. The red radicchio can be eaten cooked or raw. Radicchio can be grilled, sautéed, baked, or braised. Radicchio di Treviso, both the elongated version and the curl tipped variety when served raw are typically served whole with vinegar and olive oil.
Radicchio can be grilled, braised, broiled, roasted, sautéed, or stuffed. Radicchio is used in salads, risotto, sauces, as an accompaniment to meat and fish (radicio fumegà, radicchio in soar, and radicchio e lardo), or grilled and served as a starter or as an accompaniment to grilled meat.
Endive (Ceriolo / Indivia)
Endive is in season from September through November.
Buy: Look at the leaf colour to ensure the leaves are not withering with brown and yellow marks and that the tips are not turning green. The heart of the Belgian endive becomes more bitter with time so it is vital to ensure you select young ones. If you are unlucky, you can always blanch them quickly in boiling water to remove the bitterness. The more white in colour, the less bitter in flavour.
Bianca di Milano (summer variety, elongated)
Ceriolo rosso (red colour, flower formation)
Ceriolo verde (green colour, flower formation)
Cicoria di Bruxelles/Cicoria Belga (light yellow colour as they are grown in the dark, small, elongated heads) – Look for tight, crisp leaves
Scirolo verde (green colour, flower formation)
Prepare: Peel the leaves off and wash in cold water.
Eat: It can be eaten raw as whole leaves or chopped. Because of its bitterness it pairs well with fattier dishes like fresh cheese. Endive can also be boiled and served with melted butter, caramelised, or served gratinée with butter and cheese. It can also be stuffed (aliciotti con indivia). Belgian endive can be served raw, grilled, roasted, or braised. Curly endive tend to be eaten raw in salads.
There are many varieties of escarole but most have curly leaves. They are covered during their cultivation to ensure the heart is white and therefore tender. They contain Vitamin A, and calcium.
Buy: They should have unblemished crinkle-edged green leaves with a white centre. The leaves should appear fresh.
Scarola bianca riccia schiana from Campania
Scarola di bassano from Veneto
Store: Escarole perish easily so are best eaten when purchased.
Prepare: Wash, peel the leaves (throw away any damaged ones), dry, and break into strips.
Eat: They are eaten raw, boiled, stewed, steamed, stuffed (scarola ‘mbuttunata), in soup (minestra di scarole e ceci neri, zuppa di scarole e spollichini, and minestra di scarola), or braised. They can also be eaten on pizza, such as in pizza di scarola.
Chilli (Peperoncino / Capisco) (Capsicum annumum and Capsicum frutescens, peperoncino)
Chillies can be round or an elongated conical shape. Italians in general, outside of Basilicata, Calabria and Abruzzo, do not eat much chilli or spicy food. Chillies range in size from 30cm to 5 mm and in spiciness. Chillies are in season from July until September.
Buy: Chillies can be purchased fresh, dry, infused in oil (olio santo or olio al pepperoncino), crushed into flakes, or ground into a powder. They come in a variety of colours such as green, red, yellow, purple, and brown. The green chillies can be either sweet or spicy while the red are always spicy. The round chillies are medium spicy while the small conical chillies 1-2cm in length are spicy. Select fresh chillies which are brightly coloured, firm, shiny, and blemish free. They should have a firm stem and be unwrinkled. For dried or powdered chillies (pepperoncino in polvere), check to ensure they have a strong smell, are red (not brown), and appear to be pest free.
Diavolicchi (spicy chillies from Calabria and Abruzzo)
Friarelli (sweet chillies from Abruzzo, Puglia and Calabria)
Store: Wrap the chillies in paper towels and keep in the drawer of the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Prepare: When working with fresh chillies, you must be careful not to burn yourself as the oil in the chillies can burn your skin and your eyes. For this reason it is best to wear gloves and ensure not to touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. Always rinse chillies in cold, not hot water. Be sure to wash your hands immediately afterwards. To cut a chilli, cut the stem off, slit the chilli lengthwise, and scrape out the white ribs and seeds before chopping. To make the chilli less spicy, remove the ribs and the seeds, and rinse it in cold water after it has been prepared for chopping. To make it more spicy, add the seeds. When cooking with dried chilli or chilli flakes, adding the chilli when frying in oil will make the dish spicier, adding it later on in the cooking to the liquid will make it less spicy.
Eat: Chillies are used in stews, pastas (pasta all’arrabiata and spaghetti con le vongole), sauces, fish, seafood, sausages, and in salami. Dishes with the name “all’arrabiata” imply that there is chilli in the dish. Many recipes from Abruzzo or Calabria use chilli. Chilli is also used, albeit less frequently, in Basilicata, Campania, and Puglia.
Chiocciola di mare – See Sea snail
Chiodino, fungo – See Mushroom: Honey armillary mushroom
Ciabatta – See Bread
Cicoria – See Chicory
Cicoria asparago – See Chicory
Cime di Rapa – See Broccoletti
Chinese gooseberry- Kiwi fruit
Substitute: 30 grams dark chocolate = 3 tablespoons cocoa powder + 3 tablespoons sugar + 15 grams butter
Chocolate is a combination of cocoa (minimum 35%) and sugar mixed together with any of the following: cocoa butter, milk, honey, and flavourings. Chocolate came from Central and South America where it was enjoyed as a drink. Turin chocolatiers obtained their first license to sell chocolate as early as 1678 and the Swiss learned the art of making chocolate from the Torinese when Turin was the European centre for the art of chocolate making.
Buy: The production method of the chocolate can vary widely and typically corresponds with the price as there are true artisans making a rare product. Milk chocolate is more popular while true chocolate aficionados prefer dark chocolate. Never buy anything labelled “chocolate flavour” as it is not real chocolate.
Dark chocolate/Bittersweet chocolate (cioccolato fondente): Dark chocolate comes in varying percentages of cocoa content with the higher the percentage the more bitter and less sweet the chocolate. This type of chocolate with at least 43% cocoa but preferably 60 to 70% (cioccolato extrafondente) is best for cooking. It has about 26-28% cocoa butter and not more than 57% sugar.
Chocolate (cioccolato): Chocolate has at least 35% cocoa, 18% cocoa butter, and sugar.
Milk chocolate/Plain chocolate (cioccolato al latte): Milk chocolate is typically creamy and sweet with a mild flavour. Milk chocolate is better for icing as the higher fat content means it melts better and dries with a sheen. This type of chocolate has at least 25% cocoa, 14% milk, vanilla and no more than 55% sugar.
White chocolate (cioccolato bianco): Strictly speaking, white chocolate is not chocolate as it is made from cocoa butter and not cocoa. White chocolate is best for eating and not for cooking. White chocolate has at least 30% cocoa butter, milk, vanilla, and no more than 55% sugar.
Chocolate fondant (Gianduia): This is chocolate mixed with other ingredients like vanilla, milk powder, nuts, fruit, etc. Gianduia is a chocolate fondant mixed with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla invented in Turin in 1852.
Covering chocolate (cioccolato della copertura): This is chocolate with additional cocoa butter added to make it more fluid and easier to use to make as a coating for chocolates and desserts.
Store: Chocolate should be stored in a cool (ideally 18 to 20˚C), dry place that is well ventilated. If it is too warm, the chocolate will melt while if it is too cold (for example, in the refrigerator) it will bloom and appear whitish on the outside which is the cocoa butter separating and recrystallising on the surface. Rapid temperature changes and too much humidity (ideal is 55%) will cause the sugar or fat in the chocolate to separate. When there is bloom, the chocolate is still edible but will not look nice. It can be stored for up to 6 months.
Prepare: If the chocolate is to be melted, it is best melted in a bain-marie so that it does not scorch. Be sure that no steam or condensation gets into the chocolate or the chocolate will seize up. When baking cakes, biscuits, and pastries containing chocolate, it is best to reduce the oven’s temperature to ensure they don’t scorch. For grating chocolate, it is best to refrigerate it beforehand so that it doesn’t melt while grating.
Eat: Chocolate is typically used in desserts such as gelato, creams, custards, puddings (zuppa inglese), cakes (torta al cioccolato and torta al cioccolato con nocciole), pastries (profiteroles and eclairs), semifreddo, etc. Grated dark chocolate is also used in savoury dishes such as caponata, salmiì coda alla vaccinara, and cinghiale in agrodolce.
Ciccioli / Cracklings / Scratchings (Ciccioli / Sfrizzoli)
Ciccioli are the crispy, rendered residual pieces of leftover from the butchering of an animal, typically pork or goose, when making lard.
Buy: These are irregular pieces of meat which are hazelnut coloured. They are quite fatty. They are sometimes flavoured with bay leaf, pepper, or cinnamon.
Store: They can be kept for a long time.
Prepare: These are best eaten hot.
Eat: Ciccioli are used in dishes in Emilia, Lazio, and Campania. Goose scratchings are eaten in Lombardia. They can be eaten on their own as a starter or with an aperitif. They can also be used in omelettes, savoury pies, in polenta (polenta e ciccioli), on focaccia and breads (pizza con ciccioli, migliaccio campano, and pane con i cicoli), or in dishes such as cicciolata di Parma.
Cicerello- See Fish: Eel, Mediterranean sand
Cimballo, fungo – See Mushroom: Funnel
Cinghiale – See Wild Boar
Cioccolato – See Chocolate
Cipolla – See Onion
Cipolle novella – See Onion
Cipollette – See Onion
Cipolline – See Onion
Cipollotto – See Onion
Clams, Razor clams (Vongola / Arsella, Tellina / Tartufo di mare, Caparozzoli, Cappa liscia / Cannolicchio, Cappalunga) (Venerupis decussata, Venus verrucosa, and Solen vagina)
Buy: Buy only very fresh clams. Clams can also be purchased frozen and tinned but fresh and alive are the best. Vongole verace and razor clams are only sold fresh. All the shells should be firmly shut with no cracks in the shells. If some of the clams are open, shake them around and they should shut immediately. They should not have a fishy or sharp odour.
Carpet shell clams (Vongola verace, Vongola gialla, and Venus gallina are the most important varieties) (Venerupis decussata): These have a rounded shell.
Venus giallina clams are rounded with deep concentric grooves on the shell and a greyish brown zig-zag patterned colouring. They are 3 to 4cm in diameter and are harvested throughout the year except June.
Vongola gialla have shells which are thinner and more elongated than venus giallina. It’s brown colour has spots of lighter or darker colour and are 4cm or less in diameter.
Vongola verace are the most prized of the clams but are more rare nowadays. They have irregular concentric grooves on the shell and are a varied brown colour. They grow to a maximum of 4 to 5cm in diameter. They are different from the vongola gialla as the inside is more yellow and the shell is so thin you can break it with your thumbnail.
Venus (bumpy shelled: Tartufo di mare / Caparozzolo and smooth variety: Cappa liscia) (Venus verrucosa): These clams can be eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon juice or cooked with pasta (linguine con vongole).
Wedge shelled clams (Tellina / Arsella) (Donax trunculus): Wedge shelled clams live on sandy beaches
Razor clams (Cannolicchio / Cappalunga) (Solen vagina): Razor clams have an elongated, thin, rectangular brown or cream shell and can be up to 15cm long.
Store: Keep the clams alive until it is time to cook them. Place them on a damp towel in the refrigerator. They can be kept like this for 2 to 3 days. Razor clams are difficult to store out of the water as they dehydrate quickly so try to use them the same day.
Prepare: Discard any shells which are open or cracked. The day you are going to cook the clams, scrub the shells under cold running water. Then mix together 100 grams of non-iodised salt per 1 litre of cold water and cover the clams with this salted water for 4 to 5 hours in the refrigerator so that they filter out any sand or grit. Any shells which float to the surface should be discarded. Seafood is best cooked gently- by steaming, sautéing, poaching, or light broiling for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook. You know they are done cooking when the shell opens. Razor clams also have a sack at one end which holds sandy deposits which should be removed before serving. Clam cooking liquid can be collected, strained, and used in dishes to add additional flavour. Discard any clams which have not opened during cooking.
Eat: Clams are good with pasta (linguine con vongole), soup (zuppa di vongole), or as a stew (vongole alla napoletana). Razor clams are good eaten raw, steamed, baked, stewed, deep-fried, broiled, grilled, in soups, gratinéed, or in seafood salads.
Cob nut – See Hazelnut
Cobite– See Fish: Loach, spined
Coccio – See Fish: Gurnard, tub
Cocoa powder (Cacao) (Theobroma cacao)
Cocoa powder is made from fermenting, drying, toasting, and grinding cocoa beans and then removing the cocoa butter. The amount of cocoa butter still contained in the cocoa powder varies by producer.
Buy: Cocoa powder is sold as bitter cocoa (cacao amaro) or sweet cocoa (cacao dolce). The best quality cocoa comes from Venezuela, Ecuador (l’Arriba and Macao varieties), Mexico, Guatemala, Togo, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. Some cocoa labelled “Dutch” undergoes a process to reduce the acid in the cocoa which makes it darker in colour and more mild in flavour.
Store: Store cocoa powder in a well-sealed container in a cool, dry place. It can be stored this way for years.
Prepare: If you need to add cocoa powder to a liquid, as it contains some starch, then it needs to be mixed to a paste with a bit of milk or water before the rest of the liquid is added to avoid lumps. When used in baking, cocoa typically substitutes up to 15% of the flour.
Eat: Cocoa powder can be mixed with milk and sugar to become drinking hot chocolate. It is also used as a flavouring in cakes, biscuits, puddings, and pastries.
Cocomero – See Melon: Watermelon
Cod – See Fish: Cod
Coda di rospo– See Fish: Monkfish
Codling- See Fish: Cod
Coffee / Espresso (Caffè / Espresso) (Caffea Arabica, Coffea canephora, Coffea iberica)
Coffee was introduced to Italy in the 16th century from the Arab world and it became very fashionable to drink it. Coffee has since become part of the Italian national identity and an essential daily ritual. Not until 1933 when the Moka (see Equipment section) was invented could average Italians easily make coffee at home without an expensive espresso machine. Coffee substitutes have also been invented using barley, chicory, oats, spelt, and rye. Coffee contains caffeine which is a stimulant which affects the central nervous system and brain. Espresso, while it tastes stronger than filtered coffee, actually has less caffeine. Coffee is grown in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, India, Venezuela, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Buy: To make espresso, buy “fine ground” or “drip ground” espresso beans which are well sealed. The best are labelled “Pure Arabica” or “100% Arabica”. Classic Italian brands of coffee include Lavazza, Melitta, and Illy.
Coffee is sold as whole beans or ground, but whole beans, ground just before brewing have the best flavour. However they are more hassle and more difficult to get to the proper grind if making espresso. There is also instant coffee which comes in granules but it is vastly inferior. Coffee should be sealed in order to retain its flavour, particularly if already ground. Coffee loses its flavour easily so should be purchased within 60 days of production.
Another difference between coffee and espresso is that espresso is made by using steam and pressure to filter finely ground coffee beans which have been roasted longer. Coffee is made by using water to filter through a more coarse grind of more lightly roasted coffee beans. The more the coffee beans are roasted, the lower the acidity and the less variation of aroma. So coffee can be more bitter or more acid than espresso.
There are flavour variations within espresso beans as well. The preference in Italy is geographic where northerners prefer more acidic and clear coffee while southerners prefer more bitter dark coffee. There is also decaffeinated coffee where steam is used before toasting the coffee beans to remove the caffeine.
Arabica coffee: this is the most prized coffee. Look for labels which read, “100% Arabica” or “Pure Arabica”. It is more expensive and has a lower caffeine level. Arabica tend to grow at high altitudes.
Robusta coffee: this is less aromatic, has a woody flavour, and has 2 to 3 times the level of caffeine to that of Arabica. Robusta tend to be grown in lower altitudes and it is easier to grow so it is more plentiful and cheaper.
Very fine grind: This is one of the finest grinds for coffee and is suitable for filtering with a paper filter.
Drip grind/Fine grind: This is suitable for making espresso.
Medium fine grind: This is suitable for using with a caffettièra which strains the coffee grinds from the water.
Regular grind/Medium grind: This grind is suitable for use with a percolator.
Store: Once it has been opened, seal the coffee and use within a week. Coffee loses its flavour easily and if left unsealed will be flavourless within 2 weeks. It is best completely sealed from air and ideally kept in the freezer.
Prepare: The ideal espresso is made with beans which have been ground just before using. The espresso should have foam (crema) on top which is brownish in colour, have a thick consistency, and a strong flavour. Poorly made espresso will have a weak flavour, have a white or dark crema, or have large bubbles on top.
Eat: Coffee is used in dessert preparations such as gelato (gelato al caffè), semifreddo (semifreddo al caffè), cakes (torta al caffè), pastries, creams, candies, granita (granita al caffè), and tiramisu. There are also coffee drinks such as caffè alla valdostana, ponce alla livornese, and moretta marchigiana.
Coffee liqueur (Liquore di caffè)
Coffee liqueur was first created in the 19th century.
Buy: The most well-known brands are Caffè Sport Borghetti from Italy, Kahlua from Mexico, and Tia Maria from Japan.
Store: By definition, liqueurs have high alcohol content which help preserve them so they can be kept for years in the cupboard.
Prepare: There is no special preparation required.
Eat: Drink coffee liqueur as a digestive, with a bit of cream, or in a cocktail or pour it over cream, hazelnut, or chocolate gelato to eat.
Cognac is a French brandy made from distilling wine. It has an alcohol content from 48% to 70% with a golden colour.
Buy: In order for brandy to be labelled Cognac it must come from Charente or Charente-Maritime in France and be produced following particular rules.
There are six geographic areas where Cognac can come from:
Grande Champagne (the most prestigious of the Cognacs)
Petite Champagne (second to Grande Champagne)
Borderies (elegant, floral style)
Fins Bois (mild but can’t be kept as long)
Bons Bois / Bois Ordinaires (mild but ages quickly)
Cognacs are further classified based on the age of the youngest spirit used in the blend.
VS (minimum two years in the cask)
VSOP / Réserve (minimum four years in the cask)
XO / Napoléon / Hors d’Age (minimum six years in the cask)
Store: By definition, hard alcohol has a high alcohol content which preserves the cognac so it can be kept for years in the cupboard. Cognac does not improve with time once bottled, it only improves with age if kept in the cask. Once it is bottled, it will evaporate slowly over time.
Prepare: There is no special preparation required.
Eat: Cognac is used in many desserts and pairs well with custards, cream, butter, apricots cherries, oranges, and peaches.
Colla di pesce – See Gelatin
Compresso – See Yeast
Concentrato di pomodoro – See Tomato
Conchiglia di San Giacomo – See Scallop
Conchiglia di San Jacopo– See Scallop
Conger eel – See Fish: Eel
Coregone- See Fish: Whitefish, European
Corifena cavallina – See Fish: Mahi- Mahi
Cornetto – See Green bean
Cornflour / Cornstarch (Fecola di maiz / Amido di maiz / Maizena)
Substitutes: potato starch, arrowroot, tapioca starch, wheat flour and rice flour
Cornflour is often used in baking to make a batter rich in fats more crisp and for binding sauces and custards. It is also used in glazes to create a smooth and shiny finish.
Buy: Cornflour is the pure white finely ground centre of the maize kernel. Look for well sealed containers. It is used as a thickening agent and added to baked goods to give a finer texture.
Store: Store well-sealed in a dry place.
Prepare: If used in cooking, cornflour often needs to be dissolved first in a cold liquid prior to adding to the dish, typically at the end of cooking. When used in baking it needs to be sifted.
Eat: Cornflour is used in many desserts such as biscuits, cakes, and pastries. Cornflour makes the dough more crisp and works well in doughs made with lots of eggs and sugar. It is also used for creams (crema pasticcera) and sauces as a thickener which also helps prevent curdling. Cornflour is preferable to wheat flour when making custard as it thickens at a lower temperature so that the egg has a softer flavour. Arrowroot may be a more preferable substitute when making custard as it thickens at a lower temperature than cornflour ensuring the eggs in the custard do not overcook. Cornflour can be used to substitute 1/3 to ½ of the flour in baking cakes to make them lighter and crisper. If 2/3 of the flour is replaced with cornstarch then the cake will be extremely light.
Corvina – See Fish: Meagre, brown
Costa – See Chard
Cotechino – See Sausages
Courgette / Zucchini (Zucchina) (Cucurbita pepo L.)
This is the cucurbita pepo plant, which has many varieties. Courgette is a summer squash and can be light green or dark green and elongated or round. They can also be white or yellow and even have prickly skin. Although they are best in the summer, they are available all year round. The courgettes from southern Italy and Sardegna are sweeter and lighter skinned than in the north. The most cultivated elongated green varieties in Italy are the Striata d’Italia, di Napoli, and the Verde di Milano. Tonda di Nizza is a round variety. More whiteish / yellow varieties include Bianca di Trieste, Mezzo lunga bianca, Faentina, and Bianca sarda.
Buy: Ideally, courgettes should be picked with the flower (fiore di zucca) attached. The flower is also edible and a great delicacy, often stuffed and deep-fried. The best quality courgettes are not longer than 25 to 30cm (the round ones should not be greater than 12cm). Courgettes are a summer vegetable, best eaten early in the season so they are firm. The flesh should be firm with a glossy, bright coloured, unblemished skin. The smaller the courgette the better as the large, late season ones are watery, flavourless, bitter, spongey in texture, and have tough skins and large seeds which need to be removed. For these reasons, don’t buy courgettes which weigh more than 250 grams each.
Courgette flowers should be firm, fresh, and entirely yellow or orange. They should not have any brown or soft spots and no signs of wilting. Female flowers are meatier and have better flavour than the male flowers, although the males are larger. The male flowers have only a stalk while the female flowers have a small courgette attached to them.
Store: Courgettes should be stored in a perforated plastic bag in a drawer in the refrigerator. They can be kept this way for up to three days. Do not allow moisture to remain on the surface of the courgettes. The flowers are highly perishable so eat as soon as you purchase them.
Prepare: Courgettes should be rinsed well in cold water. Only the prickly skin variety need to be peeled. Remove the ends and, if the courgette has large seeds, then remove the seeds with a melon baller or a spoon. Some people like to salt the courgettes before cooking to remove excess water and concentrate the flavour. To do this, toss them with salt and let to drain in a colander in a sink for half an hour, then rinse, and squeeze dry.
To prepare courgette flowers, rinse and dry them. Use your fingers or a paring knife to open the petals. You do not need to remove the pistil and stamen unless you prefer.
Eat: They can be eaten raw, finely sliced in a salad, or cooked, but should be eaten immediately after cooking otherwise they will go soft. Courgettes can be preserved, made into soups (minestra alla viterbese), pastas, omelettes (frittata di zucchine), savoury tarts (torta di zucchine), or served on their own- stuffed (zucchine ripiene and zucchine alla velletrana), marinated (carpionata), stewed (zucchine alla poverella), grilled, steamed, sautéed (zucchine col guanciale), deep-fried (fritto misto), baked (zucchine al forno), or fried (zucchine a funghetto, zucchine a scapece, zucchine fritte or zucchine in agrodolce). The flowers are also eaten- usually stuffed and fried (sciurilli), baked, sautéed, in risotto, or in omelettes. Courgettes pair well with aubergine, basil, butter, chilli, garlic, goat cheese, lemon, marjoram, mint, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, parsley, peppers, pine nuts, and tomatoes.
Crab (Granchio / Grancevola / Granseola) (Granchio marino comune, carcinus mediterraneus, portunus bolsatus, P. depurator, and P. carrugatur)
Equivalent: 450 grams of crab in the shell = 115 grams crab meat
There are different types of crabs in Italy but the spider crab is a distinct type that is highly prized.
Buy: Buy only very fresh seafood. Buy crabs whose shells are intact, are not missing legs, and feel heavy for their size. Smell the crabs, if they smell fishy or like ammonia then don’t buy. They should smell fresh and sweet. Soft shell crabs should always be purchased live. Males have a triangular abdomen while females have an oval abdomen.
Edible crab / Brown crab (Granciporro) (Cancer pagarus) is large, about 30cm and is found in lagoons around Venice. It is hazelnut to light yellow in colour with large claws. It should have a slightly raised tail under the body.
Green crab / Shore crab (Granchio comune / Granchio verde) (Carcinus aestuarii) is grey with shades of green or red. A green crab is about 7cm long and is found on the beaches, particularly around the northern Adriatic Sea. It is also eaten after it has molted when its shell is soft (then called “moeca” or “moleca”).
Spider crab (Grancevola / Granseola) (Maja squinado) can be up to 20cm long with long legs and a rounded body in a pear shape with spines. Females are smaller but have more meat while males are bigger but have less meat, although their meat is more delicate. These crabs are meatiest between mid-December until the end of February.
Swimmer crab / Sand crab (Granchio di sabbia) (Liocarcinus vernalis, Macropipus depurator, Macropipus corrugatus) has a greenish back and yellow-white belly. Some swimmer crabs have claws and others don’t. The males grow to 5 to 6cm while the females grow to 3 to 4cm. The meat is very flavourful and it can survive for a long time out of the water. A swimmer crab can molt its hard shell from March to June and from September to December. During this time it can be eaten whole.
Yellow shore crab / Furry crab (Favollo) (Eriphia verrucosa) is a large, dark red-brown coloured crab with large claws, hairy legs, and spikes near the eyes. It is eaten in the winter and for most of the spring. It is one of the tastiest crabs to eat.
Store: Like with most seafood, crabs are ideally bought live or freshly cooked and eaten the same day as purchased. If the crab is purchased alive, then keep it in an empty pot or other container to keep it from escaping. Wet newspapers and place on top of the crabs to keep them moist but do not cover so that they can breathe. Leave in a cool spot in the kitchen. If it is freshly cooked then keep the crab in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Prepare: Wash the crab in cold running water, brushing to remove any sand or mud. If you want to present the crab whole and are using live crabs, you may want to dunk it in ice water before cooking to help keep the legs attached. This relaxes the crab so that it doesn’t panic when being cooked and drop its legs as a defensive instinct. Spider crabs must be boiled first before you can open the shell. Seafood is best cooked gently- by steaming, poaching, or light broiling. Seafood needs very little flavourings if very fresh. To remove the meat from a crab, see this guide here.
Eat: Crabs are good in fish soup (cacciucco and ciuppino), in pasta (spaghetti al favollo and linguine con granchio), stuffed, risotto (granseola in risotto), or served on their own boiled, poached, or steamed and dressed in lemon juice and olive oil (granseola olio e limone). Crabs can be baked, deep-fried, grilled, poached, sautéed, steamed, and stewed. If using crab in a soup, stew, or sauce, you can fry the crab in the shell first before removing the meat to add more flavour. Spider crab (grancevola) is cooked whole and the flesh and claws are eaten. Soft shell crabs are eaten grilled or deep-fried. Yellow shore crabs can also be eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon.
Cranberry bean – See Bean
Crawfish – See Lobster
Crayfish – See Prawn
Cream is made by separating out the milk fat or butterfat from cow’s milk. Cream contains between 25 to 48% butterfat. Cream is traditionally used in the cuisine of the northern mountainous regions of Italy. Cream is not used in most parts of Italy in cooking and not typically in large quantities as it mutes the flavour of other ingredients.
Buy: Cream is sweet and delicate in flavour and is used to add creaminess or fat to a dish and can be whipped to add structure and softness. Check the butterfat content and the expiry date on the packaging of the cream. The fresher the cream the better but there are many available now which have undergone ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) which preserves the cream for a long period of time although it has a flat taste.
Single cream / Cream / Cooking cream (Panna da cucina) has 18-25% butterfat content and is used in cooking dishes.
Whipping cream, Double cream (Panna da montare) has a fat content of 30 to 48% and is typically used for desserts. Cream needs a high fat content in order to be whipped to a great volume. Fresh cream will also whip more than pasteurized cream. UHT cream whips and holds its volume better but has a bland taste.
There are also clotted creams, crème fraîches, and sour creams but these are completely different and not often used in modern Italian cooking. They cannot be used as a substitute for cream.
Store: Fresh cream can be kept in a closed container for 4 days in the refrigerator. For packaged cream, use the expiration date on the packaging to determine how long the cream may be kept. It needs to be kept in a cold part of the refrigerator, ideally about 4˚C.
Prepare: Cream needs no specific preparation, just keep it cold until it is to be used. To make whipping cream (panna montata), the bowl, the cream, and the whisk need to be cold and then it is whipped until the cream forms soft peaks. Soft peaks are achieved when you remove your whisk from the cream and it forms a peak where the tip of the peak folds over (rather than stays straight up). Be careful not to over whip the cream or it will turn into butter. You can add sugar and vanilla to the cream if you like and the sugar will help keep the whipped cream light and not separate as easily.
Eat: Whipping cream can be whipped to soft peaks, sweetened, or flavoured and served as an accompaniment to a dessert or added as an ingredient to pastas (tagliatelle con panna), puddings (panna cotta, lattemiele, and zuppa inglese), sauces, gelato, cakes, custards (crema di Cogne, fiocca, crema del Lario, and cavollat), and pastries (bongo / profiteroles).
Crema Gianduia – See Nutella
Crema Gianduja – See Nutella
Crescente – See Yeast
Crimini mushroom – See Mushroom: Button
Criscenti – See Yeast
Criscolo – See Yeast
Cucumber (Cetriolo) (Cucumis sativas L.)
The cucumber plant has been in Italy since Roman times. They are typically grown in Campania, Puglia, and Sicilia. In Italy the cucumbers are 20 to 30cm long with a darkish green skin. There is also a rather rare white cucumber (Mezzo lungo bianco). Cucumbers can be round (like the Carosello variety), elongated, or oblong with varying dimensions. They are in season from June through September. They don’t have much nutritious value with modest amounts of Vitamin C and a lot of potassium. Typical varieties include: Marketer, Pionier, Gemini, and Verde lungo d’Italia.
Buy: Buy cucumbers that are medium-sized (not too big and not too small). They should be firm with no signs of mild, soft spots, wrinkling, holes, clear streaks, or brown spots. There are smooth skinned and bumpy skinned cucumbers. The short and bumpy cucumbers are good for pickling. Cucumbers can be green with or without streaks, yellow, or white. The flesh should be firm and white. This is a summer vegetable which is firm and crunchy when young and as they mature over the summer they become watery and lose their flavour. They should be sold in a cooled environment, but not frozen as this will damage them.
Store: They can be kept in plastic in the refrigerator for up to a week but they start to lose their flavour. Do not let them get too cold.
Prepare: Taste the cucumber, if it is bitter, then cut the ends off the cucumbers and rub the cut ends together until it begins to foam, this will sweeten it. Some supermarket cucumbers are waxed so you may need to peel the skin off. Wash thoroughly, peel, and cut the ends off. Otherwise peel according to preference particularly if the skin is thick. If you want to remove the seeds, slice in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Sometimes cucumbers are salted to remove excess water and any bitter juices, soften the texture, and concentrate the flavour. To do this toss the cucumbers with salt in a colander in the sink and allow to rest for half an hour. Rinse the cucumbers and squeeze dry.
Eat: Cucumbers are eaten raw in salads (panzanella and condiggiun), in soups (zuppa di cetrioli), marinated (cetrioli marinati), or pickled (cetriolini) for starters, sauces (salsa verde), and side dishes (to accompany vitello tonnato).
Cultivated mushroom – See Mushroom: Button
Cured ham – See Prosciutto
Curled octopus – See Octopus
Cuttlefish (Seppia / Seccia / Sepa / Sepia / Scarpetta) (Sepia officinalis, Sepia elegans)
Substitutes: Squid or octopus
Cuttlefish is similar to squid but with a larger head and wider body. It is light brown with stripes with bright white flesh. Cuttlefish is more tender than squid or octopus. They have a very mild flavour.
Buy: Cuttlefish can grow up to 25cm long and have 10 tentacles (8 long and 2 short). It is best eaten in the winter. Buy only very fresh cuttlefish if you need to use the ink as the ink changes from liquid when fresh, to grainy if it has been frozen. Otherwise frozen cuttlefish are pretty good as they don’t lose much flavour and become more tender after having been frozen. The best quality cuttlefish are the young ones as they have better flavour, are tender, and cook more quickly although the size is not necessarily an indication of age. Tiny cuttlefish are known as “seppoline”. Under 5cm are definitely young but once they are over 15cm, it is more difficult to determine the age. The dish you are preparing will determine what size cuttlefish to buy. The large ones are better for a main course dish which require long cooking times whereas the smaller ones, between 10 to 15cm in length, are better for deep-frying, grilling and in pasta.
Store: The larger ones are better stored in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking. They can be successfully frozen for months if well-sealed.
Prepare: The preparation for cuttlefish is similar to that for squid. Inside the cuttlefish is a white shell or cuttlebone, which is removed in preparation. See here for a guide on how to prepare squid. The texture of the larger cuttlefish can be improved by marinating in wine vinegar, and salt. The smaller ones cook faster than the larger ones.
Eat: They can be stuffed, deep-fried (seppie fritte and seppioline), baked (seppie al forno), grilled (seppie ai ferri), boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, broiled or stewed (seppie alla veneziana, zimino / zemin, and seppie coi carciofi). Sometimes the baby cuttlefish are eaten raw (allievei crudi). The ink is used in pasta and risotto dishes (risotto nero), particularly in Veneto and Toscana.
Date Mussel – See Mussels
Dattero di mare – See Mussels
Dentex – See Fish: Dentex
Dentice – See Fish: Dentex
Dolphin fish – See Fish: Mahi- Mahi
Dotto – See Fish: Grouper
Drum, shi – See Fish: Shi drum
Dublin Bay prawn – See Lobster
Ducks can be domesticated or wild. Varieties of domesticated ducks in Italy include the muscovy / barbary duck (Anatra muta/Muschiata), domestic duck (Commune/Nostrana), and Peking (Pechino) duck. Of these, the most prized for the strong flavour of the meat is the Muscovy, although the Peking duck is prized for its thin skin. Varieties of Italian wild ducks include the Mallard (Germano reale), Garganey (Marzaiola), Eurasian teal (Alzavola), Northern pintail (Codone), Northern shoveler (Mestolone), Eurasian wigeon (Fischione), Common pochard (Moriglione), and the Tufted duck (Moretta).
Buy: The best quality duck is a fresh, free-range duck. Domesticated female ducks tend to be about 6 days old and weigh 1.3 to 1.4 kilos (without the head or feet). Domesticated male ducks tend to be about 75 days old and weigh about 3 kilos. You can tell the age of a duck by the flexibility of its beak. The young domesticated duck’s beak is can be slightly impressed by your thumbnail and the wild duck’s beak should be very flexible to be considered young enough for cooking purposes. Younger ducks will have more tender meat but be careful that there is enough meat on the carcass. Ducks freeze well as they have a high fat content. For cuts, see Chicken.
Store: Duck can be stored wrapped, in a container, to contain any juices on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator at 5˚C for 1 to 2 days. If your time requirement is longer than this, the duck can be frozen at -18˚C and then thawed when needed. Cuts of duck can be stored, well-sealed in thick freezer bags, in the freezer for up to 9 months and whole duck for up to 1 year. If the meat begins to show signs of grey, white or brown patches on the meat, it is developing freezer burn and is dehydrating. It is still edible but will be dry and not taste nice.
Prepare: When preparing duck, the liver, heart and gizzard can be retained and used in another dish. Some preparations for roast duck call for the duck skin to be pricked with a fork beforehand so the duck fat can drain out (save this fat to roast potatoes). Duck legs and thighs need to be cooked longer than the breasts which can be cooked rare (still pink in the centre) so sometimes they are cooked separately.
Eat: Duck is roasted (anatra arrosto), baked, in casserole (anatra con le lenticchie), braised (anatra brasato and anatra all’arancia), stewed (anatra in salmi), grilled, stuffed (anara col pien), pan-fried, spit-roasted, or in pasta sauce (bigoli con anatra). Young ducks can be dry cooked: roasted, grilled, pan-fried, or spit-roasted but older ducks and all wild ducks, except the very young, cannot and must be cooked in liquid. Duck pairs well with oranges, onions, prunes, morello cherries, peas, green olives, and red wine.
Equivalent: 1 egg = 1/3 yolk + 2/3 white (by weight) and 4 extra-large (XL) eggs = 5 large (L) eggs = 6 medium (M) eggs = 7 small (S) eggs
1 XL egg> 73 gms, 1 L egg=63-73 gms, 1 M egg= 53-63 gms, 1 S egg < 53 gms
Eggs are an important ingredient in Italian cooking and baking. Generally chicken eggs are used in Italian cooking. Some chicken eggs in Italy have red coloured yolks (this is a result of the feed). These are the best for making tiramisù. Egg whites can whip up to 5 times their volume so are useful for adding air to a dish. The yolk is useful for creating an emulsion or as a thickening agent. In baking, eggs are used as emulsifiers and leavening agents which also add stability and structure to a dish. Eggs are a complete protein and contain Vitamins A, B, and D, phosphorous, and riboflavin. They are easily digestible so are given to children who are not allergic.
Buy: Select fresh large or extra-large free-range eggs (check the expiration date on the packaging and open the box to ensure none of the eggs are broken or cracked).
Colour: Generally, eggs come in brown or white (the breed of the chicken determines the colour of the shell) but there are also pale blue and green coloured eggs. All the colours are interchangeable.
Size: Eggs come in a variety of sizes and getting the size correct is essential for baking where the ratio of ingredients needs to remain constant to achieve good results. Generally, large (63- 73 grams) and extra-large (73 grams or more) eggs should always be used. Medium eggs weigh between 53 to 63 grams while small eggs weigh less than 53 grams.
Freshness: Very fresh eggs are best, in order of freshness, for sauces, poaching, frying, boiling, and in any dish where the egg will not be thoroughly cooked whereas older eggs are best for baking. Fresh eggs have thick egg whites and the yolks are more difficult to break. Very fresh eggs can be difficult to peel. To determine the freshness of an egg, place the egg horizontally in cold water and if it stays horizontal it is fresh. If it is slightly older it will tilt, if it is more than 3 weeks old it will float, and even older it will sit vertically. This is because the air sac inside the egg gets larger over time. You can also hold the egg up to the light to see how large the air sac is. For the egg to be considered fresh, the air sac should be thinner than 6 mm.
Labelling: Free-range indicates that the chicken was allowed to roam and was not locked into a cage for its lifetime. This generally means the chicken was probably healthier and in need of less hormones to encourage egg laying and antibiotics to ensure the chicken was disease-free in a crowded environment. There is also a concern that there is an increased chance of E. coli bacteria in battery hens due to the crowded environment. There is however less control over what the free-range hens are eating than in battery hens. Organic means that the feed that the chickens ate was organic, which means fewer pesticides, and should guarantee that there are no antibiotics used. The nutritional content for all eggs should be the same however. I prefer feeding my family products with fewer hormones and antibiotics so I buy organic.
Store: Eggs should be kept in their cartons in the refrigerator at 2-3˚C with the rounded end up until the expiration date marked on the packaging, about 35 days after production. Egg shells are porous so store the eggs carefully so they do not absorb unwanted flavours. For example, truffles are sometimes stored with eggs so that the egg will absorb the aroma of the truffles.
To store extra yolks, place the yolks in a container cover with a bit of water so the yolk has no exposure to the air, seal the container from the air and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. To store extra egg whites, place in an air-tight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to a year. Hard-boiled eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Prepare: Eggs carry salmonella not only inside the egg but on the shell so be sure to clean the outside of the shell if it is dirty and always wash your hands and equipment which has touched the egg or egg shell with soap and water. Because of this, raw eggs are not recommended for people with weak or impaired immune systems such as people who are ill, children, elderly, and pregnant women. Once you wash the shell of an egg, you need to use it as soon as possible as washing removes the natural protective film on the shell which prevents micro-organisms from permeating the shell. Flecks of blood in the egg are not harmful, just remove with a spoon and discard.
If you are using very fresh eggs for hard-boiling and peeling, you can place the freshly cooked egg, while hot, into ice water to separate the egg from the shell.
To separate raw eggs, see the How-to guide here.
For baking, boiling, whipping egg whites, or using an egg yolk for emulsifying, the eggs should be brought to room temperature before use by removing the eggs from the refrigerator 1.5 hours before use. To quickly bring the eggs to room temperature, pour hot tap water over the cold eggs and allow to sit for 5 minutes. To whip egg whites, see the How-to guide here. To temper egg yolks, see the How-to guide here.
Eat: Eggs are used in making pasta (pasta fresca), binding stuffings and fillings, egg yolks emulsify sauces, omelettes (frittate), whipped whites add airiness to dishes (semifreddo and sformato), breading and deep-frying (costolette and arancini), brushing pastry, cakes, biscuits, custards (crema pasticcera and gelato), soups (stracciatella and zuppa alla pavese), and sauces. Egg yolks add moisture, tenderise, and enrich cakes and pastries. Eggs can be served on their own, stuffed (uova ripiene), fried (uova al tegamino / uova al burro and uova alla provatura), poached (uovo in camicia or uova in purgatorio), soft-boiled, hard-boiled, coddled, scrambled (imbrogliata d’uovo alla lombarda), shirred, and deep-fried (uova alla monachina). Generally eggs are cooked over gentle heat unless being fried or deep-fried.
Eggplant – See Aubergine
Eel – See Fish: Eel
Eel, conger – See Fish: Eel
Eel, Mediterranean sand – See Fish: Eel, Mediterranean sand
Eelpout – See Fish: Burbot
Endive – See Chicory
Erbetta – See Chard
Escarole – See Chicory
Espresso – See Coffee
Fagiolo – See Bean
Fagiolo mangiatutto – See Green Bean
Fagiolino– See Green Bean
Farina – See Flour
Fava – See Bean
Fava bean – See Bean
Felciata – See Cheese
Fennel / Florence fennel (Finocchio / Finocchietto) (Foeniculum vulgare)
Equivalents: 1 cultivated bulb=120-180 grams net weight = ¾ cup chopped or sliced
Fennel is a native vegetable to the Mediterranean. Fennel is harvested from September through April but the season depends on where it is grown. The varieties are typically named after where it is grown, for example “Gigante di Napoli” is from Campania, “Mantovano” is from Mantova, “Grosso di Sicilia” is from Sicilia, “Dolce di Firenze” is from Firenze, and “Finocchio di Parma” is from Parma. The Wadenromen variety is slightly oval in shape and is very sweet. Fennel is said to sweeten the breath and calm flatulence so it was historically served at the end of a meal in Italy, as the seeds are in India today.
Buy: Fennel is white to light green in colour with a bulb with concentric layers similar to an onion except with no paper-like skin on the outside. It has a liquorice-like aroma. The bulbous root of the fennel, the feather-like leaves similar to dill, and the seeds are the parts that are typically eaten. The bulb should be firm, tender, compact, and crunchy without any cracks or signs of bolting. Fennel which has started to yellow or has elongated brown streaks is past its prime. The outer layers are unlikely to be blemish free and will be removed in any case, but evaluate whether the interior layers are pristine. The fennel fronds should be feathery and not wilted or wet.
Cultivated fennel (Finocchio) (Foeniculum vulgare)
Cultivated fennel is fatter, rounder, sweeter and larger (grows up to 12cm in diameter) than wild fennel. The female fennel bulbs are fatter and sweeter while the male fennel bulbs are flatter and more fibrous. The oval-shaped fennel are better for cooking while the more rounded are best for eating raw.
Wild fennel (Finocchiello / Finocchio selvatico / Finochetto / Finocchio asinino) (Foeniculum vulgare Mill)
Wild fennel are more elongated, slightly bitter in flavour, and smaller (grow up to 5cm in diameter) than cultivated fennel. It grows wild and is often growing next to roads. It is much more aromatic that cultivated fennel due to its essential oils and it has yellow flowers during the summer. It is a characteristic flavouring in Sicilia, Calabria, Puglia, and Sardegna.
Store: Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. It cannot be frozen. Fennel fronds can be kept wrapped in a damp kitchen in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Prepare the fennel just before cooking as it discolours when cut. Remove the stalks and tough outer layer layers and trim 1cm off the base of the fennel. If the fennel bulb is large, taste the core to see if it is tough or stringy, and if so, cut it out. These parts can be discarded or used to stuff fish or meat for roasting or baking, create a bed under roasting meat, in stock, or in court-bouillon. The fronds can be reserved and used in salads, stuffings, or used to stuff fish or lamb for grilling or baking. Quarter or slice the bulb and rinse well between the sections to ensure there is no soil.
Eat: It pairs very well with fish. Italians eat it raw, thinly sliced and dressed with olive oil (finocchi in insalata), whole after a meal like fruit, in crudité (pinzimonio) or in a salad (insalata di finocchi e olive). Fennel does not pair well with vinegar though so it is usually omitted when fennel is used in salads. It can be boiled and baked au gratin (finocchi gratinati), braised (finocchi al latte), steamed, sautéed (finocci alla giudia), stewed (finocchi al burro e formaggio, finocchi in tegame), grilled, breaded and deep-fried (finocchi dorati), in risotto (riso coi finocchi) or made into flans (sformato di finocchi). Wild fennel is used as an aromatic in grilled dishes (branzino allo spiedo con finocchio selvatico) or in griddled dishes (branzino ai ferri con finocchio selvatico) and fish soups. Wild fennel is also used to dress pastas (pasta con le sarde), flavour soups (macco), flavour breads and flatbreads, flavour boiled chestnuts (ballotta), flavour roast or barbecued meat (porchetta, fegatelli), flavour cured meats (finocchiona), make relish (rosamarina), make preserves (caroselle sott’aceto), in stuffings (maiolino al forno), in casseroles (pollo in porchetta, coniglio in porchetta), and are roasted and served on bread (crostini di barbe di finochio selvatico). Fennel partners well with olive oil, butter, bay leaf, parsley, fennel seeds, orange, lemon, saffron, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and goat cheese.
Fennel seed (Semo di Finocchio) (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel seeds are a spice said to aid digestion and sweeten the breath.
Buy: Fennel seeds should be fresh and smell of fennel. They should taste of sweet aniseed.
Store: Fennel seeds should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in an airtight container
Prepare: I often toast and fennel seed before using. Some recipes call for it to be ground to a powder in a mortar or spice grinder, particularly when it is to be sprinkled over fish before grilling.
Eat: Not many spices are used in Italian cooking but fennel combines so well with fish (triglie alla genovese) and pork, particularly in salami (finocchiona/sbriciolona), innards (ciarimbolo), and sausages (‘ndoc ‘ndoc). Fennel seeds are also used in nougat (mandorlotto). They can be ground and rubbed on meat (arista) or fish or added to stocks or court-bouillon. Fennel seeds are also used to flavour chestnuts, black olives, dried figs, grappa, breads, crisp-breads (taralli), and oils.
Fico – See Fig
Fig (Fico) (Ficus carica)
There are more than 700 varieties of figs and their season depends on the variety as some varieties only produce fruit once a year while others produce several times a year. Typically mature figs are in the markets at the end of summer, although there is a variety which matures in July called fiorone which are tasteless and dry. The white varieties tend to mature in August and September and are used in syrups, are candied or are made into preserves. The most prized varieties are Dottato / Ottato, S Vito Albo, Gentile bianco, Moscadello, Verdello, Genovese, and S. Pietro.
Buy: Figs are a fruit which are sold fresh or dried (fichi secchi), sometimes stuffed with nuts. Figs have an edible skin which can be purple, green, white, black or brown. The interior flesh can be a deep purple, red, or pink colour with many tiny seeds. Look for figs which have juice leaking from the bottom of the fig and feel heavy for their size. Because figs are extremely perishable there is a temptation to pick them while unripe but once they are picked they do not continue to ripen much. There should be no white milky liquid on the stem end- an indication the fig was picked unripe. They should be plump, and without any mould or wrinkles on the skin- a sign that they are dry or rotten inside. Very ripe figs will be soft to touch, may have small cracks in the skin, and may have a bend in the stem. The flesh should be juicy without any sign of drying seeds. They should be extremely delicate and soft so are difficult to transport. Dried figs can be sold as they are or stored in earthenware or glass jars with bay leaves.
Store: Figs are best eaten as fresh as possible but can be stored on paper at room temperature for up to two days. Be careful of any mould and discard any figs with signs of mould immediately.
Prepare: Rinse the figs with water and cut off the stem. If the skin is thick, then peel them. To dry figs, leave them for a week in a dry place in direct sun, or dry in a low oven or dehydrator for 12 hours.
Eat: Figs are good eaten on their own, with prosciutto as a starter, stuffed, or used in desserts. They can be served raw for dessert with cream, custard, or macerated with sugar and liquor. They are also baked with wine and sugar and served cold, caramelised (fiche caramellati), made into tarts (crostata ai fichi), or with Bavarian cream (bavarese ai fichi). Figs can also be baked into bread (panficato). In Venice figs are cooked with liver (fegato coi fichi). In Roma, figs are often used in both savour and sweet dishes. Dried figs can be minced and made into cakes (pitta ‘mpigliata, frustingo,panetto di fiche, panforte) or stuffed (bratte/crucette/padruni).
Filbert – See Hazelnut
Finocchio – See Fennel
Finocchiona Toscana – See Salami
Fiordilatte – See Cheese
Equivalent: 1 kilo of whole round fish = 500 grams of meat
1 to 1.1 kilo of whole flat fish = 500 grams of meat
500 grams of meat = 2 main course servings = 4 starter servings
There are more than 30,000 species of salt-water fish, freshwater fish, and brackish water fish. In Italy, the most prized fish are the sole (sogliola), seabass (spigola), and the gilt-head bream (orata). The same fish have several names so to be precise, it is best to use the scientific name which is distinct. Fish are eaten fresh, preserved, or dried. Fish is becoming more popular as it has fewer calories, and contains beneficial fats including Omega-3 which are proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many people are now enjoying eating fresh fish more regularly due to an improvement in transportation and logistics. Different species of fish will range in fat from 0.5-30% with species with the highest fat content including salmon, sturgeon, and eel. Fish have calcium, potassium phosphorus, and Vitamins A, B, D,and E as well as iodine, phosphorous, zinc, and copper.
Buy: Fish can be purchased fresh, frozen, smoked, dried, and salted. Fish can be sold whole or in pieces. The best quality fish will always be wild fish but there are now some very good farmed fish on the market.
Whole fresh fish: The best practice is to buy from the same person every time to better ensure the fish is good quality. Look for the following 5 factors:
Body: To check if a fish is fresh, hold it horizontally by grabbing the head. If it is fresh, it will remain straight, due to rigor mortis. Press the flesh with your thumb, the flesh should spring back into shape, if an indentation remains, the fish is old. The stomach should be plump not swollen or soft. This test does not apply to tuna or swordfish however which need to be matured to tenderise them and develop their flavour.
Eyes: Check that the eyes are bulging (not sunken), clear (not cloudy) with black pupils (not dilated or grey with red rims)
Gills: Should be bright red, wet, and clean (not dark red or brown, slimy, dry, or dirty).
Skin: The fish should be brightly coloured, tight, wet, gleam and be slippery with an evenly distributed, clear, viscous slime covering it. It should not be dry or wrinkled. Freshwater fish should be silvery or green and not brown as they are likely to be muddy.
Smell: The fish should smell slightly like seaweed (if it is saltwater fish) or marsh grasses (if it is freshwater fish). There should not be any fishy, acrid, ammonia, muddy, or rancid smell. However, shark and ray may have an ammonia smell and this is normal.
Cut fish: If the fish is still on the bone, check that the flesh is firmly attached to the bone and not loose or discoloured. The flesh should be elastic. If the fish has been de-boned, where the bone was removed, there should be a small hole and the flesh there slightly rosy in colour. The skin should look tight and bright.
Note: In some parts of the West, it is not advisable to buy fresh fish on a Monday as Sunday is a rest day so the fish will have been sitting for some time.
Frozen fish should have the same attributes as fresh fish. Check for any odours and the cloudiness of the eyes for signs of less than fresh fish.
Sometimes the fish’s liver is eaten, particularly that of cod (merluzzo) which is smoked and served as a starter. The livers of anchovies, sardines, hake, shad, grouper, sea bass, monkfish, and whiting are rich in Omega 3 and are edible.
The eggs, sperm sac, and the stomach of the monkfish are also eaten (see below).
Store: When you take the fish home, before you store it, the fish should be cleaned. Lift up the gills and use scissors to cut the red part out of the gills. The gills filter out impurities while the fish is alive and later decompose rapidly.
There are a couple of methods to gut a fish (some of the interiors can be eaten, see “Buy” above). For round fish, you can either cut along the stomach from the gills down to the anal fin and pull out and discard the guts, or you can first remove the gills and then use the hooked handle end of a spoon to draw down through the bottom of the head of the fish to draw out the guts and discard. For flat fish, feel which side the stomach is one (it should be softer) and make an incision starting at the head downwards to remove the guts.
Once the fish is cleaned, rinse it in cold water, especially the abdominal cavity and dry thoroughly inside and out. Mix 3 parts water to 1 part edible alcohol and sprinkle 2 paper towels with the solution. Place one of the paper towels in a plastic container which can be sealed air-tight and put the fish on top of it, stomach side opened onto the towel. Cover the fish with the other paper towel and close the container and keep in the refrigerator. Repeat the following day if not using the fish that day.
Once you have stored the fish, if an unpleasant smell (for example, ammonia) persists even after cooking, it is best to assume the fish is not edible. If the smell disappears then it is edible.
Special preparation for freshwater fish: Freshwater fish which smell muddy can be cleared of its muddy taste. To do this either keep fish alive in clean water alive for 2 days, or if it has already been killed, soak the fish in water and vinegar solution, repeating this process 3 to 4 times.
Cleaning: To clean a whole fish, use scissors to cut off the dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins. Be careful while doing this as some of the fish have spines. Freshwater fish should have the blood along the backbone removed as it is bitter. Check inside the mouth of the freshwater fish to ensure there are no weeds in its mouth or throat.
Scaling: If you are not going to remove the skin of the fish and it is to be used in a soup, deep-fried, or stewed, then the fish must be scaled. Place the fish on a board and hold the head firmly, use a fish scaler or the spine of a knife (if you use a knife then do this part in a sink) to run down the body starting at the head down to the tail to remove the scales. Repeat until all the scales are removed.
Cutting: Fish can be cut into tranches, fillets, decapitated, boned (using tweezers), scaled, left whole, or stuffed. See the guide here on how to cut fish.
Cooking whole: Fish may be cooked with its scales if it is to be grilled, roasted, spit-roasted, steamed, baked in salt, or baked in seaweed but it will not make pan juices. Some people prefer to score larger fish at its thickest part so that it cooks more evenly. With medium-sized firm fish, measure it at the thickest point and cook for 10 minutes per 2.5cm (1 inch). You can use the tip of a knife to pierce the thickest part of the flesh. Touch the tip gently to your lip to see if it is hot,indicating it is cooked. The flesh should flake easily and be opaque. You do not want for the fat to start running out of the fish. Flat fish and fillets will cook much more quickly than the ratio given above so you need to test using the flaking and opaqueness techniques. Small fish are best fried, grilled, or in soup.
Eat: Fish in Italy is roasted (pesce arrosto in forno), pan-roasted (pesce arrosto in padella), grilled (pesce arrosto alla griglia), spit-roasted (pesce arrosto allo spiedo), steamed in parchment paper (pesce al cartoccio), baked in salt (pesce cotto sotto sale), deep-fried (pesce fritto), poached, boiled (pesce lessato), stewed (pesce in umido), and cooked in soups. It is cooked quickly as the flesh begins to disintegrate if overcooked. Generally, freshwater fish are cooked on their own and not combined with other fish like saltwater fish are in Italy. Freshwater fish, aside from salmon, grayling, char, and trout are usually not cooked using water, but instead use wine and vinegar.
Other edible fish parts: Fish eggs can be eaten boiled, deep-fried, or braised. Fish livers of certain species are eaten (see “Buy” above). The sperm sack can be cooked like fish eggs. Tuna sperm sac is dried and shaved. Monkfish stomach is braised and eaten.
Types of fish:
Acciuga – See Anchovy or Sardine
Aguglia – See Garfish
Aguglia imperiale– See Fish: Spearfish, Mediterranean
Aguglia maggiore – See Needlefish, agujon
Alaccia – See Sardinella
Alalunga– See Tuna
Alborella – See Bleak
Alice – See Anchovy
Alosa – See Shad
Alosa agone – See Shad
Amberjack, greater (Ricciola) (Seriola dumerili)
Substitution: bluefish, dentex, swordfish
Regional names: Central and Northern Italy: leccia/leccia bastarda; Marche and Puglia: ombrina boccadoro
Greater amberjack are best eaten in the winter or summer. They are saltwater fish, and can grow up to 2 meters in length. They have firm and delicate-flavoured flesh. It can be baked whole or in slices (ricciola al forno coi carciofi), broiled, poached in court-bouillon, steamed, or grilled. It pairs well with herbs, particularly basil.
Anchovy (Acciuga / Alice) (Engraulis encrasicolus)
Regional names: Sicilia: aliccia / anciova / masculina, Piemonte: ancioa (if preserved), Liguria: amplova / amploa, Marche: lilla / magnana, Veneto: sardela / sardòn, Friuli Venezia Giulia: sardòn, Puglia: speronara
Anchovies are small saltwater fish, up to 20cm long. The very young anchovies are sold as whitebait (see below). Fresh anchovies are in season from March until September. Traditional varieties include Acciuga di Monterosso and Alice di menaica. Anchovies are another iconic Italian food, and are used in a similar way as dried shrimp, fish and scallops as in Chinese cooking. They add depth of flavour and a distinct salty flavour to a dish. They are used in everything…except desserts.
Buy: Anchovies come fresh, filleted and jarred or tinned in olive oil (filetti di acciuga sott’olio) or brine, or whole or filleted and salted in jars or tins (acciughe sotto sale). They are also made into a paste (see below). Salted whole anchovies in a tin are thought to be higher quality but need additional preparation. I prefer the anchovies in oil to those in brine.
Fresh anchovies can be eaten every season of the year. For fresh anchovies, buy ones which are a bright silver with a blue-green hinge. They have a slim body and a protruding jaw. When anchovies are not fresh they turn dark blue or black and should be avoided.
Store: Fresh anchovies should be eaten as soon as possible. If you must store fresh anchovies, cover with shaved or flaked ice in a perforated container on top of a solid container to catch any melted water in the refrigerator. The ice prevents contact with the air and the perforated container ensures the fish stays dry to preserve its texture and flavour. When using preserved, tinned anchovies, I transfer them to a sealed airtight jar or plastic container airtightafter I have opened the tin. I then make sure that the anchovies remain covered with whatever they came preserved in with and place them in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Salted anchovies should be washed in milk or water to remove the salt. If the anchovies are not filleted then you need to remove the bones, heads, and guts. First use your thumb to slit the fish open along the belly moving from the head to the tail. Then remove the head and guts pinch the the head just below the gills and pull downwards towards the tail. Open up the anchovy and use your thumbnail to slide the bones out.
Eat: They are rolled around vegetables in starters, top pizzas and breads, are melted into sauces for pasta (bigoli), are combined with breadcrumbs to top risotti, used in omelettes, are used to flavour meats, served fresh on their own plain, stuffed or rolled and then either grilled, baked, deep-fried, stewed, or fried, used in salads, and are mixed into stuffing to stuff vegetables. Fresh anchovies can also be marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and eaten raw.
Anchovy paste (Pasta d’acciuga)
This is anchovy pureed with oil and is sold in a pot or a tube. It can be used as a substitute for anchovies where the anchovy is being melted into a sauce. It has the advantage of allowing one to more easily control the amount added to a dish.
Angler– See Monkfish
Anguilla – See Eel
Baccalà – see Cod
Barbel (Barbo, Barbo canino) (Barbus plebejus, Barbus caninus)
Barbel is a freshwater fish that lives in lakes and rivers which has delicate meat, but many bones. The small ones are usually fried, grilled, or broiled. The large ones are boiled or stewed (barbo al vino). The eggs are toxic.
Italian barbel (Barbo) (Barbus plebejus) is a freshwater fish that lives in rivers and sometimes lakes in Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, and Slovenia. It can grow up to 80cm in length.
Brook barbel (Barbo canino) (Barbus caninus) is a freshwater fish that lives in rivers in Italy and Switzerland. It can grow up to 40cm in length.
Barbo – See Barbel
Barbo canino – See Barbel
Barbone – See Mullet, Red/Mullet, Striped
Barracuda, great (Barracuda) (Sphyraena barracuda)
The barracuda lives in tropical saltwater but sometimes also lives in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It can grow to 50cm in length and its normally eaten in the summer. The meat is mediocre and not very flavourful. Barracuda is often flavoured with strong aromatics such as garlic, onion, capers, and olives.
Bianchetti – See Whitebait
Bisato – See Eel
Bleak (Alborella) (Alburnus alburnus)
Regional names: Veneto and Trentino: àola / àgola / àvola
Bleak is an elongated flattish freshwater fish that lives in northern Italian lakes. It grows up to 20cm in length. Bleak is easily deboned and is suitable for deep-frying, grilling, or pickling (carpione). It can also be dried and preserved in brine or sun-dried (sisam).
Bluefish (Pesce serra) (Pomatomus saltatrix)
Substitution: greater amberjack, sea bass
Regional names: ballerina
Bluefish is a saltwater fish which can grow up to 1 meter in length. It has sharp triangular shaped teeth. It is sometimes incorrectly labelled as sea bass. Some people love bluefish and others find it mediocre. It can be baked whole, steamed, or grilled. It pairs well with lemon and/or capers.
Boga – See Bogue
Bogue (Boga) (Boops boops)
Regional names: Liguria: buga, south-central Italy: vopa / opa
Bogue is a saltwater fish and a type of sea bream that lives in the Mediterranean Sea. It can grow up to 40cm in length but is typically not more than 15-20cm and can weigh up to 1.5 kilos. Bogue can be eaten any season of the year. It must be disembowelled quickly after dying or the flesh will take on an off-putting odour. It is versatile in cooking method and has very tasty flesh. It is good raw, deep-fried, grilled, and in soup. They are good deep-fried or fried and then marinated in vinegar and aromatics (a scapece).
Bondella- Whitefish, European
Bosega – See Grey mullet
Bottatrice – See Burbot
Branzino – See Sea bass
Brill (Rombo liscio / Rombo soaso) (Scophthalmus rhombus)
Substitutions: turbot, sole, John Dory
Regional names: From Venice to Abruzzo along the Adriatic coast: soaso/suaso
Brill is part of the turbot family and is a flat saltwater fish that can grow up to 70cm in length. It has good quality, firm meat but is inferior to turbot. Brill needs to be cooked gently over low heat. It can be stewed, poached, grilled (with its skin on), steamed, fried, or breaded, pan-fried, or cooked in soups and stews. It goes very well with butter and/or herbs and less well with olive oil.
Bubbot – See Burbot
Burbot / Bubbot / Mariah / Eelpout (Bottatrice) (Lota lota)
Substitution: eel, European (anguilla)
Burbot is a freshwater fish that lives in lakes in northern Italy. It can grow up to a meter in length but is normally 30-60cm. The delicate, white meat is tasty and best eaten in the summer. It can be broiled, stewed, stuffed, baked, roasted, or fried. The liver is also prized, eaten pan-fried in butter. Large burbot livers are sometimes salted and dried.
Calamita – See Grey Mullet
Cantaro – See Sea bream, black
Capone – See Gurnard, tub
Carlino– See Sea bream, white
Carp (Carpa) (Ciprinus carpio)
Substitution: grass carp (amur / carpa erbivora) (ctenopharyngodon idella), tench
Carp is an omnivorous native freshwater fish in Italy. It is able to be sustainably farmed. It can grow up to 1 meter in length. Carp used to live amongst the rice fields, its manure fertilising the soil. It has soft, amber coloured flesh which is prized in the parts of northern Italy where there are rice fields and in central Italy near Lake Trasimeno. The most prized variety is the carpa a specchio. It is cleaned like other fish except that it has many bones throughout the body and the tail. If the fish smells muddy, briefly soak it in water and vinegar solution, as this will remove the unpleasant taste. Repeat this process 3 to 4 times. The small ones can be deep-fried, fried and marinated in vinegar and aromatics (carpa in carpione), or cooked into risotto. The large ones can be baked whole with the stomach cavity stuffed with lardo and aromatics (carpa regina in porchetta) or stewed in gelatinous broth (carpa in bianco alla tremezzina). The eggs are aso eaten.
Carpa regina / Carpa comune is completely covered with scales and can weigh up to 30 kilos. It can be difficult to scale. Pour boiling water over it to scale it more easily.
Carpa a specchio is a golden green colour, has large scales, and can weigh up to 38 kilos. This is the most prized carp.
Carpa cuoio has no scales and can weigh up to 20 kilos.
Carpa– See Carp
Carpione (Carpione / Salmo carpa) (Salmo carpio)
Carpione is a prized freshwater fish native to Lake Garda. It has delicate, high-quality flesh which is usually broiled, grilled, roasted, or boiled and dressed with olive oil. It is traditionally floured, deep-fried, and marinated in onion and sage or bay leaf, sometimes with carrot, celery, salt, water, and vinegar.
Catfish (Pesce gatto) (Siluriformes)
Catfish, black bullhead (Pesce gatto) (Ameiurus melas)
The black bullhead catfish originates from the United States but were introduced to Italy in the 19th century. They now live in rivers, lakes, and ponds in Italy or are farmed. Catfish grow up to 25 cm in length. The quality of the meat depends on the environment in which it lives. Look for catfish which is white and sweet-smelling. It needs to be skinned before cooking. It has few bones so is easy to fillet. Small catfish can be fried in olive oil or lard (frittura di pesce del Po), roasted on the grill or oven with sage; in risottos, stewed (pesce gatto in umido) or floured, fried, and marinated in vinegar and garlic (pesce gatto in ajoon).
Catfish, Wels / Sheatfish (Siluro) (Silurus glanis)
Originating in Eastern Europe, the Wels catfish is a bottom feeding freshwater fish that can grow up to 2.5 meters. It has infested the Po River and its tributaries. The amber coloured meat is flabby so not often eaten in Italy although it is prized in Eastern Europe. The best ones weigh less than 3 kilos. It comes fresh, salted, dried, or smoked. Look for white, sweet-smelling catfish. It needs to be skinned before it can be cooked. Wels catfish can be cut in tranches and fried or stewed.
Caustelo – See Grey Mullet
Cefalo – See Grey Mullet
Cernia – See Grouper
Char, arctic (Salmerino) (Salvelinus alpinus)
Substitution: trout, salmon
Arctic char is a freshwater fish that lives in the lakes in Trentino Alto-Adige. Its population is currently in decline but it has been successfully farmed. It can grow up to 40-60 cm in length and usually weigh up to 2 kilos, although they can grow to 15 kilos. It’s white to red-orange coloured meat is prized for its delicate consistency and flavour but it is a rare find. It is excellent cooked in any way. The large ones are best smoked, marinated, broiled, or raw. The small ones can be boiled, fried, deep-fried, stewed with wine, mushrooms, or black truffle, or roasted with pancetta, lardo, or prosciutto crudo.
Cicerello – See Eel, Mediterranean sand
Cobite – See Loach, spined
Coccio– See Gurnard, tub
Cod / Atlantic Cod / Codling / Haberdine (Merluzzo atlantico) (Gadus morhua)
Atlantic cod is the king of the codfish. It is a saltwater fish that is currently at risk so consumption needs to be reduced (substitute Pacific cod or Poor cod). It lives in the northern Atlantic Ocean and can grow up to 2 meters in length and 45 kilos in weight. Fresh cod is typically sold whole without the head or as skinned fillets, about 40 to 50 cm in length. Cod is best when very fresh. Frozen cod has less flavour than fresh cod, but it is more consistent in quality than fresh cod and does not need to be defrosted before cooking. When selecting filets, choose the middle cut which should have the tenderness of the tail and the flavour of the shoulder. The meat should be without yellow or pinkish patches. Its meat is composed of large flakes and, when fresh, will have fat between the flakes. To prepare cod, rub it with cut lemon half an hour before cooking to tenderise and whiten the flesh. It can be baked, boiled, stewed (merluzzo alla marinara), pan-fried, or deep-fried. It is also sold salted as salt cod (baccalà) or dried as stockfish/dried cod (stoccafisso) – see below. The liver of the cod fish is also eaten, smoked and served as a starter.
Other types of cod:
Pacific Cod (Macrocefalo) (Gadus macrocefalus)
Pacific cod is a saltwater fish from the Pacific Ocean usually found in Italy as salt cod (baccalà) or stockfish/dried cod (stoccafisso)
Poor Cod (Merluzzetto) (Trisopterus minutus)
Substitution: blue whiting
Poor cod is a saltwater fish that is similar to blue whiting and cooked in the same way. It can be boiled, breaded and deep-fried open flat, or the small ones can be fried in butter.
Salt cod (Baccalà)
Equivalent: 700 grams dried salt cod = 1 kilo rehydrated salt cod = 800 grams rehydrated and cleaned salt cod= 4 servings
Note: Baccalà in Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino means stockfish, not salt cod.
Salt cod is cod preserved by salting, a technique used since the 17th century.
Buy: The fish is sold encrusted in salt or opened up flat and re-soaked. Good quality salt cod should be soft, flavourful, and not fibrous when cooked although this is difficult to judge when purchasing. Look for pieces not less than 40 cm in length and at least 3 cm thick, which are white without any yellow tinge or staining (although it should not be too white or it may have been whitened artificially). Choose a piece with less salt as it will need to be soaked for a shorter period of time.
Prepare: Salt cod needs to be prepared before being used in a dish. It should be brushed under running cold water, soaked for 48 hours in a plastic bowl filled with cold water and the water needs to be changed frequently (every two hours, except at night). The fish should then be boned and skinned before cooking.
Eat: Salt cod can be stewed (baccalà alla potentina, baccalà alla napoletana), baked in parchment paper (baccalà a foco morto), baked (baccalà a sfincione, baccalà al forno alla calabrese), fried (baccalà alla fiorentina, baccalà in zimino), deep-fried, made into meatballs (polpette di baccalà), and stuffed (baccalà ripieno).
Stockfish / Dried cod (Stoccafisso / Baccalà)
Equivalent: 400 grams dried stockfish = 700 grams rehydrated stockfish= 4 servings
Regional names: Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino: baccalà, stocche, piscistoccu, stucco
Note: Stockfish in Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino is called baccalà, not stoccafisso.
Stockfish is wind-dried cod from Norway which once was quite cheap but today is rather pricy.
Buy: The most prized stockfish is labelled ragno. The best quality should be 70-80 cm in length, white without any yellow tinge or staining, thin, and almost translucent. Medium quality stockfish is typically sold already soaked and in slices.
Prepare: When buying stockfish, check if it has been pre-soaked. If not, it will need to be beaten with a meat tenderiser, and then soaked for 4 days. If the stockfish is not very good quality, it may even need to be soaked for up to 5 to 6 days. When soaking, change the water every 2 hours (except at night). Once rehydrated, the stockfish should have doubled in weight and become more elastic. It should be boned before cooking. Some recipes require the skin and others don’t.
Eat: Stockfish is usually stewed (stoccafisso accomodato, stoccafisso all’anconetana, stoccafisso alla livornese, baccalà alla veneziana), poached (baccalà alla trevigiana, baccalà alla vicentina), boiled (baccalà in bianco), or pureed (baccalà mantecato alla veneziana).
Coda di rospo– See Frog fish
Codling – See Cod
Coregone- See Fish: Whitefish, European
Corifena cavallina – See Mahi-Mahi
Corvina – See Meagre, brown
Dentex (Dentice) (Dentex Dentex)
Substitution: red porgy, sea bream, gilt-head bream, grouper
Dentex is a saltwater fish which are named from their large teeth (“denti” means “teeth” in Italian). It is pink coloured and can be as long as 1 meter (but is typically 40-50 cm). It lives all over the Mediterranean Sea. It is sold fresh or frozen and whole or in pieces. The flesh is lean and flavourful. The meat is versatile and can be cooked in many different ways including broiled, pan-fried (trance di dentice in padella), grilled, roasted (dentice arrosto alla ligure), baked (dentice al forno) or boiled but is often baked in salt in the oven.
Dentice – See Dentex
Dolphin fish – See Mahi-Mahi
Dotto– See Grouper
Eel (Anguilla / Bisato) (Anguilla anguilla)
Regional names: Veneto: bisat / bisato / bisatto
The eel starts out its life in the Sargasso Sea and then makes tts way up the rivers where it lives for 9 to 15 years before returning to the sea. Eels are sold as juveniles, called elvers (ceca) which are 5-8c m in length and eaten in the spring, or as adults (l’argentina are the males and the capitone are the females) which are best eaten in the autumn. The freshwater eel is at risk of extinction so only buy the adult eel or the farmed eel. The male eel can grow up to 50 cm in length. The male eel which weighs about 130 grams is called buratello. The female eel can grow up to 1.5 meters in length. The female eel which weighs 400-500 grams is called capitone. The best tasting eel is the one which is returning to the sea at the end of the summer and autumn. The most prized eel is from Lake Garda especially on the Verona side in Veneto, from Orbetello in Toscana, and from Lesina in Puglia. Eel is sold fresh, smoked (anguilla sfumata), and preserved in vinegar (anguilla marinata / anguilla scavecciata). Fresh eel should be purchased alive and must be cooked immediately as they deteriorate quickly.
Prepare: Cleaning eel is quite complicated so see the guide here. Elvers should be soaked in salted, acidulated water for hours before cooking.
Eat: Eel is eaten in a variety of ways and is a Christmas tradition in parts of Italy. It can be roasted (anguilla arrosto), grilled (anguilla alla griglia), fried (anghilla alla borghigiana), baked (anguilla alla fiorentina), spit-roasted (anguilla allo spiedo), stewed (anguilla alla bisentina, anguilla in umido alla comacchiese), broiled, cooked in soups (minestra di anguilla), or made into paté. They are also floured, fried, and marinated in water, vinegar and aromatics (anguilla in carpione). Eel is often stewed in wine. Elvers can be eaten breaded and deep-fried. Smoked eel can be served as a starter on toast with butter and lemon juice.
Eel, Conger (Grongo) (Conger conger)
Regional names: Liguria: brongo, tiagallo, peregallo, felat; southern Italy: ruongo
Conger eel is one of the heaviest eels and is distinguishable from common eel (Anguilla anguilla) as it has a large upper jaw which hangs over the lower jaw, the pectoral fins are pointed, and the dorsal fin is further forward on the body. Conger eel is a saltwater fish which has no scales and can grow up to 3 meters in length and weigh up to 50 kilos. It requiresa special method in order to be skinned. The tail is full of bones so typically only the flesh from the head to the anal orifice is used. The flesh is very tasty but has a strong flavour and is fatty. It needs to be cooked slowly for a long time, typically in wine or tomato sauce. It is an indispensable ingredient in fish soup (cacciucco alla livornese) and pasta sauces and can be stewed (grongo in umido). It should not be grilled or fried. Raw conger eel blood is toxic.
Eel, Mediterranean sand (Cicerello) (Gymnammodytes cicerelus)
Regional names: Campania: aluzzetiello, Liguria: cicciarello / lusso / lussotto, Calabria: cicirello, Sicilia: cicirieddu, Sardegna: cixireddu
The Mediterranean sand eel is a saltwater fish that lives in sand banks close to shore along the coast from Liguria down to Calabria. It grows to about 18 cm in length but is normally 10 cm. It is fished in the spring. Mediterranean sand eel is floured and fried, sometimes marinated in vinegar.
Eelpout – See Burbot
Flounder, European (Passera pianuzza / Passera) (Platichthys flesus flesus)
Substitution: halibut, sole, turbot
The European flounder is a saltwater flatfish found throughout the Atlantic Ocean and can grow up to 50 cm in length. There is also the Adriatic flounder (passera pianuzza) (Platichthys flesus italicus) which lives in the Adriatic Sea. It can grow to 40cm in length. The meat is good quality but has less flavour than European plaice. It should be cooked gently over low heat. It can be stewed, poached, grilled (with its skin on), steamed, floured and fried whole, or breaded and pan-fried. It goes very well with butter and/or herbs.
Frog fish– See Frog fish
Gallinella– See Gurnard, tub
Gardon– See Fish: Roach
Garfish / Sea needle / Garpike (Aguglia) (Belone belone)
Substitution: Atlantic saury (Costardella / Gastodella) (Scomberesox saurus), needlefish, conger eel
Garfish is a saltwater fish that lives throughout the Mediterranean and is popular in Venice. They can grow up to 70 cm but are usually about 40 cm in length. It has a long, thin, silvery body with a long pointed bill. Garfish can be eaten all year round but are best from September to January. It is normally quite cheap. Its flesh is grey when raw but firm, white and flavourful when cooked. When cooked, the bones turn a green-blue colour so they are easy to distinguish and remove. The small ones are usually fried or cooked on the griddle and the large ones sautéed or stewed. It can also be cut, rolled up and speared with a skewer or with the fish’s bill.
Garpike – See Garfish
Garrick – See Leerfish
Ghiozzo – See Goby
Gilt-head bream (Orata) (Sparus aurata)
Substitution: dentex, red porgy, saddled sea bream, pandora, grey mullet
Gilt-head bream is a saltwater fish and one of the most prized fish in Italy. It can grow up to 50 cm, but is often not longer than 30cm in length, and weighs up to 10 kilos. This fish is distinguishable by the black and gold lines it has between its eyes and its nose. Wild gilt-head bream are less fatty than the farmed version as they get more exercise. There are some very good farmed gilt-head bream however. They are best eaten in the summer. The flesh should be firm and flavourful.
Prepare: Gilt-head bream weighing more than 1.5 kilos should be allowed to rest for 24 hours before eating, although if you purchase the fish from a market or shop, it will normally have already been rested for a sufficient amount of time.
Eat: It should be cooked simply so as to not overpower the delicate flavour of the fish. It can be cooked in many different manners such as baked (orate alla pugliese), baked in parchment paper (orate al cartoccio), boiled (orate alla barese), broiled, steamed, grilled (orate alla san Nicola), or baked in salt.
Gô – See Goby
Gobbione – See Gudgeon
Gobbo – See Gudgeon
Goby (Ghiozzo / Gô / Ghiozzo testone / Ghiozzo nero / Paganello) (Gobidi / Gobius cobitis / Gobius niger / Gobius paganellus)
Goby is a saltwater fish which lives in the northern Adriatic Sea and in lagoons in Venice where it is prized by Venetians. There are 2,000 species of goby. Most goby are not nice to eat but there are some varieties from the lagoons in Veneto which are good fried, broiled, in sweet and sour sauce (soar), in soups (brodetti del’alto Adriatico), and in risotto (risotto con i gô alla chioggiotta). Goby is sometimes served with polenta.
Giant goby (Ghiozzo testone) (Gobius cobitis)
Black goby (Ghiozzo nero / Ghiozzo comune) (Gobius niger)
Rock goby (Ghozzo paganello) (Gobius paganellus)
Goby, transparent (Rossetto) (Aphia minuta) is a small saltwater fish, about 5 cm long. It is deep-fried in fritters, in omelettes, or boiled and dressed in oil, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley.
Gorno– See Gurnard, tub
Grongo – See Eel, Conger
Grayling (Temolo) (Thymallus thymallus)
Grayling is a freshwater fish in the salmon family which lives in many of the rivers in northern Italy. Grayling can grow up to 50cm in length and weigh up to 1 kilo. In Italian, grayling is called “temolo” which refers to the herb thyme, as it is said the flesh smells of thyme. While its meat is prized, this fish is not found frequently for sale as it cannot be farmed and only lives in very clean water in the cold rivers in Piemonte. Grayling needs to be eaten as fresh as possible. It pairs well with butter, lardo, and lard. It can be boiled, fried, deep-fried, baked with hazelnuts, anchovy, and sage (temolo alle nocciole), stewed with wine, mushrooms, or black truffle, or roasted with pancetta, lardo, or prosciutto crudo.
Grey Mullet (Cefalo / Mugella) (Mugil cephalus)
Substitutions: gilt-head bream, sea bass
Regional names: Liguria: mussao, Marche: mugella
Grey mullet is a fish which lives in both saltwater and freshwater, and can be eaten all seasons of the year, although it is typically caught in spring and autumn. It is unrelated to red mullet, which is more highly prized. It ranges from 30-70 cm in length. The quality of the flesh will depend on the environment in which the fish lived. Grey mullet is sold fresh, frozen, smoked, and dried. The flesh has a good flavour and is firm but the roe of the mullet is the real delicacy, particularly in Sicilia and Sardegna where it is made into bottarga. The roe is expensive. The flesh can be grilled (cefalo alla griglia alla siciliana and cefalo alla griglia alla toscana), roasted (cefalo arrosto al’uso sardo), pan-fried, baked (cefalo in forno and cefalo all’uso delle isole veneziane), broiled, baked in parchment paper, stewed with herbs, or boiled. The small grey mullet is deep-fried or used in soups (brodetto dell’alto adriatico and cassola sarda). It pairs well with fennel.
Flathead mullet / Striped mullet (Volpina) (Mugil cephalus)
The flathead mullet has the fine flesh and the best roe for making bottarga. It is distinguishable because its eyes are covered by a membrane. It is often farmed so the quality can be controlled and can grow to a large size, although the wild flathead mullet is often more flavourful if it lived in clean water.
Golden grey mullet (Cefalo Dorato / Lotregano) (Liza aurata)
The golden grey mullet is distinguishable for its golden mark near its gills. It is better if caught further out at sea or is small. The small golden grey mullet can be grilled, pan roasted, or baked.
Leaping mullet (Verzelata / Musino) (Liza saliens)
The leaping mullet is a mediocre fish. It is distinguishable as it has small spots on its gills.
Thick-lipped grey mullet / Bluespot grey mullet (Bosega) (Chelon labrosus)
A much-prized fish along the Adriatic Sea, although the meat is less firm and flavourful than that of the flathead mullet or the golden grey mullet. It is distinguishable by having a gap in the jugular space on the bottom of the head between the two gills.
Thin-lipped grey mullet (Calamita / Caustelo) (Liza ramada)
Less prized than the thick-lipped grey mullet along the Adriatic Sea. It is distinguishable as it has a black mark near the base of its pectoral fin.
Grouper (Cernia) (Epinephelus)
Substitions: dentex, red scorpionfish, shi drum, large red gurnard or piper, mahi-mahi
This large saltwater fish is part of the sea bass family and lives in many places in the world including the Mediterranean Sea. A number of fish-farming organisations are searching for ways to farm grouper. The firm, delicately flavoured meat is excellent and has no bones. Freshly fished grouper weighing more than 1 kilo should be stored in the refrigerator before cooking (12 to 36 hours for up to 5 kilos), although those bought at the market or in a shop have likely already been stored for as sufficient amount of time. Because of the large size of the fish, it is usually cooked by cutting it into pieces, although smaller grouper can be boiled whole or baked in parchment paper. Tranches can be stewed with tomato (cernia in umido), roasted (cernia arrosto alla sarda), boiled, steamed, baked in parchment paper with herbs (cerna al cartoccio), baked, or grilled. The liver is also eaten.
Atlantic wreckfish (Dotto / Cernia di fondo) (Polyprion americanus) can grow up to 2 meters in length.
Dogtooth grouper (Cernia nera) (Epinephelus caninus) can grow up to 1.5 meters in length.
Dusky grouper (Cernia bruna / Guaza / Cernia marrone) (Epinephelus marginatus) lives in the Mediterranean Sea and is a species at risk so it should be consumed less. It is the most prized and well-known. It can grow up to 1.5 meters in length.
Goldblotch grouper (Cernia dorata) (Epinephelus alexandrines) can grow up to 90-100cm in length.
Guazza – See Grouper
Gudgeon (Gobbione/Gobbo) (Gobio gobio)
Gudgeon is a small freshwater fish which grows up to 15 cm in length. It is prized in Emilia. The small gudgeon is suitable for deep-frying and the large can be gratinéed.
Gurnard, tub (Capone gallinella / Gallinella / Coccio / Gurno) (Chelidonichthys lucernus)
Substitutes: grouper, red scorpionfish, stargazer
Gurnard is a saltwater fish best eaten in the spring, summer, and autumn. There are many types of fish in the Triglidi family to which gurnard belongs and it has many different names in different dialects. It has a large, bony head, a tapered red body with tiny scales and few bones. Gunard can grow up to 50 cm long. The most prized are the red gurnard and the piper. Because it has few bones, it can be filleted easily. The head is large however and accounts for 40% of its weight although the head and bones are very good for soup or broth. Gurnard is a staple in brodetto recipes (fish stew) along the Adriatic Sea.
Red gurnard / Cuckoo gurnard (Capone coccio / Capone imperial) (Triglia pini)
Regional names: Liguria: gallinella imperial / gallinetta / caussano / chèuffano / chèussano; Toscana: caviglia; Sicilia: tiega / tigieca / tirieza / tirinchiuni di fangu / cucciddu / cuccu; Puglia: capuane / capuni / cuoccio; Campania: cuoccio
Red gurnard grows to 20-40cm in length. Its flesh is very good- delicate in flavour and firm in texture. It can be boiled, baked (capone coccio al forno), or stewed.
Piper (Capone lira / Capone organo) (Triglia lyra)
Regional names: Marche: mazzolina / testolina; Toscana: gallinella lira; Liguria: gallina / tuscia; Abruzzo: testa; Puglia: teste / cuoccio / cuozzo; Friuli Venezia Giulia: turchei / turchetto; Veneto: turchetto; Lazio: coccio; Calabria: cocciu; Sicilia: cocciu/cucciu; Campania: cuoccio
Piper grow up to 25-40 cm in length and are typically fished during hot weather. Its flesh is very good- delicate in flavour and firm in texture. It can be boiled, baked, or stewed.
Streaked gurnard (Capone ubriaco / Capone lineato) (Triglia lineata)
Regional names: Toscana: pesce briaco / gallinetta / garagòlo / capone rapa / caviglia organo / corri-corri; Friuli Venezia Giulia: luserna / luzerna / testa dura / testa grossa; Sicilia: tirinchiuni di preti / turrarici; Lazio: capone di scoglio / capone turco; Puglia: capone panaricolo; Campania: curro-curro
Streaked gurnard grows to 25-40cm in length. Its meat is good, best stewed or in soups. Its meat is good, best stewed or in soups.
Tub gurnard (Capone gallinella) (Trigla lucerna)
Regional names: Marche: mazzola / testa grossa / testolina dell’occhio / capomazzo; Toscana: gallinella vera / capocchione; Liguria: galinetta / chèuffano / chèussano; Sardegna: gallinedda; Friuli Venezia Giulia: luzena; northeastern Italy: luserna / luzerna; Puglia: testa / capuane; Lazio: capone imperial / capone panaricolo; Sicilia: cocciu / cuòcceche; Calabria: cocciu verace; Campania: cuoccio fascianu / cuoccio riale / cuoccio volante
Tub gurnard grows up to 75 cm in length and is fished in the autumn. Its meat is good, best stewed or in soups.
Grey gurnard (Capone gurno / Gorno) (Eutrigla gurnardus) can grow up to 30-35cm in length. The meat is good, best stewed or in soups.
Gurno – See Gurnard, tub
Haberdine – See Cod
Hake (Nasello / Nasello argentato / Merluzzo argentato / Pesce lupo / Pesce prete) (Merluccius merluccius)
Substitution: blue whiting
Regional names: merluzzo
Hake is a saltwater fish that can be eaten all year round but is more intensely fished from February to May. It can grow up to 1 meter in length but is typically between 30 and 70 cm. If the hake weighs more than 700 grams, it needs to be held for 36 hours after fishing before eating; although if you buy it at a market or store it will likely have already been held for a sufficient amount of time. Hake can be purchased fresh or frozen and whole or in pieces. Do not buy frozen South American hake as it is vastly inferior. The pinkish meat is delicate, fragile, easily digestible, and has a subtle but pleasant flavour so it is often boiled or baked and fed to children. Be careful not to overcook or it will fall apart. It can be marinated and served as a starter, baked, grilled (nasello alla marchigiana) or minced for fish cakes. It can also be cooked in moist cooking methods like soup (nasello in brodetto), boiled, and steamed. Small or filleted hake can be deep-fried (naselli fritti a filetti).
Halibut (Halibut / Ippoglosso) (Hippoglossus ippoglossus)
Halibut is the largest of the flat fish and lives in the northern Atlantic Ocean. It can grow up to 3 meters in length and weigh up to 200 kilos. It is a saltwater fish prized for its delicious white meat. It is often sold in fillets rather than whole and is often frozen (although is vastly inferior to fresh as it is dry). Fresh fish should have pearly white flesh without any yellowish tinge and not a whiff of ammonia. The meat should be cooked gently over a low temperature. It can be steamed, stewed, poached, fried, or breaded and pan-fried.
Ipoglosso – See Halibut
John Dory / St. Pierre / Peter’s Fish (Pesce San Pietro / Sampietro / Pesce cetra / Pesce gallo) (Zeus faber)
Substitution: turbot, sole
John Dory is a flattish saltwater fish but is not precisely a flat fish as its face covers both sides. It has dark circles on its side said to be the marks of Saint Peter’s fingers (the name “San Pietro” means “Saint Peter” in English). It lives in the Mediterreanean and and grow up to 50 cm in length. The flesh is only 33% the whole fish so the meat is quite expensive. The skin is quite tough. The quality of the firm and flavourful flesh is one of the very best and is versatile in cooking, although optimal broiled. It can also be baked (san pietro alla carlina), steamed, stewed, poached, fried, used in soups, or breaded and pan-fried.
Lacerto – See Mackerel
Ladano – See Sturgeon, Adriatic
Lampuga– See Mahi-Mahi
Latterino – See Smelt, big-scale sand
Lavarello– See Whitefish, European
Leccia – See Leerfish
Leccia stella– See Pompano
Leerfish / Garrick (Leccia) (Lichia amia)
Leerfish is a saltwater fish found throughout the Mediterranean and in brackish lagoons. It can grow up to 2 meters in length and has a compressed body which can weigh up to 50 kilos. The firm flesh is flavourful. It can be served raw, thinly sliced and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper or can be baked or steamed. Smaller fish can be grilled.
Limanda– See Fish: Sole, yellowfin
Loach, spined (Cobite) (Cobitis taenia)
Spined loach is a small, fleshy freshwater fish best deep-fried
Lotregano– See Grey mullet
Lucioperca – See Zander
Maccarello – See Mackerel
Mackerel (Sgombro / Maccarello / Lacerto) (Scomber scombrus)
Mackerel is best eaten in from November to March. Mackerel is one of the most well-known blue saltwater fish and it has no scales. It should be a minimum of 18 cm and can grow up to 50 cm long, but is more commonly up to 25 cm in length. It is very similar to Atlantic chub mackerel (Lanzard) (Scomber colias) which has less consistent streaking and a yellowish tinge. It is sold fresh, frozen, smoked, pickled, and tinned. Because mackerel is an oily fish, it needs to be eaten extremely fresh as it is highly perishable. It is not highly prized in Italy. Mackerel can be marinated, boiled, fried, deep-fried, stewed, grilled (sgombri alla griglia), baked with tomato or white wine (sgombro al forno), sautéed, pan-fried, or cooked in ragù. Pickled mackerel is best stuffed with raw tomatoes and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper.
Mackerel, Atlantic horse (Suro / Sgombro bastardo) (Trachurus trachurus)
Regional names: sauro, sauru, sorello, sugaro, sugherello
Atlantic horse mackerel is a saltwater fish in the same family as the greater amberjack. It can grow up to 40 cm and has whitish hazelnut coloured meat which is lean and delicate compared to mackerel. It has a more subtle flavour than mackerel and is more easily digestible. Atlantic horse mackerel has tiny spines near the tail which should be cut off with a knife before preparing. It is good raw, fried, grilled, baked, baked in parchment paper, and fried and marinated in vinegar and aromatics (a scapece, sauri fritti all’agliata).
Macrocefalo – See Cod
Mahi-Mahi / Dolphin fish (Lampuga / Corifena cavallina) (Coryphaena hippurus)
Substitutions: grouper, sea bass
Regional names: Sicilia and Puglia: capone imperial / cirfena / indoradda / lampuca / piscicapuni; Liguria: indorada; Veneto, Toscana, and Lazio: catalusso / cataluzzo; Campania: pesce pampao
Mahi-mahi is a popular saltwater fish in southern Italy and is found in northern Italy at the end of the summer (although it is best eaten in the winter and autumn). It has a hump on its head and when the fish has died, it turns a yellow grey colour. It can grow up to 1 meter in length. Mahi-mahi is cooked with tomatoes, grilled in tranches, or baked. It is best baked in parchment paper, grilled, or broiled and served with salmoriglio sauce.
Mariah – See Burbot
Marmora – See Sea bream, striped
Meagre, brown (Corvina) (Sciaena umbra)
Substitution: sea bass, shi drum
Regional names: corvine di sasso, corvine di scoglio, corvine cola
The brown meagre is a saltwater fish in the same family as the croaker, which it also resembles. It has a golden brown silvery body and grows to 50 cm in length. It is versatile in cooking. Its flesh is considered one of the best and is delicate, delicious, and firm. It can be cooked in many ways such as encrusted in salt and baked, fried, steamed, or baked in parchment paper. It is best boiled, filleted and fried in butter with vegetables and white wine, braised with aromatic vegetables and white wine, or used in soup.
Melù – See Whiting, blue
Menola – See Picarel
Merluzetto – See Cod
Merluzzo argentato – See Hake
Merluzzo atlantico – See Cod
Merluzzo giallo – See Pollack
Monkfish / Angler / Frog fish (Rospo / Coda di rospo / Rana pescatrice) (Lophius piscatorius)
Regional names: Toscana: boldrò; Liguria: boldrò / budegasso / bùdego; Veneto and Sicilia: diavolo di mare; central Italy: pesce rospo; giuranna di mari / magu
Monkfish is a saltwater fish, distinct as it has a large head covered with ridges and spines and its tapered body has no scales. It can grow up to 2 meters in length and weigh over 45 kilos. It is a highly prized fish particularly in Venice. It is best eaten in the winter. The meat is not very perishable and loses little in the first 36 hours after fishing. The firm and elastic flesh is very good and similar to lobster. The fish is eaten without its skin and there is a particular method for removing the skin. See the guide on how to skin a monkfish here. The tail can be broiled, baked (coda di rospo in forno, pescatrice alla romagnola), stewed, grilled, poached in court-bouillon and served with olive oil and lemon juice. The stomach and the liver of the monkfish are also eaten pan-fried (crostini di fegato di pescatrice). The head is good for making soup. The head also has tiny fragments of meat throughout which are good for making ragù.
Mormora– See Sea bream, striped
Mugella – See Grey Mullet
Mullet, Red / Mullet, Striped (Triglia di fango/Barbone) (Mullus barbatus)
Substitution: striped red mullet
Red mullet is a saltwater fish and one of the two species of mullet in the Mediterranean (and is unrelated to grey mullet). The more prized species, the striped red mullet, has dark stripes on the anterior dorsal fin, which the red mullet does not. The red mullet also has two scales on its cheeks while the striped red mullet has three. Red mullet can also be very good if the environment it lives in were clean. It is best eaten in the winter and autumn. They should be a minimum of 11 cm in length but grow up to 20 cm. Look for a vivid pink colour to determine its freshness. If the whole fish is bent sideways, it has been thawed from frozen. About 60% of the fish is meat. It is highly perishable and the meat extremely delicate so it needs less cooking than other fish. It is versatile in cooking methods, except for boiling. The small ones are deep-fried. The large ones, about 20 cm in length have fewer bones and can be stewed (triglie con i capperi, triglie alla livornese), baked (triglie alla genovese, triglie col proscuitto), grilled, or deep-fried. Its liver is sometimes left in while cooking to add flavour. It pairs well with fennel.
Mullet, Striped Red (Triglia di scoglio) (Mullus surmuletus)
Substitution: red mullet
Striped red mullet is one of the most prized saltwater fish. It is a type of goatfish and one of two species in the Mediterranean (and is unrelated to grey mullet). The other, less-prized species, is the red mullet or striped mullet (triglia di fango / barbone) (Mullus barbatus). The striped red mullet has dark stripes on the anterior dorsal fin which the red mullet does not. The striped red mullet also has three scales on its cheeks while the red mullet has two. It is best eaten in the winter and autumn. They should be a minimum of 11 cm in length but grow up to 40 cm in length. Look for a vivid red colour to determine its freshness. If the whole fish is bent sideways, it has been thawed from frozen. About 60% of the fish is meat. It is highly perishable and the meat extremely delicate so it needs less cooking than other fish. Striped red mullet is cooked without being eviscerated as it lends an aroma to the preparation. It has a lot of bones, particularly the smaller ones, so it is often filleted with the bones removed. The bones and the head are excellent for soups and broths. It is versatile in cooking methods, except for boiling. Mullet is good in pasta sauces, broiled, stewed (triglie con i capperi, triglie alla livornese), baked (triglie alla genovese, triglie col proscuitto), baked in parchment paper (triglie al cartoccio), baked in salt (triglie nel sale), grilled, or in soup. The small ones can be deep-fried. Its liver is sometimes left in while cooking to add flavour. It pairs well with fennel.
Musino– See Grey mullet
Nasello – See Hake
Needlefish, agujon (Aguglia maggiore) (Tylosurus acus)
Agujon needlefish is a long, thin, silvery saltwater fish with a long bill. It can grow up to 1.5 meters in length. The meat is good and the central bones are coloured for easy removal. Agujon needlefish tends to be priced quite low. It needs to be cooked over low heat so that the skin does not burn before the meat is cooked. For this reason, it is normally breaded to protect the skin before being cooked. Needlefish is usually fried or cooked on the griddle but sometimes is stewed.
Occhiata Sea Bream, saddled – See Sea Bream, saddled
Occhialone – See Sea bream
Ombrina– See Shi drum
Orata – See Gilthead bream
Paganello – See Goby
Pagello– See Sea bream
Pagello, bastardo – See Sea Bream, axillary
Pagello fragolino – Pandora
Pagello mormora – See Sea bream, striped
Pagro – Porgy, red
Palamita – See Tuna
Palombo– See Shark
Pandora (Pagello fragolino) (Pagellus erythrinus)
Substitution: gilt-head bream, sea bream
Regional names: fragolino
The pandora is a saltwater fish which is best eaten in the winter and spring. It is one of the finest types of sea bream to eat and can be found throughout the Mediterranean. It grows to between 30-60 cm in length. The white flesh is delicate and is versatile in cooking method. It can be used in soups, baked (pagello fragolino al filetto di pomodoro), baked in parchment paper, baked in salt crust, used in soups, used in stews with tomato, steamed, boiled, or grilled with the scales on.
Papalina – See Sprat
Passera– See Flounder, European
Passera pianuzza – See Flounder, European
Pasta d’acciuga – See Anchovy paste
Perca – See Perch
Perch / European perch / Redfin perch / English perch (Pesce Persico / Perca/ Persico reale) (Perca fluviatilis)
Substitution: black bass/largemouth bass (persico trota) (Micropterus salmoides), zander
Perch is one of the most prized freshwater fish in Italy and lives in lakes in Lombardia, Veneto, Umbria, and Lazio. Perch can be up to 45cm long with a compressed olive green and dark body, a black dorsal fin, a more lightly coloured belly, and reddish orange pelvic and anal fins. It is sold fresh or frozen but is best eaten as fresh as possible. Perch is usually filleted and then floured and deep-fried, stewed, grilled (carbonaretti sui sarmenti), used to stuff crepes or pasta, breaded and pan-fried, or pan-fried with butter and sage (filetti di persico aromatizzati alla salvia). A traditional dish is perch filets with risotto (comasca dei filetti di persico col risotto).
Persico reale– See Perch
Persico sole – See Pumpkinseed sunfish
Pesce bandiera – See Scabbardfish, silver
Pesce castagna – See Pomfret
Pesce cetra– See John Dory
Pesce gallo – See John Dory
Pesce gatto – See Catfish
Pesce lucerna– See Fish: Stargazer, Atlantic
Pesce lupo – See Hake or Sea bass
Pesce persico – See Perch
Pesce pettine– See Wrasse, cleaver
Pesce pilota – See Pilot fish
Pesce prete – See Hake or Stargazer, Atlantic
Pesce ragno – See Weever
Pesce San Pietro– See John Dory
Pesce sciabola– See Scabbardfish, silver
Pesce spada – See Swordfish
Pesce spatola– See Scabbardfish, silver
Pesce serra – See Bluefish
Peter’s Fish – See John Dory
Pezzogna – See Sea bream
Picarel (Zerro / Menola) (Centracanthus cirrus / Spicara smaris / Spicara maena)
Regional names: zerlo, zero
Picarel is a saltwater fish which can be eaten all year-round but is fished more intensively in the spring. It is particularly loved in Puglia and Liguria. There are three species of picarel which are in the same family: curled picarel (zerro) (centracanthus cirrus), picarel (menola) (spicara smaris), and blotched picarel (menola) (spicara maena). They grow to about 20 cm in length. The blotched picarel is the more prized of the three. Small picarel is optimal deep-fried but it can also be preserved in salt and covered with olive oil and vinegar. Large picarel is good for soup.
Pigo (Pigo) (Rutilus pigus)
Pigo is a type of roach and is a freshwater fish living in Italy and Switzerland. It can grow up to 50 cm in length and its meat is good for cooking. It is sold dried or fresh. It is grilled, made into pâté, fried, and deep-fried and marinated with aromatics and vinegar. In Lake Como, it is also salted and dried.
Pike (Luccio) (Esox lucius)
Pike is a freshwater fish found all over Europe in lakes and rivers. It can grow up to 1.5 meters in length. The meat is one of the most prized of the freshwater fish, particularly because it is relatively rare. Although pike lives in many regions in Italy, Lombardia has the most recipes for pike. The best pike is considered to be from Umbria, Lazio, and Lombardia. Small whole pike is better tasting than the large pike sold in pieces because large pike is more likely to be dry and tough. It is difficult to clean because it has forked bones that are difficult to remove, particularly for fish weighing less than 3 kilos. It can also be difficult to scale so pour boiling water over it to scale more easily. Pieces of pike benefit from being marinated to soften them before being fried or grilled. The firm, flavourful meat is usually boiled (luccio alla barcaiola, luccio in consa), baked, poached (luccio in salsa), stewed, fried (luccio fritto), or made into meatballs (luccio alla gardesana). In Lombardia and Veneto, pike is often eaten with polenta. The sperm sac and eggs are slightly toxic.
Pilchard- See Sardine
Pilot fish (Pesce pilota) (Naucrates ductor)
Regional names: fanfolo, infanfolo,’nfanfulo, pisci d’ummra
Pilot fish are carnivorous saltwater fish and often live with together with sharks, swimming in front of them as though guiding them (thus the name pilot fish). They live in the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 70 cm long, although are typically 30 cm long. The meat has a distinct flavour and is not very firm. It needs to be eaten within 24 hours after being caught otherwise the skin develops a strong odour. It is stewed with tomatoes and capers, made into a ragù to dress pasta, or breaded and cooked with salmoriglio sauce.
Plaice, European (Platessa) (Pleuronectes platessa)
European plaice is a saltwater flatfish, which lives in the Atlantic Ocean and grows up to 90 cm in length. It is brown with red flecks. Plaice is prized for its delicate meat and is sold frozen and fresh. Small plaice can be fried skin on. Large plaice can be grilled, boiled, steamed or baked in salt with their skins on, to be removed after cooking. It is a good fish to serve to children because it is easily digestible and has a mild flavour.
Platessa– See Plaice, European
Pollack, European / Pollack, Atlantic (Merluzzo giallo / Pollak) (Pollachius pollachius)
Pollack is actually a type of codfish, which is at risk and consumption should be reduced. It has delicate white flakey flesh with a yellowish tinge. It is sold as fillets both fresh and frozen. It is boiled, baked, stewed, or breaded and fried. It is not typically grilled or roasted.
Pollak – See Pollack
Pomfret (Pesce castagna) (Brama brama)
Regional names: Sardinia: carraginu; Sicilia: fatula / saracu impiriali; Veneto: ociada bastarda
Pomfret is a saltwater fish with a flattened body which can grow to between 30-80 cm in length. It is a greyish silver colour when alive but turns almost black when dead. It has good quality meat, which is best cooked filleted and fried. It can also be boiled, broiled, baked, grilled, or braised with onion and parsley.
Pompano (Leccia stella) (Trachinotus ovatus)
Pompano is a pearly white coloured saltwater fish with a long forked tail and black marks on the ends and the dorsal and anal fins. It lives throughout the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 70 cm in length. It is best eaten in the spring. It has excellent delicate, white, compact flesh, which is best baked, grilled, or pan-fried.
Pond perch – See Pumpkinseed sunfish
Porgy, red (Pagro / Pagro mediterraneo) (Pagrus pagrus)
Substitution: dentex, gilt-head bream
The red porgy is a saltwater fish with a rosy silver body. It can grow up to 1 meter in length, but is normally 30-60 cm. Red porgy is typically fished in the months with hot weather. It has excellent white meat, which is firm and flavourful but is slightly inferior to dentex as the meat is less firm. It can be served raw. It is versatile in cooking and can be baked, stuffed, grilled, cooked on the griddle, or baked in parchment paper.
Potassolo– See Whiting, blue
Pumpkinseed sunfish / Pond perch (Persico sole) (Lepomis gibbosus)
Pumpkinseed sunfish originate from North America but are common in Italy where they are considered an infestation. This freshwater fish can grow up to 20 cm in length. The meat has a lot of bones so the small ones are best deep-fried and eaten whole. Large pumpkinseed sunfish are boned and the meat used to make meatballs.
Ricciola– See Amberjack, greater
Rana pescatrice – See Frog fish
Razorfish, pearly – See Wrasse, cleaver
Roach / Roach, south European / Rovella (Rovella, Gardon) (Rutilus rubilio, Rutilus aula, Rutilus rutilus)
Roach is a freshwater fish living in rivers and lakes in Italy. It is suitable for deep-frying. Large roach can be baked or fried. The eggs are edible and turn from green to red in colour when cooked.
Roach (Gardon) (Rutilus rutilus) lives in Lake Maggiore and grows up to 40 cm in length. Its meat is not very good and it is full of bones. It is best for making into paté or meatballs.
Roach (Rovella) (Rutius aula) lives in Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia.
South European Roach / Rovela (Rovella) (Rutilus rubilio) lives in rivers and lakes in Italy.
Rombo chiodato – See Turbot
Rombo liscio – See Brill
Rombo soaso – See Brill
Rospo– See Frog fish
Rossetto – See Goby
Rovella – See Roach
Salmerino – See Char, arctic
Salmo carpa – See Carpione
Salmon (Salmone) (Salmo salar)
Substitution: char, arctic
Salmon is a very popular saltwater or freshwater fish (depending on the stage of their life) all over the world as its meat is economical, versatile in cooking method, and is easily prepared. For these reasons, wild salmon has been overfished. European salmon can grow to 1.5 meters in length, but more typically up to 1 meter. Wild salmon’s texture and flavour are not comparable to that of farmed salmon, although farmed salmon is sustainable (although an undesirable side effect is that farmed Atlantic salmon have escaped from fish farms and have altered the genetic pool of wild Pacific salmon). The best quality salmon is wild salmon, which has lived at sea for 1-2 years and has had enough food to develop fat which softens the meat. A salmon can be 60-80 cm in length and are fished only in the spring. Salmon fished in the winter and are 3 years old, have meat which is less delicate and soft. Salmon between 2 and 3 years old have inferior meat. Salmon meat is generally soft and delicate, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, and is flavourful. Salmon is sold fresh, frozen, tinned, or smoked. The salmon’s head accounts for 20% of its total weight. Choose whole salmon which is short and rounded with a small head and broad shoulders. Choose pieces of salmon which have fat between the flakes and don’t buy soft, greyish, oily or watery salmon. The best salmon are from Scotland, Ireland, Norway, or the Chinook/King salmon or Sockeye varieties from North America. Salmon has not historically been part of Italian cuisine so there are not traditional recipes. It is excellent cooked anyway but is best smoked, marinated, raw, poached, baked, grilled, pan-fried, or broiled.
Salmone – See Salmon
Salt cod – See Cod
Sampietro – See John Dory
Sand Steenbras – See Sea bream, striped
Sandra– See Zander
Sarago– See Sea bream, white
Sarda– See Sardine
Sardella– See Sardine
Sardine– See Sardine
Sardine / European pilchard (Sarda / Sardina / Sardella / Acciuga) (Sardina pilchardus)
Sardine is a freshwater or saltwater fish which should be a minimum of 11 cm and can grow up to 15 to 20 cm long. The very young sardines are sold as whitebait (see below). Look for sardines that have a vivid colour on their body and eyes and have a plump abdomen, which is not soft or sunken. It is used frequently in Italian cooking and can be eaten all season of the year, although are best in the spring. It can be preserved in vinegar, salt, or oil, sometimes with the addition of lemon juice or tomato. Sardina typically refers to sardines preserved in oil whereas sarda normally indicates fresh sardines. Sardines are best broiled or barbecued and sprinkled with lemon juice. They can also be served raw, deep-fried (sarde a beccafico alla catanese), baked (sarde alla cetrarese, sarde ala napoletana), fried (sarde allinguate), in sweet and sour sauce (sarde in saor), pickled (sardine en consa, scabeccio), stuffed (sarde a beccafico, sarde farcite), in pasta (pasta con sarde), grilled (sarde alla griglia) or cooked in ragù.
Sardinella, round / Sardine, gilt / Sardine, Spanish (Alaccia) (Sardinella aurita)
Round sardinella is a saltwater fish which prefers mild temperatures so are found in more temperate areas. It is similar to, but not as good as, the sardine as it also has a higher fat content, is larger (up to 30 cm in length), and deteriorates quickly once caught. Round sardinella can be found fresh or preserved in salt or olive oil. It is deep-fried, baked, and cooked in ragù.
Sargo – See Sea bream, white
Scabbardfish, silver (Pesce sciabola / Pesce spatola / Pesce bandiera) (Lepidopus caudatus)
Regional names: pesce fiamma, pesce lama, pesce vela
Silver scabbard fish is a saltwater fish that lives in the Tyrrhenian Sea and grows up to 2 meters in length. It has a long, silvery tape-like body. It is fished in the spring, autumn, and winter. The meat is greatly prized, although economical in price, and very flavourful. All along the western coast of Italy the silver scabbardfish is cut into pieces and fried, grilled, stewed, pan-fried, or braised in tomato sauce. It can be cut in tranches or filleted. It can also be cut into fillets rolled around a stuffing made of bread, cheese, oil, and parsley, and then baked or roasted.
Scorfano – See Fish: Scorpionfish
Scorpionfish (Scorfano) (Decentrarchus labrax)
Substitutions: grouper, red gurnard or piper, weever
Scorpionfish is a saltwater fish and there are many species of scorpionfish in the Mediterranean. The body has many venomous ridges and spines so be careful when cleaning this fish and wear gloves. This type of fish is usually cooked using a moist cooking method and is particularly good in soups, stews, and sauces. Large scorpionfish is normally boiled or baked.
Red scorpion fish (Scorfano rosso / Scorfano maggiore) (Scorpaena scrofa)
Regional names: Liguria and Toscana: cappone, cipuddazza, pescio capon, scarpena rossa
Red scorpionfish grow to 50 cm in length. The firm and flavourful fish is of excellent quality. The large ones are good boiled or stewed with tomatoes. The small ones are used in many types of soups (cacciucco and brodetto). Broth made from red scorpionfish is one of the best in Italy. The cheeks are particularly tasty.
Black scorpion fish (Scorfano nero / Scorfano Bruno / Scorfano rascassa) (Scorpaena porcus)
Regional names: pesce capone, scarpena negra, scrofanu niuro
Black scorpion fish grow to 30cm in length. Black scorpion fish is often used in soups. It can also be cooked with oil, garlic, tomato, parsley or basil to make a sauce for spaghetti or linguine.
Sea bass / Sea perch (Branzino / Spigola / Pesce lupo) (Dicentrarchus labrax)
Substitution: brown meagre, shi drum, grey mullet, mahi-mahi
Regional names: lupu de mari, spina, spinola, ragno
Sea bass is a saltwater fish which lives in the Mediterranean Sea and can live in freshwater, often in salt marshes and river deltas. While it can grow up to 1 meter in length, it is often not longer than 50-60 cm. It can weigh up to 10 kilos but is normally between 800 grams and 3 kilos. Farmed sea bass is more common, averaging 250-350 grams in size. Some of the farmed sea bass can be as good as wild sea bass but is typically less flavourful. Wild sea bass has a grey-black back and pales silver sides, which the farmed do not. Sea bass is best eaten in the spring, summer, and autumn. Together with gilt-head bream, sea bass is the most prized fish in Italy as its delicate but firm meat is also flavourful and versatile in cooking method. Sea bass can also be preserved easily for 48 hours in the refrigerator. It has about 50% meat on a whole fish. Sea bass can be served raw (spigola al cruda). It is very good encrusted in salt and baked (branzino in sale), fried, steamed (filetto di branzino alla fonduta di pomodoro), poached (spigola alle alghe), baked (spigola al forno), griddled (spigola ai ferri), or baked in parchment paper (spigola al cartoccio). It pairs well with fennel. The liver of large sea bass is prized and can be pan-fried with butter and sage.
Sea bream (Pagello / Occhialone / Pezzogna) (Pagellus bogaraveo / Pagello centrodontus)
Sea bream is a saltwater fish distinguishable by its large eyes and for a large black mark above the pectoral fin at the beginning of the lateral line. It is found all over the Mediterranean Sea. It is best eaten in the winter and spring. Sea bream should be a minimum of 33 cm and can grow to about 70 cm in length. Suitable for baking, roasting, pan-frying, used in soups and stews. Large sea bream can be broiled.
Sea bream, axillary (Pagello bastardo) (Pagellus acarne)
Substitution: sea bream, pandora
Axillary sea bream is a saltwater fish with a rosy silver coloured elongated body. It grows up to 30 cm in length. It is less prized than the pandora or the sea bream. Axillary sea bream is suitable for moist cooking methods. Dry cooking methods will dry out the meat so it should only be boiled, braised, or used in soups and stews.
Sea bream, black (Tanuta / Cantaro) (Spondyliosoma cantharus)
Substitution: white sea bream, gilt-head bream,
Regional names: cantarella, cantaro, sarago, bastardo
Black sea bream is a saltwater fish, which can grow up to 50 cm in length. It is fished all year-round. The meat is good and similar to white sea bream. It can be boiled or cooked on the griddle and served with a sauce.
Sea bream, saddled (Occhiata) (Oblada melanura)
Substitution: gilt-head bream
Saddled sea bream is a saltwater fish, oval in shape with a greyish silvery blue coloured body with stripes and a black mark at the beginning of the tail. It can grow up to 25-30 cm and can be eaten year-round. The white flesh is firm and has a good flavour but needs to be eaten very fresh or else loses its aroma. It can be broiled, baked, or used in soups and stews, but is best grilled. Small saddled sea bream can be fried.
Sea bream, striped / Sand steenbras (Marmora / Mormora / Pagello mormora) (Lithognathus mormyrus)
Substitutions: gilt-head bream
Striped sea bream is a saltwater fish, which can be eaten every season of the year, but is more intensively fished in the summer and autumn. It is found all over the Mediterranean Sea. Striped sea bream is one of the best fish in the Mediterranean Sea and is as good as, albeit is less known than, sea bass, dentex, or gilt-head bream. It should be no smaller than 20 cm and can grow up to 50 cm in length. The meat is very good for eating. Suitable for baking (mormore al forno) and grilling.
Sea bream, white (Sarago / Sargo) (Diplodus)
Substitution: black sea bream
Regional names: saraco, sparo
White sea bream is a saltwater fish, which is best eaten in the winter and summer. There are many different species of this category of sea bream so they vary in length from 25 to 50 cm. The meat is good if very fresh. This fish loses a lot of its flavour even within hours of fishing. White sea bream is typically cooked on a griddle, grill, roasted, or baked and served with a sauce (samoriglio). It can also be broiled or spit-roasted. The small ones can be fried. The other types of sea bream can be used in soup (see below).
Annular sea bream (Sarago sparaglione / Sarago dell’anelo / Sparaglione / Sparlotto / Carlino) (Diplodus annularis) is small (up to 20 cm), not highly prized, and is yellow and silver in colour. It can be used in soup.
Common two-banded sea bream (Sarago fasciato / Sarago del Salviani) (Diplodus vulgaris) is small but has good meat.
Sharpsnout bream (Sarago pizzuto) (Diplodus puntazzo) has a black ring on its tail and has the most inferior meat. It can be used in soup.
White sea bream (Sarago maggiore / Sarago rigato/Sarago sparetto) (Diplodus sargus) can grow up to 40 cm in length and way up to 2 kilos. Its meat is the most prized amongst these sea bream.
Zebra sea bream (Sarago farone / Sarago fasciato) (Diplodus cervinus) can be used in soup.
Sea needle – See Garfish
Sea Perch- See Sea bass
Shad / Alosa agone (Agone) (Alosa fallax lacustris)
Regional names: sardena
Shad is a freshwater fish that lives in alpine lakes. It is 25-30 cm in length. The meat is rather inferior and is needs to be scaled carefully, has a lot of bones, and needs to be washed more than other fish. It is sold fresh, dried and tinned (missoltini/salacca) or dried and salted. Fresh shad are best in the spring. It is a fatty fish so is suitable for grilling. Small shad is suitable for deep-frying. It is often eaten in Veneto and Lombardia with polenta. The eggs are sold fresh, frozen, and tinned and are considered a delicacy by some.
Sgombro – See Mackerel
Sgombro bastardo– See Mackerel, Atlantic horse
Shark (Squalo / Palombo / Vitello di mare, Smeriglio, Spinarolo, Squalo volpe, Verdesca) (Mustelus mustelus, Lamna nasus / Isurus oxyrinchus, Squalus acantias, Alopias vupinus, Prionace glauca)
Substitutes: ray, tuna
Sharks live in the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 4 meters in length. Shark is not commonly eaten in Italy anymore because they are an important species for keeping the environment in balance, its meat is full of heavy metals, and its flesh is neutral in flavour. Shark is typically skinned and sold in tranches. It is difficult to determine the freshness once the skin has been removed. Shark sold with the skin on will take on a strong off-putting ammonia smell when it goes off. Shark can be marinated in oil and broiled or baked or used in soups and stews. It can also be boiled and served with a marinade (burrida).
Blue shark (Verdesca) (Pionace glauca) is more prized for its fin than for its meat, which is difficult to digest. It can grow up to 3 meters so its meat is sold in tranches. It can be distinguished from smooth-hound shark by its vertebrae which radiates like a bicycle wheel whereas the former has an eight pointed cross in four “V” shapes with the points intersecting in the centre.
Porbeagle, Short-fin mako shark (Smeriglio) (Lamna nasus / Isurus oxyrinchus) are both mackerel sharks which live in the Mediterranean Sea and grow up to 4 meters in length. They are sometimes labelled as swordfish or smooth-hound shark but the spine is smaller than swordfish. It has the highest quality meat of all the sharks.
Smooth-hound shark (Palombo) (Mustelus mustelus)
The smooth-hound shark can grow up to 1.5-2 meters in length. Its flesh is light pink in colour and it is sold in tranches, sometimes erroneously marked as swordfish. The shape of the tranche is different than that of swordfish though and you can more easily pierce the spine with a knife as the shark has more cartilage. The spine has an eight pointed cross in four “V” shapes with the points intersecting in the centre. The meat is easy to prepare as it comes in tranches, is cheap, and is not highly perishable as it can be kept in the refrigerator for 24 hours. It can be roasted, grilled, fried (palombo in cotoletta all’uso Milanese and palombo coi piselli), or baked. There are two types:
Black-spotted smooth-hound shark (Palomo punteggiato) (Mustelus punctulatus)
Starry smooth-hound shark (Palombo stellate) (Mustelus asterias)
Spiny dogfish / Spurdog / Mud shark / Piked dogfish (Spinarolo) (Squalus acanthias) grow up to 1.5 meters in length and weigh up to 12 kilos. It tends to be sold in tranches. Its flesh is quite tough.
Thresher shark (Squalo volpe) (Alopias vulpinus) live in the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 6 meters in length. Its meat has a decent flavour.
Shi drum (Ombrina) (Umbrina cirrosa)
Substitution: sea bass
Shi drum is a saltwater fish, which can grow up to 50 cm in length. There are many different species of shi drum, which live in many different places including the Mediterranean Sea. It is intensively farmed. It has a delicate white flesh, which is flavourful, compact and highly prized. Shi drum is sold fresh or dried and smoked. The most prized species has a gold coloured mouth and is called “boccadoro”. Shi drum can be used in soup (ombrina a brodetto) or stewed.
Siluro – See Catfish
Smelt, big-scale sand (Latterino) (Atherina boyeri)
Regional names: acquadella, alicetta, angela, ciciniello, muscione
This is a small fresh and marine water fish, which grows up to 10 cm in length, but the most prized is no more than 4 cm. It is deep-fried whole, baked (latterini in tortiera), or marinated (aquadelle/latterini marinati) and served as a starter.
Smeriglio – See Shark
Sogliola – See Sole
Sole / Dover sole / Black sole (Sogliola) (Solea vulgaris)
Substitutions: John Dory, turbot
Regional names: lengua, sfogia, sfogio, sfogliola
Sole is a saltwater flatfish, which is best eaten in the summer. There are many species in the sole family, some more prized than others. The most prized is the common sole (sogliola commune) (solea vulgaris). Sole should be a minimum of 20 cm and rarely is longer than 50 cm in length. It is prized for the refined quality of their meat, which is pinkish white, firm but soft, delicate, and flavourful. When the sole is no longer fresh, the skin on the side without the eyes tends to come off easily. It is impossible to test the freshness of filleted sole. Sole is 45% meat and is still fresh within 24 hours of fishing (and in fact taste better 24 hours after being fished). Small sole can be fried with their skin on. Large sole can be grilled, breaded and deep-fried, cooked in tomato sauce, pan-fried with butter or olive oil, cooked on the griddle with its skin on (sogliole ai ferri all’anconetana), sautéed (sogliole alle olive), poached in court-bouillon, fried, baked with butter and white wine, baked, roasted, steamed or baked in salt with their skins on, to be removed after cooking. Sometimes only the dark, more leathery skin is removed. When cooking sole using a moist cooking method, the cooking liquid is reserved, as is the spine and the head to make soup or broth.
Common sole (Sogliola comune) (Solea vulgaris) can grow up to 45 cm in length and is the most prized of the types of sole. It is distinguished by a black mark on the end of the right pectoral fin.
Sand sole (Sogliola del orro) (Solea lascaris) grows up to 35 cm in length and has a nostril on its blind side.
Adriatic sole (Sogliola adriatica) (Solea impar) grows up to 25 cm in length and has a black mark in the centre of its body and a white border.
Klein’s sole (Sogliola turca) (Solea kleini) grows up to 35 cm in length and the anal and dorsal fins are edged in black.
Senegalese sole (Sogliola Senegalese) (Solea senegalensis) grows up to 50 cm in length and has small blue dots on its top side.
Sole, yellowfin / Lemon sole (Limanda) (Limanda aspera)
The yellowfin sole is a saltwater flatfish, which lives in the north Pacific Ocean and grows up to 50 cm in length. It is sold in frozen fillets in Italy, which are inferior to fresh. Yellowfin sole should be eaten as fresh as possible. It is relatively inexpensive and has a neutral flavour and is considered slightly superior to plaice. It is best filleted, breaded, and fried, pan-fried with butter or olive oil, cooked on the griddle with its skin on, sautéed, poached in court-bouillon, fried, baked with butter and white wine, or steamed.
Spearfish, Mediterranean (Aguglia imperiale) (Tetrapturus belone)
This saltwater fish is similar to marlin and can grow to more than 2 meters in length. It is found in Sicilia. Spearfish is highly prized. It can be pan-fried or baked.
Spigola – See Sea bass
Spinarolo– See Shark
Sprat (Spratto/Papalina) (Sprattus sprattus)
Regional names: saraghina, sarda papalina
Sprat is a saltwater fish that lives throughout the Adriatic Sea. It is similar to a sardine, as it is quite an oily fish and deteriorates quickly, but it is less flavoursome. In comparison to a sardine, a sprat has a shorter body, and measures between 10 to 15 cm. It is fished all year-round, but more intensively in the spring and autumn. It is breaded and deep-fried, grilled, and griddled. It can be sold fresh or preserved in oil.
Spratto– See Sprat
Squalo– See Shark
Squalo volpe– See Shark
St. Pierre – See John Dory
Stargazer, Atlantic (Pesce prete / Pesce lucerna) (Uranoscopus scaber)
Substitutes: tub gurnard
Regional names: boca in cao, bocca in cava, boca in cielo, buccuni, cac, chiachia, cozzolo, lucerna, mesoro, prete, toti, uranoscopo
The stargazer is a brown saltwater fish with a large mouth and eyes. It can grow up to 30 cm in length. Its delicate white flesh is firm and flavourful and perfect for use in soup (brodetto) or stew. Stargazer can be boiled or stewed.
Stockfish – See Cod
Stoccafisso – See Cod
Storione – See Sturgeon, Adriatic
Sturgeon, Adriatic (Storione cobice) (Acipenser naccarii)
Adriatic sturgeon lives in the Adriatic and travels to the Po River to reproduce. It can grow up to 2 meters in length and has no scales. Adriatic sturgeon is less prized than White sturgeon which lives in Eastern Europe. Wild Adriatic sturgeon is at risk and should be consumed less. Wild sturgeon is best eaten in the spring. There is now farmed sturgeon, although the fish are normally less than 3 kilos in weight. Sturgeon meat is of excellent quality- light coloured, firm, and not overly fatty. It is easy to prepare as there are no bones aside from some cartilage. Sturgeon is sold fresh or smoked, normally in tranches. It is versatile in cooking and can be sliced and poached in court-bouillon, boiled, broiled, grilled, breaded and fried, pan-fried (storione alla ferrarese), stewed, baked in parchment paper, or served raw.
Beluga sturgeon (Ladano) (Husa husa) lives primarily in the Black and Caspian Seas but also, although rarely, in the Adriatic Sea and Po River. It is huge, growing up to 8 meters. This fish is prized for its large eggs to make into beluga caviar.
European sea sturgeon / Atlantic sturgeon / Baltic sturgeon / Common sturgeon (Storione Comune) (Acipenser sturio) is found on most coasts in Europe but is at risk of distinction. It has the best tasting meat of all the sturgeon. It is also fished for its eggs to be made into caviar.
Starry sturgeon (Storione stellate) (Acipenser stellatus) grows to 2 meters in length but is lighter in weight than other sturgeon. Its eggs are made into sevruga caviar, which is inferior to beluga caviar but superior to oscetra caviar.
White sturgeon (Storione bianco) (Acipenser trasmontanus) grows up to 6 meters in length, but is normally about 1.5 meters. It can be farmed for its meat and eggs to be made into caviar. White sturgeon is the most prized of the sturgeon.
Surici, U – See Wrasse, cleaver
Suro – Mackerel, Atlantic horse
Swordfish (Pesce spada) (Xiphias gladius)
Substitution: Mediterranean spearfish, tuna
Swordfish is an endangered saltwater fish that should be eaten less. It is a magnificent fish with a long bill and is much celebrated in Calabria and Sicilia where it is fished from April to September. It is best eaten in the spring and early summer. It can grow up to 4 meters in length and weigh up to 200-300 kilos. Swordfish has three traditional methods of being fished. In the first method, they have a person on a 20 meter high post who spots the swordfish and use a bow with a 25 meter long harpoon (fiocina) with a forked point with which to spear the fish. The second method is to release nets kilometres long (palangari) and lined with hooks that can be fixed or loose. The third method is to tightly fix a net 800 meters long and 16 meters high to create a drifting wall (palamitara). The last method is illegal in the European Community as it traps many other species in the net, some of which are protected. Swordfish is highly prized for the delicate flavour of its meat, ease of preparation since it is sold in tranches, versatility in cooking, and its texture (which deteriorates if it has been frozen). It is typically sold in tranches, although sometimes it is sold as smaller fish of 2-3 kilos, and is distinguishable because the vertebrae is in an “X” formation and is larger than shark vertebrae. Not all parts of the swordfish are the same however. The belly (ventresca, surra) is the most highly prized part of the swordfish as it is softer, light coloured, and fattier. The back of the swordfish is dark pink, lean, and quite tough so requires marinating in wine and oil before cooking. The tranches are eaten raw (pesce spade crudo), thinly sliced, rolled and baked (braciolette di spade), grilled (pesce spade alla griglia, spiedini di pesce spada), pan-fried (pesce spade in padella), sautéed (pesce spade a ghiotta), steamed, or stewed (pesce spade alla bagnarese and pesce spade alla regina). It is traditionally served with salmoriglio sauce. The whole fish can be baked or grilled and served with salmoriglio sauce or boiled in sea water and served with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley.
Tambarello – See Tuna
Tanuta – See Sea bream, black
Temolo – See Grayling
Tench (Tinca) (Tinca tinca)
Tench is a native freshwater fish to Italy prized for its meat. It can grow to 60 cm and prefers tranquil and cold waters, rich with vegetation. It is also farmed but the quality depends on the water in which it lives, which if very still, the fish can taste of mud. Tench is often sold alive and if it is kept in clean water, alive, for a few days, it will lose its muddy taste. If the fish smells muddy, it can be soaked briefly in water and vinegar to remove. Repeat this process 3 to 4 times. Tench is about 50% meat. To prepare tench, be careful to remove the spines as they can be prickly but do not remove the scales, just clean well. Small tench can be dipped in flour or breaded and fried in olive oil or lard, roasted on the grill or oven with sage, stuffed and baked (tinca a cappone), baked (tinca al forno), broiled; used in soups and stews, or floured, fried, and marinated in onion and bay leaf (tinca in carpione). Tench is also stewed (tinca alla lariana, tinca in guazzetto, tinca con i piselli) or cooked in risotto (risotto con la tinca). Tench is often cooked with strong flavours such as herbs and garlic.
Tinca – See Tench
Tonno– See Tuna
Tonnetto alletterato – See Tuna
Tracina– See Weever
Triglia di fango – See Mullet, Red/Mullet, Striped
Triglia di scoglio – Mullet, Striped Red
Trota– See Trout
Trout (Trota) (Salmo trutta)
Substitution: whiting, European; char, arctic; grayling
Trout is a saltwater and freshwater fish prized for its tasty meat and for having relatively few bones. Farmed trout can be as good as wild trout, particularly if marked “al torrente” as it has been raised in an artificial cold current to obtain firm consistency of the meat. Also prized is trout marked “salmonata” which has vividly coloured flesh which looks like salmon in colour, obtained by feeding the trout ground crustacean shells. It is often sold live and is not highly perishable. Trout can be kept for up to 36 hours after being killed but is best eaten very fresh. Frozen trout is also of good quality. It is 60% meat. Trout should be scaled when preparing but wipe rather than wash the trout. It does not match well with olive oil but rather butter, lard, and lardo (unless being used to dress boiled trout). Trout is also not often paired with tomato. It can be boiled, grilled (trota alla griglia), pan-fried, baked, stewed with wine, mushrooms, or black truffle (not tomato), fried and marinated in vinegar, white wine, and aromatics (trota in carpione), or roasted with pancetta, lardo, or prosciutto crudo as filling or wrapped around the fish. The fillets, escalopes, tranches, and smaller whole fish (16-18cm called trotella) can be fried. It can also be smoked or made into paté or terrine.
Brown trout (Trota fario) (Salmo trutta fario) is a native trout to Italy that lives in running water in the Alps. Brown trout have been successfully farmed. It grows to 50cm in length and is typically less than 1 kilo. This is the most prized trout in Italy.
Brown trout (Trota lacustre) (Salmo trutta lacustris)
Marble trout (Trota marmorata) (Salmo trutta marmoratus) live in Switzerland and Veneto.
Native brown trout (Trota macrostigma/Trota sarda) (Salmo trutta macrostigma)
Rainbow trout (Trota iridea/Trota arcabaleno) (Salmo trutta gairdnerii) originated in North America but now also live in Italy. This is now the majority trout on the market in Italy as it is successfully farmed.
Tuna (Tonno) (Euthynnus alletteratus, Thunnus alalunga, Thunnus thynnus, Sarda sarda, Auxis thazard)
Tuna is most prized in south-central Italy although is less esteemed than swordfish. Atlantic bluefin tuna is the most prized tuna in Italy, followed by albacore tuna. Look for tuna steaks with even, deep colouring. Dark spots indicate bruising and pale flesh is past its prime. It can be served raw, grilled, floured or breaded and pan-fried (tonno c’a cipuddata), grilled, roasted (tonno alla genovese), baked (tonn alla marinara), sautéed (tonno umbriaco), or stewed (tonno coi piselli).
Tuna / Little tunny (Tonno / Tonnetto alletterato) (Euthynnus alletteratus)
Little tuny is a saltwater fish with markings on its back that look like writing. The colour of the flesh is similar to that of Atlantic bluefin tuna but the meat is less fatty and tougher in texture ,so is less prized. The flesh has a lot of blood in it, which is difficult to digest, has a strong flavour, and can act as a laxative. The blood can be removed and the meat thereby made more easily digestible by soaking pieces of the fish in ice water in the refrigerator overnight. The most prized parts are from the belly (ventresca and tarantello). It is versatile in cooking method but should be cooked briefly but gently. Tuna is stewed (tonno alla portoscusese, tonno ammuttunatu, tonno briaco alla livornese), broiled, or breaded and fried.
Tuna, albacore (Alalunga) (Thunnus alalunga)
Albacore tuna is a saltwater fish that lives throughout the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 1 meter in length and 30 kilos in weight. Together with Atlantic bluefin tuna (which it is similar to but albacore has leaner, less prized, meat), they are the most prized tunas in Italy. It has recognisable pectoral fins and is best eaten in the autumn. The flesh is a very light pink colour and can be preserved well in oil. Albacore tuna is versatile in cooking method but is best boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, pan-fried (alalunga in agrodolce), raw, or marinated like ceviche. Be careful not to overcook or the meat will become very hard.
Tuna, Atlantic bluefin (Tonno rosso) (Thunnus thynnus)
The Atlantic bluefin tuna is an endangered saltwater fish that can grow up to 3 meters in length and up to 400 kilos in weight. It is the most prized tuna for its flavourful flesh.
Tuna, bonito (Palamita) (Sarda sarda)
Bonito tuna is a saltwater fish that lives in the Mediterranean Sea and grows to a length of 80 cm and up to 10 kilos in weight. It is best eaten in the winter and spring. It has rosy flesh with a pronounced flavor, which should be cooked gently over low heat. It is versatile in cooking method and can also be preserved in oil. Bonito tuna can be broiled, fried, stewed, or marinated.
Tuna, frigate (Tombarello comune / Tambarello) (Auxis thazard)
Regional names: biso, pisantuni, prisituni, sangusu, sgamirru, tunnacchiu
The frigate tuna is a saltwater fish, which is the smallest of the tunas and looks like a large mackerel. It is blue and lead grey in colour. The flesh has a lot of blood in it which is difficult to digest and can act as a laxative. The blood can be removed and the meat thereby made more easily digestible by soaking pieces of the fish in ice water in the refrigerator overnight. It is versatile in cooking method but pairs well with strong aromatics which can match the strong flavour of the meat such as rosemary, thyme, capers, olives, onion, and garlic. It should be cooked quickly but gently.
Tuna, preserved (Tonno conservato)
Buy: Tinned tuna comes packed in olive oil (“sott’olio”) or brine (“al naturale”) in a jar or tin. It comes packed in pieces or in one solid piece. It can be yellow fin tuna, bonito, albacore, or another variety of tuna. The highest quality preserved tuna is packed as one whole piece in olive oil. The most prized cut is the belly (ventresca or tarantello) as it is delicate, soft, and fatty. The price varies according to the factors above but also according to the production process. Frozen or fresh tuna is either steamed or cooked in water and packed by machine or by hand into a container with hot oil, salt, and sometimes absorbic acid and MSG. It is then sterilised. Fresh tuna packed by hand will be more expensive. In Italy the best preserved tuna is sold in the delis by weight rather than packaged.
Store: Store in the cupboard at room temperature until the expiration date on the packaging.
Prepare: Open the tin and remove the tuna from the liquid. Discard the liquid. Once the container is opened, if the tuna was packed in a tin, remove it to a glass or plastic container, seal it and keep in the refrigerator.
Eat: Preserved tuna can be simply dressed with olive oil lemon, and freshly ground black pepper and served with raw vegetables such as radishes, fennel, and spring onion. It is also used in salads, with beans (fagioli col tonno), as a sauce to dress veal (vitello tonnato), to stuff half of a raw tomato, in sandwiches (tramezzini), in meatballs (polpetone di tonno), to stuff an omelette, to stuff hard-boiled eggs, or to dress pasta (ziti alla palermitana).
Turbot (Rombo chiodato) (Psetta maxima)
Substitution: John Dory, halibut, flounder, sole
Turbot is a saltwater flat fish, distinct in its rhomboid body shape and knobbly brown skin, not to be confused with brill which are of similar shape and in the same family. The side with the eyes has no scales but has bony tubercles. It has a speckled body and is rhombus in shape. There is a special rhombus-shaped pan (turbottiera) made for cooking turbot. Turbot is found all over the Mediterranean Sea and can grow up to 1 meter in length. Typically, the turbot sold is between 20-50cm in length and weighs between 300 gms to 4 kilos. There is now farmed turbot. It is best eaten in the winter and autumn. The meat is highly prized in Europe and is excellent, firm in texture with a delicate flavour. Turbot is my favourite Western fish. A whole fish has 50% meat. It can be cooked whole or filleted. If filleted, look that the meat is creamy white without any tinge of blue indicating it is past its prime. If cooked whole, it is best to leave the skin on until serving. Turbot needs to be cooked gently over low heat with careful attention not to overcook it or it loses its characteristic qualities. It can be broiled, stewed, poached in court-bouillon, baked (rombo con i carciofi and rombo al forno), grilled (with its skin on), steamed, fried, or floured or breaded and pan-fried (rombo con salsa di acciughe e capperi). It does not pair well with olive oil but goes very well with butter, potatoes, artichokes, lemon, and/or herbs such as tarragon.
Vairone (Vairone) (Telestes muticellus)
Vairone is a freshwater fish that live in rivers in central and northern Italy, France, and Switzerland. It grows up to 25cm in length. Its meat is not highly prized suitable for deep-frying.
Verdesca – See Shark
Verzelata – See Grey mullet
Vitello di mare – See Shark
Volpina – See Grey mullet
Weever (Tracina/Pesce ragno) (Trachinidi)
Substitutions: red scorpionfish
Regional names: varagno, dragone, ragno pagano
Weever is a saltwater fish, which grows from 20 to 40 cm in length. There are many species in the Weever family. It has three venomous spines on the dorsal fin and the two gills so you need to use gloves when preparing. If you do prick yourself, soak your hands in hot water. Weever has solid white flesh, which is stewed or cooked in soups. The small ones can be deep-fried and the medium sized ones can be grilled if very fresh (tracina alla griglia), stewed, or broiled.
Greater weever (Tracina drago) (Trachinus draco)
Spotted weaver (Tracina ragno) (Trachinus auraneus)
Lesser weaver (Tracina vipera) (Trachinus vipera)
Whitebait (Bianchetti) (Clupea harengus, Sprattus sprattus)
Whitebait is the young of anchovies, sardines, and pilchards. It is typically eaten from February to August. They should be cooked within 24 hours of being fished. They are sold fresh or boiled and dressed. Whitebait is delicious and is usually eaten whole, breaded and deep-fried or boiled in sea water and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
Whitefish, European (Coregone/Bondella, Lavarello) (Coregonus lavaretus, Coregonus macrophthalmus)
Substitution: trout, perch
Whitefish is a freshwater fish introduced into lakes in Italy in the 19th century. The firm white meat is very tasty and has few bones. It can also be served raw, but the flesh is a bit soft. It pairs well with butter, lardo, and lard. It can be cooked whole broiled, baked (coregone alla bolsenese, lavarello al forno and lavarello alla salvia), baked in parchment paper, or boiled. It can also be filleted and floured or breaded and fried or deep-fried, stewed with wine, mushrooms, or black truffle, roasted with pancetta, lardo, or prosciutto crudo, minced to make fish cakes and stuffings, or used to dress pasta or rice.
Coregone/Bondella (Coregonus macrophthalmus) originates from Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland and lives in Lakes Como, Maggiore, and Lugano in Lombardy and Switzerland. It grows up to 30cm and can be farmed.
Lavarello (Coregonus lavaretus) is a hybrid of the fish from Lake Constance in Germany and lives in the Italian alpine lakes and lakes in Umbria and Lazio. It can grow up to 60cm in length.
Whiting, blue (Melù/Potassolo) (Micromesistius poutassou)
Substitution: hake, poor cod
Regional names: pesce morgana, potassolo
Blue whiting is a saltwater fish, which lives along the Tyrrhenian Sea and grows to about 30 cm in length. It resembles hake but has larger eyes and a smaller mouth. Blue whiting is fished in the spring and summer. There is a festival in Porto Ercole in honour of the blue whiting. The delicate flesh is easily digested and similar to hake or cod although less flavourful and too soft in texture when raw and then too hard when cooked. Blue whiting is sold fresh or salted and sun-dried (mosciame). It is easy to bone as the flesh is soft and you can just use your hands. In Liguria the small ones are opened flat, breaded and deep-fried. The large ones can also be boiled. Small blue whiting can be floured and fried in butter (alla mugnaia).
Wrasse, cleaver / Razorfish, pearly (Pesce pettine/U surici) (Xyrichtys novacula)
The cleaver wrasse is a saltwater fish about 20 cm long. It is a prized fish in Calabria where it is fried. It is good fried in butter.
Zander (Lucioperca/Sandra) (Sandra lucioperca)
Substitutions: pike, perch
Zander is a freshwater fish, which originates from Central-Eastern Europe and Asia but was introduced to Italy in the 19th century. It now lives in the lakes in Lombardy and in many rivers. It can grow up to 1 meter in length. It has white, firm flesh with few bones, which should be eaten as fresh as possible. Its meat is tougher than other freshwater fish so it needs to be cooked slightly longer than most fish. It can be boiled (lucioerca in salsa), braised (Sandra brasata al vino rosso), floured and deep-fried, pan-fried with butter and sage, or made into meatballs.
Zerro – See Picarel
Flounder, European – See Fish: Flounder, European
Florentine fennel – See Fennel
Flour, Durum wheat / Semolina, Kamut (Farina, Semola / Semolino, Kamut) (Triticum aestivum, Triticum turgidum durum, Triticum turanicum turgidum)
Equivalents: 1 cup of flour = 115 grams (will vary 10-20% depending on humidity)
1 tablespoon flour = 15 grams
Substitutions: These are approximations as each type of flour is different so there is no perfect substitution.
|00 Flour||Plain flour||Pastry flour||405||40|
|1 Flour||3 parts strong flour to 1 part plain flour||High-gluten flour||812||80|
|2 Flour||First clear flour||1050||110|
|Integrale Flour||Whole wheat flour||1700||150|
While flour literally means the grinding of any grain, cereal, or pulse, when the word flour is used alone, it typically refers to soft wheat flour. There are many types of flour and each country’s flour is different. There are strong flours for making breads and rustic desserts and soft flour for making pastry, cakes, fresh pasta, and pizza. There is also hard semolina flour used to make pasta, breads, dumplings, and cakes. The most-used flour for home use in Italy is 00 flour (see below). Flour is rich in carbohydrates and has a protein content between 7 to 18%.
Buy: Check the expiration date on the packaging and look to ensure there are no holes in the bag or signs of pests or moisture. White flour should be uniformly white without any specks. In Italy there are 5 grades of flour depending on the ratio of husk to whole grain the flour contains. 00 is the whitest and silkiest and is the most used for cakes, fresh egg pasta, sauces, and some bread.
Types of Italian flour:
Soft wheat flour (Grano tenero / Farina bianca / Farina di frumento) (Triticum aestivum)
Soft wheat flour is more typically used in northern Italy. There are five categories of soft wheat flour further classified into soft flour and strong flour. The categories are derived from siftings with the softest flours being the finest. The more coarse the flour, the higher the number until integrale which is the coarsest meaning it is almost entirely bran (so also contains the most protein). About 80% of Italian breads are made with soft flour.
Soft flour has lower levels of fibre, gluten, minerals, and vitamins and is used for light breads, cakes, pasta, and sauces. This flour is more delicate in flavour and texture and is very white in colour as almost all the bran has been removed.
Types of soft flour:
00 Flour is used in delicate desserts, biscuits, and pastry. There are many types of 00 flour ranging from 40 to 80% gluten resulting in a different degree of liquid absorbtion. 40% is used to obtain a crispier dough. 80% is used to obtain a softer, fluffier dough.
0 Flour is used for less fine pastry, grissini, crackers, pizza, bread, and fresh egg pasta.
Strong flour (integrale) has a higher nutritional content and dietary fibre and has greater flavour. It is used for yeasted breads and is rich in gluten so forms an elastic dough. It is more perishable than soft flour so should be freshly milled.
Types of strong flour:
1 Flour is used for more rustic breads and desserts.
2 Flour is used for more rustic breads and desserts.
Integrale flour absorbs a greater quantity of water and so does not rise well and does not become elastic and smooth. It is dark in colour due to the high amount of bran or germ.
Hard durum wheat / Semolina (Grano duro / Semolo / Semolino) (Triticum turgidum durum)
Hard flour is made from durum wheat, and is more typical of central and southern Italian cooking. It is more granular and yellow in colour than soft wheat flour. It is primarily used for making pasta with water (without the addition of egg) and dried pasta. It is also used in breads, dumplings, and desserts. In Puglia and Sicilia they use hard flour for breads. Hard durum wheat can be more finely ground (semola rimacinata) and called semolina (semolino). Semolina can be made into dumplings (gnocchi alla romana), used in soups, desserts, and can also be coated in flour and made into couscous.
Kamut (Kamut) (Triticum turanicum turgidum) is an ancient grain that was rediscovered recently. It has become popular as it is high in protein, gluten, is easily digestible, and has a high content of selenium, a mineral that reduces free radicals that can cause cardiovascular disease. It is often made into dried pasta. When I can find kamut pasta, I buy it.
Other types of flour:
Note: American flours are harder and higher in gluten and protein than Italian flour. American flours usually have azodicarbonamide added to the flour to mature it and help strengthen the gluten, elasticity, and rising of the dough. It is activated when the flour is mixed into a dough. If you cannot find Italian flour, it is better to use British or French flour which are weaker and have a higher starch content.
All-purpose flour is an American flour made from a blend of soft, medium, and strong wheats which have been milled and refined. It can be used for breads, cakes, and sauces.
Bread flour is a high-gluten flour milled from hard wheat and has a high protein content. It is often blended with low-gluten flours to create dough with more strength and elasticity. It is used to make American style breads and pizza but is not good for making Italian breads. Bread flour is slightly coarse and cannot be squeezed into a lump.
Cake flour is an American flour made from soft wheat with very little gluten so it is perfect for light, delicate baked goods such as high-ratio cakes, jelly rolls, and biscuits. It has a higher gluten content than Italian flour so it is good for making pasta. It has a diminished starch content so will react differently to moisture.
Pastry flour is an American flour made from soft wheat with a low gluten content, slightly more than cake flour, and is used to make tart and pastry doughs, cakes, pastries, and cookies. Pastry flour is smooth and fine and can be squeezed into a lump.
Plain flour is a British flour made of refined and bleached soft wheat. It has only a small amount of gluten so produces a light texture which is perfect for cakes, biscuits, and shortcrust pastry.
Self-raising flour is an American flour with wheat flour that has been mixed with baking powder and salt. As baking powder loses its potency over time, self-rising flour should be used within 2 to 3 months of production. It is used for making cakes and breads.
Strong flour / Strong plain white flour is a British flour made of soft and hard wheats. It has almost no bran or germ and so are fortified with the nutrients later in the process. It is suitable for yeasted breads, pizza, puff pastry, and flakey pastry as it has a high gluten content, which gives a stronger crumb structure.
Stone ground (macinatura a pietra) is a traditional technique of slowly grinding. The reduction in velocity reduces the temperature and so the risk of cooking the grain, improving the flavour. The essential oils also blend with the starch so the flour has the best flavour, aroma, and nutritional qualities such as an elevated level of enzymes and vitamins. It makes a very dense bread so is often mixed with more refined flours. It is more perishable than normal flour, lasting only 5 to 6 months after production.
Unbleached flour has been matured and whitened naturally so has better flavour than the artificially whitened “bleached” variety.
Store: Store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place for 8 to 14 months after production. Stone ground flours will only last 5-6 months after production. Semolina goes stale quickly even if well sealed so purchase it when you need to use it.
Prepare: Most flour needs no preparation. In some desserts, the recipe may call for the flour to be sifted to aerate it.
Eat: Flour is not only used to make breads, pastries, crispbreads, flatbreads, biscuits, pastry, and cakes but is also used to thicken sauces (besciamella), batter meat, vegetables, and fruit for deep-frying, make soup (zuppa di cipolle e farina tostata), and to flour meat for frying to add colour and flavour before braising or stewing. Semolina is used to make desserts, soups (minestra viterbese, zuppa Bolognese and minestra di semolino), couscous, pasta (orecchiette, lagane and maccheroni), and dumplings (gnocchi alla romana).
Focaccia genovese – See Bread
Formaggio – See Cheese
Fragola – See Strawberry
Fragoline di mare – See Octopus
French horn mushroom – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Frog fish – See Fish: Monkfish
Fugassa – See Bread
Fungo – See Mushroom
Fungo ostrica – See Mushroom: Oyster
Fungo di Parigi – See Mushroom: Button
Funnel mushroom – See Mushroom: Funnel
Gaeta – See Olive
Gallinella – See Fish: Gurnard, tub
Gamberell – See Prawn
Gamberello – See Prawn
Gamberetti – See Prawn
Gambero – See Prawn
Gamberone – See Prawn
Garbanzo Beans – See Beans
Gardon– See Fish: Roach
Garfish – See Fish: Garfish
Garlic (Aglio) (Allium sativum)
Garlic is a widely used flavouring in Italian cuisine, although used more mildly in northern Italy. Garlic grows as an underground bulb comprised of 6-14 cloves. It is harvested from May to August and hung to dry. Italian varieties have a pink to purple hue to their skins and a milder flavour. Garlic can be white as well and more strongly flavoured. There is also a very large variety, elephant garlic, which is very mild in flavour. The most important of the white varieties are Bianco piacentino and Grosso d’America. The most important pink varieties are Rosso di Sulmona and Rosso napoletano. Garlic has antioxidant properties that benefit cardiovascular health, suppresses tumour growth, and is rich in vitamins A, B, and C and minerals.
Buy: Fresh green garlic when it is in season in the late spring and summer, is sweeter in flavour than dried garlic. Dried garlic bulbs should be firm with no nicks, soft spots, green shoots, or dark powdery patches under the skin, an indication of moulding. Whole garlic cloves are sometimes preserved in oil but this has an increased risk of botulism.
Store: Fresh green garlic needs to be refrigerated and keeps for a few days. Dried garlic heads can be stored at room temperature in an open container in a cool, dry place or in a clay jar which allows the air to circulate and the garlic to remain dry. Garlic can be stored for several months like this and the pink varieties for up to a year. Do not freeze garlic. Chopped garlic can be covered with olive oil to prevent it from oxidising and keep it fresh and stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Do not keep garlic in oil for long as there is a risk of botulism.
Prepare: Whole garlic is milder in flavour and odour because when the garlic is cut it releases an enzyme called “allinaise” which chemically changes the garlic.
Remove the outer skin a head of garlic to remove the cloves one by one. Cut the hard bit at the base with a knife. You can either slide the knife between the skin and the garlic to remove it, or place the side of a knife blade on top of the garlic and push down to squash it and easily remove the papery outer coating. There is also a tool called a “garlic roller” which is a rubber tube you place the garlic inside and rub between your hands to release the skin. The skin is more likely to stick if the garlic is very fresh.
If the garlic is old, you may need to use more as the garlic becomes milder with age. If there are any green sprouts inside the cloves or brown spots, they should be removed and discarded before using the garlic. It can then be chopped, sliced, pounded, or used whole. Some people use a garlic press but I feel this produces a much stronger flavour.
To remove the smell of garlic from your hands, either wash your hands and rub them on a chrome sink or wash your hands, rub them with salt, and wash again.
Garlic, particularly in northern Italy, is bruised and used whole and discarded after flavouring the dish. In Piedmont, garlic is sometimes infused in milk for a few hours to mellow the flavour further. Be careful not to burn the garlic as it imparts a bitter flavour to the food.
Eat: Very few Italian recipes except for bagna caôda, aggiada, agghia pistata, and agliata, use garlic as the main ingredient. Garlic is normally used as one of the aromatics in a dish or in salads by rubbing a cut clove of garlic on the salad or soup bowl. It is used in soups and inserted into meat before roasting. Garlic sweetens with long cooking and when cooked whole.
Garpike – See Fish: Garfish
Gelatin / Isinglass (Gelatina, Colla di pesce)
Equivalents: weight in sheet gelatin = weight in powdered gelatin
1 platinum sheet = 1.7 grams; 1 gold sheet = 2 grams; 1 silver sheet = 2.5 grams; 1 bronze sheet = 3.3 grams; 1 metric teaspoon powdered gelatin = 3.3 grams
Bloom strength: platinum=250, gold=200, silver=160, and bronze=125. Knox powdered gelatin=225.
To convert gelatin strength: ((X-Y)/X)*grams in recipe = additional grams needed
X= bloom strength required by the recipe (ie if Gold, then 200)
Y = bloom strength that you have (ie if Silver, use 160)
Example: Need 24 grams gold gelatin and have silver
((200-160)/200)x 24 = 4.8 additional grams required
Firm jelly: 8-9 grams platinum gelatin per litre of liquid; 10-12 grams gold gelatin per litre of liquid; 12-14 grams silver gelatin per litre of liquid; 14-16 grams bronze gelatin per litre of liquid
Reduce liquid by 20% for a very firm jelly
Substitutions: agar (4 grams flakes or 8 grams powdered per litre of liquid)
Gelatin is an odourless, colourless thickening agent, which can be of vegetable (apple and citrus fruit peel) or animal (animal bones, hooves, tendons, skin, cartilage, and connective tissue) origin. It becomes sticky when heated and then solid when cool so is used to thicken broths, gravies, and desserts and to clarify wine.
Buy: It can come in sheets made from dried fish swim bladders (colla di pesce), or powdered. Sheet gelatin is preferable as it is less likely to go lumpy. Sheet gelatin comes in different levels of quality with the highest being platinum, then gold, silver, and finally bronze. The higher quality of gelatin the more pure it is and the less you need to use. The leaf gelatin normally found at the grocery store does not state the quality of the gelatin so it needs to be weighed to determine which quality it is (see above for weights). As many scales are not that accurate it is best to weigh 10 sheets together to calculate the weight of each sheet. Since the different qualities of gelatin have different weights, if the recipe calls for the number of sheets then they are interchangeable. If the recipe calls for grams of gelatin then you need to figure out the quality of gelatin you have and convert if necessary.
Store: It has an indefinite shelf life if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place in a sealed container to prevent it absorbing odours.
Prepare: Soak sheet gelatin in cold water (20˚C) until soft (up to 30 minutes), wring out, and dissolve in warm or hot liquid (do not boil gelatin). For powdered gelatin, mix with a little cold water for 5 minutes before adding to the hot liquid. Place the hot liquid into a container and cover the top with cling film, pressing down onto the top of the liquid so that it does not form a skin and refrigerate until serving. Do not add figs, papaya, guava, ginger, and uncooked kiwi and pineapple to gelatin as their enzymes break down the gelatin. Do not freeze gelatin. The more sugar you add the softer the gelatin will be. The ratio of liquid to gelatin will determine how firm or soft the gelatin will be (see equivalents above). Gelatin and the liquid can be reheated a few times in a bain-marie and reset successfully giving the option of adjusting the liquid or sugar ratio. It takes twice as long to dissolve gelatin in milk or cream than in water. To suspend solids (such as well-drained fruit, meat, or vegetables) in the gelatin, chill the gelatin to allow it to become viscous but not firm before mixing the solids in. It will take 2 to 4 hours to set a gelatin depending on the size of the mould and if there are solids mixed in. To remove gelatin from the mould, rinse a plate with cold water, dip the mould in hot water up to the depth of the gelatin for 10 seconds, loosen the edges with a knife, unmould upside down onto the rinsed plate, and adjust the positioning of the gelatin on the plate. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to reset the gelatin.
Eat: It is used to thicken broth, gravy, jellies (gelatina d’arance, gelatine di albicocche, gelantina al limone, gelatina di pesche, gelatina di ribes), and desserts (panna cotta).
Gelatina – See Gelatin
Gelone, fungo – See Mushroom: Oyster
Ghiozzo– See Fish: Goby
Gianduia – See Nutella
Gianduja – See Nutella
Gilthead bream – See Fish: Gilthead bream
Girolle mushroom – See Mushroom: Girolle
Giunca – See Cheese
Giuncata – See Cheese
Gô– See Fish: Goby
Gobbione– See Fish: Gudgeon
Gobbo – See Fish: Gudgeon
Goby – See Fish: Goby
Goose (Oca) (Anser anser, Cygnopsis cygnoides)
Goose in Italy is eaten for its meat, particularly on festive occasions and can be made into prosciutto and salami. The liver is very highly prized in France. Goose can be either wild or domesticated. It can either be from a large breed such as the Tolosa and Embden or from the medium sized races such as Piacentina, di Romagna, and Padovana. The large race geese weigh 10 to 11 kilos while the medium race geese weigh 4 to 6 kilos.
Buy: See Chicken for cuts. The meat is very dark but delicate. The goose has lots of fat, which melts when you cook it. Look for a goose with a pliable breastbone, an indication that the meat will be juicy. The skin should be creamy with a pale apricot-coloured tinge. It should not have any hues of blue or brown. The goose should have been plucked and hung for a few days before it was gutted. The younger the goose, the more tender and delicate the meat. Goslings/green goose, are less than 3 months old and weigh up to 2 kilos. A goose older than 8 months old becomes much fatter and the meat tougher, both of which increase with age. If buying frozen goose, avoid any goose with chunks of ice between the goose and the packaging as this is an indication of freezer burn.
Store: If you have purchased chilled goose, unwrap it and rewrap it lightly in foil or greaseproof paper so the air can circulate and store on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator at 4˚C (away from cooked food) for up to 2 days. Frozen goose can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Prepare: If the goose is frozen, thaw thoroughly in the refrigerator before cooking. Check the interior of the bird to ensure that there are no giblets inside. If the goose is to be roasted, prick the skin all over with a fork or knife tip. Then pour a kettleful of boiling water over the skin or steam it, tipping the bird to pour off any fat which has accumulated in the body cavity. Reserve the water with the fat and cool it to separate the fat and reserve it for cooking. Goose fat is an excellent cooking fat, particularly for potatoes. Goose, apart from the breast, must be cooked through. The older the goose, the longer it needs to be cooked to make the meat tender. It should be served hot.
Eat: Goose is eaten roasted (oca arrosto, oca con le castagne and oca in onto), baked (oca alle vedure), smoked (falso arsuto and oca affumicata), stuffed (oca ripiena), preserved in fat (batù d’oca and oca conservata nel grasso), stewed, or made into salami or proscuitto. The liver can be seared or made into pâté or terrine (fegato grasso in terrina). Goose pairs well with chestnuts, apples, or an acidic fruit like oranges.
Gnocco – See Pasta: Pasta Fresca
Gnocchetti – See Pasta: Pasta Fresca
Grana Padano PDO (Grana Padano DOP) – See Cheese
Grape, Raisin (Uva, Uvetta / Uva passa) (Vitis vinefera)
Grapes are in season from July until December. One of the most prized varieties is called Italia.
Buy: Grapes are a fruit that can be green, red, purple, black, or white in colour. Some have seeds. They are sold fresh or dried (which are called raisins (uva passa/uvetta)). When buying grapes look that the red, purple, or black varieties do not have any hints of green colour and that green grapes do not have any yellow tones. The stems should look fresh but may have a few brown patches. The grapes should be firmly attached to the stem although there may be some loose ones in the container. It is best if you can taste the grapes before buying. Ensure that there is no sign of wrinkles in the skin or brown patches near the stalks. The grapes should not be soft, mouldy, or discoloured. Look for fat, plump grapes without any signs of browning or splitting grapes.
Store: Grapes can be stored wrapped in perforated cling film in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks.
Prepare: Grapes only need to be rinsed in cool water before serving. If you want to seed the grapes, half them first to remove the seed or use the “U” part of a paperclip to insert into a whole grape and remove.
Eat/Drink: Grapes are typically eaten fresh or made into juice or wine. Wine is very often added to savoury recipes early on or used to marinate meat. The grape skins and seeds leftover from making wine are made into grappa. Grapes are rarely cooked in recipes although there are exceptions (tordi con l’uva, quaglie all’uva, fegatini di pollo con l’uva, sòma d’aji and schiacciata con l’uva). Raisins are added to desserts, salami, sauces, and relishes. Grape juice/must is boiled down to a syrup (sapa/saba/mosto cotto) and sometimes flavoured with fruit or spices.
Garrick– See Fish: Leerfish
Grayling – See Fish: Grayling
Greek oregano – See Oregano
Green Beans / French bean / Haricot vert / String beans (Fagiolino / Cornetto / Fagiolo mangiatutto) (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Equivalents: 1 serving = 140 grams
There are several varieties of green beans but there is not much distinction in terms of flavour. The green bean is in season from June through September. The “di Santa Anna” variety from Tuscany are more suited to salads and the “a corallo” are a yellow variety that is frequently cooked with tomato and onion. It is a good source of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.
Buy: The green bean is a summer vegetable which can be green, yellow, or purple. It can be sold fresh, frozen, or preserved in vinegar. The best bean is fresh, young, tender but firm, smooth, slender and blemish-free. Select beans up to 8 mm in width and which are relatively straight. It should be crisp but not hard and should snap when bent backwards and spray a bit of juice (although the haricot vert variety will not do this). To test if the bean is young, snap off the end where the bean attached to the vine and drawn down towards the end, if there is no string and the end snaps off clean, it is young. A green bean become soft when too old and will have visible bumps if left on the vine too long. Select beans which are the same thickness and length so that they cook uniformly.
Store: Green beans can be kept wrapped in a plastic bag in the drawer of the refrigerator for up to three days.
Prepare: Rinse under cold water, rubbing the beans with your fingers, and cut off the top 1 cm of the bean where it was attached to the vine. If you snap the end of the bean off where it attaches to the vine and a string appears then you will need to pull the strings off all the beans by snapping the vine end of the bean and drawing down along the seam towards the tail of the bean. If the beans are longer than 8 cm in length then also cut off the tail of the bean.
Eat: Green beans can be boiled in salted water or steamed. I normally steam them to retain as many nutrients as possible. Traditionally green beans were boiled until soft, about 20 minutes. Today they are usually cooked until no longer raw but are still crunchy, about 6-7 minutes in boiling water if young. Do not cover the pot when boiling as this discolours the beans. Taste the bean to cook to the preferred texture. To lock in the colour after cooking, shock the beans by placing them in ice water for 10 minutes to stop the cooking process. Green beans are boiled and added to salads (fagiolini in insalata) or dressed with butter (fagiolini al burro), garlic oil (fagiolini in padella), garlic and anchovy oil (fagiolini alla genovese, cornetti in salsa), cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (fagiolini alla Milanese), tomato and fennel seed (fagiolini alla Fiorentina), vinegar, or cream (fagiolini alla panna). Very young beans need not be parboiled before being added to a dish. Green beans can be sautéed (fagiolini a corallo, fagiolini di Santa Anna), added to meat loaf (polpettone Genovese), added to pasta dishes (trenette al pesto), or stewed (fagiolini a pomodoro).
Green onion – See Onion
Grey mullet – See Fish: Grey mullet
Grey mullet roe – See Fish: Grey mullet
Grissini – See Bread
Grongo – See Fish: Eel
Grouper – See Fish: Grouper
Guanciale / Cured pork jowel (Guanciale)
Substitutions: pancetta, streaky bacon, salt pork
Buy: Guanciale is a pig’s cheek or jowel cured in salt and aged. It is similar to pancetta which it also resembles in appearance and taste, but is coated in ground black pepper or ground chilli, is richer in flavour, and has a softer texture. It is triangular in shape and is aged for a minimum of 3 months. It has one or two streaks of meat across the fat. Smoked guanciale will have darker coloured meat.
Guanciale amatriciano is flavoured with pepper and chilli and then smoked and aged for 60 days. It it originates from Lazio and Abruzzo and was a staple in the diet of the shepherds there.
Store: Keep wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks. Otherwise it can be kept, wrapped in an air-tight bag in the freezer for several months.
Prepare: Guanciale can be cubed or finely sliced before cooking.
Eat: Guanciale is an essential ingredient in some pasta dishes (alla carbonara, alla gricia, and alla amitriciana).
Guaza – See Fish: Grouper
Gudgeon – See Fish: Gudgeon
Gurnard, tub – See Fish: Gurnard, tub
Gurno– See Fish: Gurnard, tub
Hake – See Fish: Hake
Halibut- See Fish: Halibut
Ham – See Prosciutto
Hazelnut / Cob nut / Filbert (Nocciola / Avellana) (Corylus avellana)
The hazelnut is rich in protein and adds texture to a dish. Hazelnuts can be brick-red or brown and can be elongated or round. Generally the elongated varieties are not as prized as the round ones. Although one of the most prized hazelnut varieties in Italy is the San Giovanni which is elongated. Other prized varieties are the round Tonda gentile delle Langhe and the Romana gentile. They are harvested at the end of the summer.
Buy: The best hazelnuts in Italy, Tonda gentile delle Langhe, come from Piedmont. Hazelnuts are sold in their shells or shelled, salted or unsalted, and roasted or raw. I prefer to buy shelled, raw, unsalted nuts as once they are roasted, they do not last as long and I can roast them freshly before cooking them. Hazelnut oil is also sold.
Store: Hazelnuts are best stored in the refrigerator or the freezer, wrapped in a sealed container. The cold will slow the oils in the nuts from going rancid. If the nuts have gone rancid, they will smell off and have a stale taste.
Prepare: Hazelnuts are normally lightly toasted and skinned before eating or cooking. Place the nuts in a frying pan over low heat and shake the pan until the nuts are evenly toasted, the skins start to crack, and smell nutty, 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to scorch the nuts. They can also be placed in a single layer on a baking tray and placed in a 150˚C oven for 15-20 minutes. Place the nuts in a towel and rub them in the towel to remove the skins. Any hazelnuts which do not easily shed their skins can be toasted a few minutes more and repeat. They can then be cooled and used whole, chopped, or ground finely.
Eat: Hazelnuts are used in desserts in Italy and feature in biscuits (brut e bon and rametti di nocciole), pastries, gelato (gelato di nocciole), cakes (torta di nocciole, doce di nocciole, and torta gianduia), sweet spreads (nutella, and gianduia), and confectionary (torroni, croccanti, praline, gianduiotti, cioccolati nocciolati, caramelle nougatin and nocciolini di Chivasso). They are rarely used in savoury dishes in Italy although there are exceptions (arrosto alle nocciole)
Hazelnut chocolate spread – See Nutella
Haberdine – See Fish: Cod
Haricot vert – See Green bean
Substitutions: sugar, although honey is much sweeter, has flavour, and you need to reduce the amount of liquid or fat in the recipe by 20% of the weight of the honey (i.e. if you use 100 grams of honey, remove 20 grams of milk or butter)
Honey has been a sweetener since ancient times and is prized for its medicinal qualities. Honey’s composition is similar to inverted sugars as it has about 40% fructose, 35% glucose, maltose, and other carbohydrates.
Buy: Honey ranges in colour from almost clear to dark brown. It can be firm or runny. It should have a clean flavour without any hint of bitterness or acidity. The flowers that the bees visit will determine the colour, composition, density, scent, and the flavour of the honey (see Types below). Fine honey often is labelled with the year of production, the botanic origin or type, and the region it originated. Honey can be treated with heat to keep it from crystallising and remain clear and runny. It can also be granulated or creamed to make it smooth and fine-grained. Honey can also be sold in its honeycomb with the honey still sealed in the wax cells.
Acacia (Acacia) honey is amber in colour with a delicate flavour. It does not crystallise. It is good for making drinks, cooking with, or eating as is. The best is from Veneto.
Almond (Mandorle) honey is clear and has an intense flavour.
Arbutus (Corbezzolo) is a light green colour with a bitter flavour. It is common in Sicilia and Sardegna.
Blended (Millefiori) honey is not as fine but is more consistent in flavour. It is the most common type of honey sold. It is amber in colour and the flavour and aroma are intense.
Chestnut (Castagno) honey is dark in colour with a strong, bitter flavour with woody notes. It is less sweet than other honeys and pairs well with cheese. It is produced all over Italy and is one of the most common honeys.
Clover (Trifoglio) honey is white with a delicate taste and perfume. It is not very prized due to its high water content. It is the best for a general eating and cooking honey.
Cornflower (Fiordaliso) honey is dark green in colour with a particular, spicy flavour.
Dandelion (Tarassaco) honey is a clear golden colour with a distinctive flavour. It is spread on biscuits or bread. It is common in northeastern Italy.
Eucalyptus (Eucalipto) honey is amber in colour with a particular flavour. It is good for drinks and in cooking. It is produced in south-central Italy.
French honeysuckle (Sulla) honey is white in colour, without any scent, and is produced in south-central Italy in the spring.
Heather (Erica) honey is amber in colour with orange-red tones. It has a delicate flavour, which suits tea infusions.
Lavender (Lavanda) honey is amber in colour, highly aromatic, and has a delicate flavour of lavender. It crystallises easily. It is considered one of the best honeys. The best quality is produced in Liguria.
Lemon flower (Zagara di limone) honey is clear in colour and has a delicate flavour with a lemon scent. The most highly prized honey comes from Sicilia.
Lime flower (Tiglio) honey is a light yellow colour with an intense perfume and distinct flavour. It is used to sweeten tea infusions. It is common in northeastern Italy and Toscana.
Oregano (Origano) honey is amber in colour with an intense aroma. It is rather rare as it is produced exclusively in the mountains of Piemonte.
Orange blossom (Zagara d’arancia) honey is clear in colour and has an intense flavour of orange blossom. The most highly prized honey comes from Calabria and Sicilia.
Pittosporum (Pitosforo) honey is red-brown in colour and has an intense flavour and aroma.
Rapeflower (Colza) honey is white in colour, has a particular flavour, and is quite rare. It is produced in north-central Italy. Many people do not like it.
Rhododendron (Rododendro) honey is white and intensely perfumed. It is one of the most prized honeys. It is produced in the Alps.
Rosemary (Rosmarino) honey is white in colour and delicately perfumed. It is common in southern Italy.
Spruce (Abete) honey is dark green in colour with a pleasant pine taste.
Sunflower (Girasole) honey is clear and has a delicate flavour.
Thyme (Timo) honey is clear with an intense perfume and distinct flavour. It is common in southern Italy. Thyme honey from Trapani is highly prized.
“Miele centrifugato” has been heated at a low temperature and filtered to ensure its quality and shelf life.
“Miele colato” the honey is obtained by draining the honeycomb without heating or a minimal amount of heating.
“Miele torchiato” the honey is obtained by applying pressure to the honeycomb and does not use heat or a minimal amount of heat.
“Vergine integrale” means the honey is pure and has not undergone any form of treatment.
Store: Honey can be kept indefinitely but loses flavour over time. Honey can be kept in an air-tight container in a dark, dry place at room temperature (22˚C) for 12-18 months without loss of flavour. It can be kept in the refrigerator for years.
Prepare: If the honey has crystallised, place the open jar in 70˚C water up to the level of the honey until the crystals melt. Honey should not be heated above 180˚C or it will become very dark.
Eat: Honey is used in confectionary, biscuits (biscotti integrali, biscotti alle spezie, cavallucci, cuddureddi, and piparelli), desserts (dolce al miele, dolcetti al cioccolato, semifreddo al miele, panforte, spongata, struffoli, and nucatoli), gelato, drinks, and as medicine. In Sicilia some sweets are made with honey instead of sugar and are used to top fritters (sfinci ammilati and crispelle di riso). Honey is used in making gelato as it reduces the temperature at which gelato solidifies so the texture of the gelato is softer. It is eaten as is on bread, biscuits, or with cheese. It is also used in savoury dishes, particularly sweet and sour recipes (cipolline in agrodolce al miele), to glaze meat (cosciotto di maiale glassato al miele), and sauces (salsa di avije).
Honey armillary mushroom – See Mushroom: Honey armillary mushroom
Horned octopus – See Octopus
Imbutino, fungo – See Mushroom: Funnel
Indivia – See Chicory
Insaccati – See Salami
Ipooglosso– See Fish: Halibut
Isinglass – See Gelatin
Italian field mushroom – See Mushroom: Button
Jerez – See Sherry
John Dory– See Fish: John Dory
King brown mushroom – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
King oyster mushroom – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
King trumpet mushroom – See Mushroom: King trumpet mushroom
Kiwi fruit / Chinese gooseberry (Kiwi / Kivi) (Actinidia)
Kiwi fruit is in season from late autumn through spring but due to controlled atmospheric storage and importation, they are sold year-round. It is rich in vitamins A, B, and especially C. The Hayward variety is the most common in Italy.
Buy: Kiwi fruit is oval in shape and has a thin, greenish-brown skin covered in fuzz with either green or yellow soft flesh with tiny edible black seeds. It grows up to 8 cm in length and 5 cm in width. It is harvested unripe and continues to ripen after it is picked when held at room temperature. It can be stored for months. Buy plump ones with unblemished skins (no signs of bruising, wrinkling, or tears in the skin). Ripe fruit will be slightly soft to touch but even if you purchase firm, unripe kiwis they will ripen at room temperature.
Store: A ripe kiwi can be kept at room temperature, away from other fruit (as the kiwis will accelerate their ripening) and out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days. Otherwise it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The golden kiwi (kiwi with yellow flesh) is normally sold ripe so it can only be kept for a day or two at room temperature or for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. An unripe kiwi will ripen over a few days and up to a week at room temperature. To accelerate the ripening process, a kiwi can be placed in a plastic bag with a ripe banana, apple, or pear which will release ethylene gas to help ripen the kiwi over 1-2 days.
Prepare: Cut off both ends, place the kiwi upright on one of the cut ends and use a paring knife to cut off the skin in slices, working your way around. It can then be sliced, quartered or cubed. A kiwi will benefit from being sprinkled with a bit of sugar and left to sit for 30 minutes. Do not use kiwi with gelatin as the gelatin will not set.
Eat: It is used in fruit salads (macedonie di frutta), gelato, sorbet, mousse, soufflé, Bavarian creams (bavarese al kiwi), tarts (crostata di kiwi), and drinks.
Kivi– See Kiwi fruit
Lacerto – See Fish: Mackerel
Ladano– See Fish: Sturgeon, Adriatic
Ladyfingers – See Savoiardi
Lamb (Agnello / Abbacchio / Agnellone / Pecora/ Castrato) (Ovis aries)
Substitutions: kid goat
Lamb is popular in the springtime in northern and central Italy and year-round in the south of Italy. Lamb is particularly important to the cuisine in mountainous areas and islands. Mutton, however, is relatively uncommon.
Buy: Lamb is sold fresh and frozen. The quality of the lamb is determined by three considerations: the race, its feed, and the age. As a consumer, the only part of the selection process which is controllable is the age. While baby lamb is the most prized, it is seasonal and not widely available. Lamb (agnello) is the most consumed category. There is “ pre-sale” (salt marsh lamb) which is also highly prized, and requires lambs to be let to graze near the sea. Lamb should have a decent amount of meat on the bones. Look for rosy flesh which is firm and not soft (unless it is baby lamb). Except for baby lamb, look for meat which does not have much fat. The fat should be white or slightly pink, not crumbly or discoloured.
Milk-fed lamb / Baby lamb / Hothouse lamb (Agnello di latte / Abbacchio) is a milk-fed lamb (before it has eaten solid food) that is 3 to 4 weeks old. It weighs about 4 to 5 kilos when sold and is sold whole, halved, or quartered. It is very tender and delicately flavoured so should be cooked with other mild flavours.
Spring lamb (Agnello) is 8 to 10 weeks old and weighs up to 8 kilos when sold. It should have predominantly been fed milk. Look for lamb which has lot of meat on the back, has firm meat on the thighs, and has a lot of firm, white to pale pink kidney fat. It can be cut into a rack or chops, leg, shoulder, chump, and loin. The neck, fore shank, and breast are minced or chopped. It is also tender and suitable for spit-roasting.
Lamb (Agnellone) is usually a 6-10 month old lamb, but is definitely less than 1 year old. It should weigh less than 10 kilos and it should have predominantly been fed milk. Look for lamb which has lot of meat on the back, has firm meat on the thighs, and has a lot of firm, white to pale pink kidney fat. It can be cut into rack or chops, leg, shoulder, and loin. The neck, fore shank, and breast are minced or chopped. It has a slightly gamey flavour and is good for braising in stews or for pasta sauce.
Hogget / Mutton (Pecora / Castrato) is a sheep older than 1 year old. A hogget is between 1-2 years of age while mutton is older than this. It has dark meat with a stronger taste. There should not be too much fat. If the sheep is not too old it can still be used for cooking but will have a strong flavour. Castrato is a castrated and fattened male sheep. It has a papery white membrane covering the meat, called a “fell”, which needs to be removed as it is not digestible. To remove the fell, cut into it and slide your knife blade along the fell to separate it from the meat. Mutton is not often eaten in Italy.
Parts of the Spalla / Spallotto:
1. Scrag end of neck and middle neck (Collo)- good for stewing, broth, and braising
2. Shoulder and fore shank (Spalla)- The shoulder is good for roasting and stewing, but fattier than the leg (also juicier), though it can be harder to carve. It can also be minced. The fore shank is tough so needs to be slowly braised.
Parts of the Lombata / Carré:
3. Upper rib and rack of lamb / Loin / Saddle (Carré)- good for roasting, frying, or grilling; can be sold on or off the bone, in a rack or in chops; the upper rib is also called carré or rack of lamb; both sides of the loin may be left attached and then is called sella (Guard of Honour)
4. Breast (Petto)- is a thin, fatty cut which is good for stews or other slow cooking methods. The bony parts can be made into small ribs to barbecue.
Parts of the Coscia / Coscio / Cosciotto:
5. Chump (Sella)- good for roasting
6. Leg / Gigot (Cosciotto / Coscio / Coscia)- good for roasting or grilling; can be sold boned or with the bone. It can be rolled or cooked flat. If the legs are left attached with the chump, this cut is called a barone (baron of lamb).
Store: Meat should be removed from the packaging it was sold in as an airtight container may promote bacterial growth. Lamb should be stored, lightly wrapped in parchment paper or aluminium foil in the refrigerator at 5˚C on a tray to catch any drips. It should be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so it doesn’t contaminate other food. Lamb mince can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 day. Lamb joints and chops can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
If your time requirement is longer than this then the lamb can be frozen in thick air-tight freezer bags at – 18˚C and then thawed in the refrigerator (6 to 7 hours per 450 gms), or in a sealed bag immersed in cold water when needed. Lamb mince can be kept in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Lamb joints and chops can be kept in the freezer for 6 to 9 months. If the meat begins to show signs of grey, white or brown patches on the meat, it is developing freezer burn and is dehydrating. It is still edible but will be dry and not taste nice. Organ meats are more highly perishable and should be consumed within a week of slaughter or purchased frozen.
Prepare: In preparing mutton, it is often covered by a impenetrable white membrane which needs to be removed before cooking. Use a knife to pierce the membrane and then hold the membrane firmly in your hand and run your knife along the membrane to sever it from the meat.
Eat: Whole lamb can be spit-roasted (abbacchio) or roasted (agnello alla carbonara). The lamb shoulder is best stewed (agnello aglassato), stuffed (agnello abbottonato), or braised. The leg is relatively lean so can be larded before roasting. The leg is best roasted (cosciotto d’agnello arrosto), spit-roasted or stewed (agnello in fricassee, agnello al calderotto, and agnello cac’e ova). The breast can be stuffed, rolled, and roasted. The rack is best roasted, grilled (agnello a scottaditto), fried, or deep-fried. Lamb should be served while it is still pink the centre to remain juicy.
|Leg, saddle, loin||190˚C for 20 minutes per 450 grams|
|Shoulder, rolled breast||180˚C for 25 minutes per 450 grams|
|Leg, shoulder||160˚C for 2 hours|
|Leg, shoulder||160˚C for 1.5 hours|
|Cooking temperatures*:||Rare||Medium||Well done|
* Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the joint of meat but do not touch any bones. Remove the meat 5˚C below the temperature you are trying to achieve as when you remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes, the temperature will continue to increase.
Lampone – See Raspberry
Lampuga – See Fish: Mahi- Mahi
Langoustine – See Lobster
Lard (Strutto / Sugna)
Lard is a traditional fat used in cooking all over Italy, although is becoming less used due to health consciousness. Not to be confused with lardo, lard is the soft fat beneath the skin, closest to the meat, whereas lardo is the hard pork fat closest to the skin from the back or back of a pig’s neck.
Buy: Lard is pork fat, which has been rendered in an oven at a low temperature or boiled with water until the water evaporates and the fat is clear. Solids which form during this process are called ciccioli or pork scratchings. The fat is cooled and the impurities sink to the bottom of the pan, and the pure fat is collected and is called lard.
Store: Store in a fully airtight container for no longer than a year . If the lard smells, looks, or tastes off then discard it.
Prepare: No special preparation required.
Eat: It is used in making breads (gnocco fritto), frying meat (pollo in padella alla romana), deep-frying, and in making preserved meats and salamis.
Lardo is cured, hard pork fat closest to the skin from the back or back of a pig’s neck, not to be confused with lard (strutto) which is the soft fat beneath this closest to the meat.
Buy: It is sold in rectangular blocks which are at least 3 cm thick. The outside is coated in pepper and other aromatics. The inside is pure white and soft with some light pink or brown. It has a rich perfume and delicate, fresh flavour. If lardo is smoked it is called lardone.
Lardo bono is bacon or pork fat used to lard joints of meat.
Lardo di Arnad is a prized lardo made in Valle d’Aosta. It is made by curing pork fat in glass or ceramic containers with salt and brine water flavoured with achillea, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, nutmeg, pepper, and rosemary. It can be cured for up to a year. Longer cures will also use white wine.
Lardo di Colonnata is a prized lardo from Toscana. It is fresh pork back fat which is layered with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, garlic, oregano, rosemary, sage, and star anise and preserved in salt brine in marble troughs for a minimum of 6 months.
Lardo di Montefeltro is a prized lardo from the Marche. It is made from the fat from the hindquarters and is salted and weighted for weeks and then dry aged for 3-4 months. It is then cut into pieces and pickled in a concentrated salt and water solution in earthenware pots. They were traditionally also wrapped in hay and stored in wooden chests in well-ventilated storage areas.
Lardo di rosmarino is a lardo which is dry cured with salt and herbs, particularly rosemary, from Piemonte and Liguria. While curing, it is kept cool and massaged every few days for 3 months.
Store: Wrap in a slightly damp cloth, in the bottom of the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or wrap in a plastic bag and freeze for 1-2 months.
Prepare: If the lardo is too salty, it can be blanched by placing it in a pan and covering it with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes, let cool, and drain. To cut lardo with a knife, you can heat the knife on a flame first to cut more cleanly through the lardo. Lardo can be pounded to a cream or finely chopped with garlic and herbs (lardo battuto) to be used as a condiment, brush on bread, add to stews and broths, or to use in stuffings. It can be finely sliced and served as is or cut into strips (lardelli / bastoncini) to lard joints of meat.
Eat: It can be served sliced finely and served as a starter or is used chopped or sliced as an ingredient in dishes.
Lasagna– See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Latterino – See Fish: Smelt, big-scale sand
Lattuca – See Lettuce
Lattuga – See Lettuce
Lavarello – See Fish: Whitefish, European
Leccia – See Fish: Leerfish
Leccia stella– See Fish: Pompano
Leek (Porro) (Allium amepeloprasum)
Equivalents: 450 grams leeks, trimmed = 4 cups chopped = 2 cups cooked
Substitute: green onion
Leeks are in the onion family but have a more delicate flavour than onions. They are in season from October through March, depending on the variety. Some of the best varieties are winder leeks such as “Caretan”, “Gigante d’Italia”, and “Gigante d’inverno”.
Buy: Leeks should be purchased with the greens attached so it is easier to determine freshness. Look for leeks that are straight and have the greatest proportion of white to green, as it is the white part (porrina) that is edible. The proportion varies with different varieties. If you are using the leeks for broth, this ratio is not important. The white part should be unblemished, unwilted, tender, and plump. If they are bulbous this indicates that they are over-mature which means they may have developed tough or hollow centres. There should be no yellowing to the leek. The green part should not be ripped and look fresh. The winter varieties have more flavour but are tougher whereas the summer varieties are more delicate and tender.
Store: Leeks can be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for a week.
Prepare: If the outer leaves are yellowed or the leek is very large, peel off the outer layers and discard. Cut off the root and cut the leek 5 cm above the white part. The top and the root can be washed and used for soup or broth. Leeks have a lot of sand and dirt between their leaves which needs to be washed out. To chop leeks, cut it up first and then wash. Otherwise, slice lengthwise halfway through the leek, leaving the leaves attached but allowing you to wash in between the lawyers. Place them in a basin of water and soak for 15 minutes. Then hold the leeks gently under running water.
Eat: Leeks are typically boiled and dressed (porri con la besciamella), sautéed, braised, in omelettes, in pastas (tagliatelle al latte), with polenta (polenta e porri, polenta nera con bagna bianca), or used in soups (minestra di riso, porri e bietole), or stews. Leeks pair well with butter, olive oil, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, goat cheese, capers, wine, olives, thyme, parsley, saffron, potatoes, fennel, celery, and eggs.
Leerfish– See Fish: Leerfish
Lemon (Limone) (Citrus limonia)
The lemon was probably introduced to Italy by the Arabs in the 9th to 11th centuries. Lemon is rich in vitamin C. Lemon is in season year-round but in particular in the summer (verdelli), winter (primofiore), and spring (bianchetti). Sicilia produces 90% of the lemons in Italy. Notable PGI varieties of lemons include “limone costa d’Amalfi”, “limone femminello del Gargano”, and “limone di Sorrento”.
Buy: Lemon is a citrus fruit which can be large or small with a thick and bumpy skin or thin and smooth skin. As lemons are more abundant during the fall, winter, and spring, producers harvest unripe lemons and put them in cool storage so that they mature slowly for up to 6 months, in order to more evenly spread out the harvest. While lemons do not get sweeter or improve in flavour once picked, they also do not lose much weight or juiciness from long storage or transport. Look for lemons with are heavy for their size and have evenly coloured, smooth, thin, unblemished skins. Thick or rough skins on lemons which are light-weight for their size will lack juice. They should have a vibrant yellow colour to the skin with a moist sheen not a dry, dull light-yellow skin. They should not have bruises, holes, dampness, or soft spots. Buy unwaxed lemons if you need to use the zest, although unwaxed lemons are more prone to moulding so use them quickly. Smooth skinned lemons tend to have more juice.
Store: Yellow lemons can be held at room temperature for up to a week, or in the refrigerator for a month. Green lemons can take a few weeks at room temperature to ripen and turn yellow. Unwaxed lemons should be kept in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Prepare: If the lemons are waxed and you want to use the zest then scrub the lemons under cold water to remove the wax. The vitamin C in the lemon juice is destroyed by heat so it is best added at the end of cooking.
Eat: Lemons are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. They are also used to coagulate eggs and milk fats in cheese making. They are used in cooking fruit to retain the shape of the fruit and in soaking water when preparing vegetables that oxidise such as artichokes. Lemon juice is also used to “cook” raw foods such as fish and meat. It is also used to dress salads, vegetables, seafood, fish, and deep-fried food. Lemon is used in drinks (limonata, vino caldo), liqueurs (limoncello), syrups, jams, sorbets, and gelato and is used to flavour cakes, custards, tarts (crostata di limone), and pastry.
Lenticchie – See Bean
Lentil – See Bean
Lesser octopus – See Octopus
Lettuce (Lattuga / Lattuca) (Lactuca sativa)
The name for lettuce in Italian, lattuga, derives from the word for milk, latte, since when the plant is cut, it oozes a white liquid resembling milk. There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce but they tend to be categorised in to three categories (see below under types). For chicory lettuce- see Chicory. Different varieties of lettuce are in season year-round. Lettuce is rich in Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and fibre.
Buy: Lettuce is a vegetable which is sold fresh in whole heads or in loose leaves in bags. The best lettuce is sold in heads although the bagged loose-leaf lettuce is more convenient as the leaves are already washed and ready to use. There is an on-going debate about the safety of bagged lettuce due to bacteria present and chemicals used in the packaging. Lettuce should look fresh and crisp. The leaves should not appear wet, wilted, or yellowed.
Round lettuce / Cabbage lettuce / Head lettuce (Lattuga cappucce) (Lactuca sativa var. capitata) form a crisp, compact head of large, round, concentric green leaves of lettuce with a crisp, light yellow heart. Varieties include butterhead (Regina di Maggio, Cavolo di Napoli, Meraviglia d’inverno, Meraviglia delle quattro stagioni), iceberg / crisp head (Regina dei ghiacci), and Boston (Trocadero) varieties. Different varieties grow in different seasons and some grow year-round.
Romaine lettuce / Cos lettuce (Lattuga romana) (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia) has elongated leaves which can grow up to 50 cm in length. Romaine is in season year-round. Varieties include “Bionda degli ortolani”, “Verde d’inverno”, “Rosso d’inverno”, and “Balon”.
Leaf lettuce / Loose-leaf lettuce / Cutting lettuce (Lattuga da taglio) (Lactuca sativa var. crispa) forms a rosette or is comprised of frilled leaves with no distinguishable head. The leaves can be green or green and red together. The most common varieties are “Riccia verde da taglio”, “Riccia bionda d’Australia”, “Rossa di Trento”, “Ubriacona frastagliata”, “Ciucca”, “Bionda a foglia liscia”, and oakleaf “Biscia rossa”.
Store: Lettuce is highly perishable and needs to be refrigerated packaged in a plastic bag or rolled in a kitchen towel in a drawer. Leaf lettuces will keep for 4 days, romaine lettuce for 10 days, and iceberg lettuce for up to 2 weeks.
Prepare: Remove the leaves from the head and place in a large bowl. Discard the outer leaves if they are tough, wilted, yellowed, or blemished. Soak lettuce in cold water for 10 minutes and then rinse with cold running water, rubbing the base of the leaf to remove any dirt. They can be dried in a salad spinner or wrapped in a kitchen towel, gather the edges in one hand, and roll your arm around fully extended to spin dry. The leaves are normally torn rather than cut. Never wring or press the leaves. Do not dress lettuce until serving as the leaves will go limp.
Eat: Lettuce is normally eaten in salads in Italy, typically dressed at the table rather than a dressing prepared in advance. Salads are dressed with olive oil, nut oils, linseed oil, grapeseed oil, or rapeseed oil with vinegar or lemon juice. Lettuce can be cooked but this reduces their vitamin content. Romaine lettuce can sometimes be cooked, typically boiled (lattuga lessata), braised (lattughe ripiene in brodo), or in soups (zuppa di lattughe ripiene).
Lievito chimico – See Baking powder
Lievito di birra – See Yeast
Lievito di panificazione – See Yeast
Lievito in polvere – See Baking powder
Lievito madre– See Yeast
Lievito minerale – See Baking powder
Lievito naturale – See Yeast
Lievito per pane – See Yeast
Limanda– See Fish: Sole, yellowfin
Limone – See Lemon
Linguine – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Loach, spined – See Fish: Loach, spined
Lobster / Boston lobster / American lobster / Spiny lobster / Rock lobster / Norway lobster / Crawfish / Dublin Bay prawn / Langoustine (Astice / Aragosta, Scampo) (Homarus gammarus, Homarus americanus, Nephrops norvegicus, Palinurus elephas)
Equivalents: 450 gram lobster = 1 main dish serving = 2 starter serving
800 grams langoustines in the shell = 250 grams langoustine shelled = 2 servings
Whole lobster weight x 30% = meat weight
Langoustine weight x 30% = meat weight
Buy: Lobster is a shellfish which is sold frozen, alive, fresh, and cooked. It is best to buy live lobsters. Do not buy dead fresh lobsters, tinned lobster, or cooked picked lobster meat. Lobsters range in colour depending on the species, see Type below. A lobster weighing about 600-700 grams is the optimal size for most dishes. Don’t buy a lobster weighing more than 2 kilos as the meat can be stringy. Look for a lobster which is not missing legs or claws, not floppy, and feels heavy for its size. If the lobster is alive, there should be tension in its tail and claws. The lobster should have been fished in the past couple of days as a lobster in captivity shrink and the meat becomes rubbery. If it smells fishy then do not buy it. For cooked lobster, pull the tail straight and see if it springs back to determine if it was cooked when alive. Italians prefer Mediterranean spiny lobsters to Boston lobsters.
Langoustine is sold frozen, cooked, or fresh. It needs to be eaten directly after being fished so is often frozen or cooked. To judge the freshness of a langoustine, look at the eyes which should be dark black and plump, not sunken and grey. The shell should have a sheen even if it is not wet. Sometimes only their tails are sold frozen. Frozen langoustine is also good but fresh is preferable.
Boston lobster / American lobster (Astice / Astaco) (Homarus gammarus, Homarus americanus) has a shell which is blue or green and when cooked, turns brick red on the back and cream and coral colour on the underside. This lobster has claws and can grow to 60 cm in length. The flesh is more elastic than that of the spiny lobster with a less delicate flavour. The best lobsters are from the coldest waters. The male lobster has firmer flesh than the female and has larger, meatier claws. The female lobster has more delicately flavoured flesh, a broader tail, and may have roe. The flesh is a creamy pink colour, and is firm and delicate in texture, with excellent flavour. They are at their best and are at their most abundant during the summer. They are found off the coast of Sardegna and in the northern Atlantic Ocean. There are also Boston lobsters from Africa which are brown in colour with inferior meat. They are in season from October through June.
Norway lobster / Langouste / Crawfish / Scampo / Dublin Bay prawn / Langoustine (Scampi / Scampo / Arganello / Astrocio / Lempitu di fangu / Renfele ‘e funnale) (Nephrops norvegicus) is a very small pink-orange shelled Mediterranean lobster with small spines, which can grow to 20cm. The flesh is delicate and soft. The Mediterranean langoustine has a thinner shell than the one in the UK. It has pale claws. They are found in the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas, northern hemisphere seas, and along northern Africa. They are in season in the spring or fall. Italians tend to prefer spiny lobster most, with langoustine then Boston lobster considered close contenders.
Spiny lobster / Rock lobster (Aragosta / Elefante di mare / Agosta / Langusta / Aligusta / Alaustra) (Palinurus elephas) is a crustacean rather than a true lobster, is smaller (up to 50 cm in length and 8 kilos in weight) and has no claws. The spiny lobster has two long antennae, two small antennae, and five pairs of legs. It is red-brown, pink, or green with yellow or white specks. It is found along the coasts of Sardegna and Sicilia. The female has a double row of fins under the tail and may have roe.
Caribbean spiny lobster (Cuba) (Panulirus argus) is brown with large light-coloured spots and has large antennae. It lives in subtropical and tropical waters in various oceans. The meat is flavourful.
Mediterranean lobster / European spiny lobster (Aragosta nostrana / Aragosta Mediterranea) (Palinurus elephas) is brick-red coloured with two white dots on each segment of the tail and has the tastiest meat. It lives in the Mediterranean Sea. They are fished from October to June. They reproduce in the spring when they have roe.
Pink spiny lobster/ Portugal spiny lobster (Aragosta rosa / Aragosta di Portogallo) (Palinurus mauritanicus) is lighter in colour with light-coloured flecks. Its meat has less flavour and is not as delicate.
Royal spiny lobster (Aragosta verde / Aragosta di Mauritania) (Palinurus regius) is blue-green coloured and lives in subtropical or tropical waters, particularly from Africa. It has less flavour than the Mediterranean species.
Store: It is best eaten immediately but you can keep it in the refrigerator for a day by rolling it loosely in damp newspaper inside a ventilated paper bag.
Prepare: Before cooking live lobsters, it is kind to kill them first. Place it upside down, holding it by the curve in its tail, and rub your finger along the top of the head until the lobster calms down. Place it on a cutting board and plunge a knife into the indentation in the shell just behind the eyes (between the eyes and the tail) and draw the knife downwards between the eyes. If you need to halve the lobster then turn the knife around and draw the blade down from head to tail to cut it in half. Lobster is typically boiled or grilled. To boil a lobster add it whole to a large pot filled with boiling salted water for about 10 minutes or until the lobster has turned brightly red. Lobster should be cooked gently and quickly as overcooked lobster meat is tough and rubbery. The tail can be twisted off from the body and cut in half by drawing a knife down the tail or if you want to keep the meat whole, use scissors to cut down the shell covering the underside of the tail and pull the meat out. The body can be used for soups or sauces if you remove the sand sac. The green liver, or tomalley, is excellent for sauces. To prepare the tail, draw out the vein in the back holding the waste. There may also be eggs inside, the coral, which are perfectly edible and can be used in sauces. The claws, including the knuckles can be twisted off and cracked with a mallet. If extracting and chopping the flesh, keep the lobster in relatively large pieces so it retains its moisture. Serve it immediately after cooking so it does not loose its flavour.
To prepare langoustine, wash under cold, running water and brush the shell if there are algae or anything stuck to the shell. It can be kept whole or the tail removed (as all the meat is in the tail) and the head can be used for soup.
Eat: Lobster is best cooked simply by boiling in court-bouillon (aragosta alla bosana), steaming, broiling, roasted (aragosta arrosto), or grilling (aragosta alla griglia). It can be served hot or cold (aragosta in insalata), plain or simply dressed with mayonnaise or olive oil and lemon juice. It is also eaten cooked with tomato (aragosta alla catalana), with pasta or rice with tomato sauce (spaghetti all’aragosta), pasta with mushrooms and butter, or soup (zuppa di aragoste).
Langoustine is normally boiled in court-bouillon for 3-4 minutes (scampi lessati), breaded and deep-fried for 3-4 minutes (scampi fritti) , steamed for 6-8 minutes, grilled for 10 minutes (scampi alla griglia), baked for 10 minutes, sautéed for 6 minutes (code di scampi, fave e piselli), or added to risotto or pasta.
Lotregano – See Fish: Grey mullet
Lucanica – See Sausage
Luccio – See Fish: Pike
Lucioperca– See Fish: Zander
Luganega lombarda – See Sausage
Luganega trevisana – See Sausage
Lumaca di mare – See Sea snail
Maccarello – See Fish: Mackerel
Maccheroni – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Maccheroni alla chitarra – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Mackerel – See Fish: Mackerel
Mackerel, Atlantic horse – See Fish: Mackerel, Atlantic horse
Macrocefalo – See Fish: Cod
Maggiorana – See Marjoram
Mahi-Mahi – See Fish: Mahi- Mahi
Maiale – See Pork
Maiatica – See Olive
Malloreddos – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Malloreddus – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Mangetout – See Peas
Manteca – See Butter
Mantis prawn – See Prawn
Maraschino is a golden transparent cherry liqueur made from infusing sour cherries (marasca, ciliegia) and crushed cherry pits in alcohol, fermenting it with cherry leaves and grape wine and ageing it in oak barrels. The liquid is finally distilled with sugar water syrup. It originated in Dalmatia, Croatia.
Buy: Maraschino should be a straw coloured liquid that is sweet and has between 35-38% alcohol content.
Store: Store in a cool, dry place at room temperature. An upened bottle should be sealed and kept at room temperature for up to a year. Watch for discolouration or sugar crystallization and taste to ensure it is still good.
Prepare: It can be used in cake batters and to macerate fruit.
Eat: Maraschino is served as a drink and is used in desserts and to flavour fruit salads.
Mariah– See Fish: Burbot
Marjoram (Maggiorana / Persa / Persia / Persica) (Origanum majorana, Origanum onites, Origanum heracleoticum)
Marjoram is closely associated with the Ligurian cuisine although it is also used in central Italy.
Buy: Marjoram is a herb which is sold fresh or dried, although the dried version has less flavour. It should smell sweet and have small branches with many small, rounded green leaves. The leaves should not be brown, withered, or falling off the branches. Marjoram grown in hotter climates will have a stronger flavour and aroma than those grown in more temperate climates. It has the strongest flavour in the summer. The “origanum onites” is a pot growing variety which can be grown on a windowsill.
Store: Fresh marjoram can be stored in the drawer of the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Excess marjoram can be successfully dried, frozen (although its texture is ruined), or preserved in oil and stored in the refrigerator.
Prepare: Pick the leaves from the stem. Discard the stem. Rinse the leaves under cold water and dry with a thin kitchen towel.
Eat: Marjoram is used as an aromatic in savoury pies (torta pasqualina), stuffings (cima alla genovese), filled pastas (pansoti), sauces, vegetables, and soups (persata).
Marmellata di albicocca – See Apricot jam
Marmora– See Fish: Sea bream, striped
Marsala DOC (Marsala)
Marsala is a fortified white wine from Sicilia which was discovered in 1773 by wine merchant John Woodhouse, who was looking to ship wine from Sicilia to England without it spoiling. Marsala is made using wine made primarily from catarratto and grillo grapes with up to 15% inzolia grapes added. Added to this are mistella (grape must with brandy to stop the fermentation process – this is the best and most expensive method), mosto cotto / vin cotto (cooked grape must) and / or sifone (concentrated grape must). Marsala can sometimes be blends of different vintages under the solera system.
Buy: Marsala is golden yellow in colour with orange highlights. It should be highly aromatic with caramel notes (except the Vergine). It can be sweet (dolce), semi-sweet (semi-secco), or dry (secco). The colour ranges from gold (oro), to amber (ambra), to ruby (rubino). The alcohol ranges from 15-21% or higher. It is classified according to typology and aging.
Fine is aged for a minimum of 4 months and has a minimum of 17% alcohol. It is good for cooking.
Superiore is aged for a minimum of 2 years and has a minimum of 18% alcohol.
Superiore Riserva is aged for four years and has a minimum of 18% alcohol.
Vergine has been aged for 5 years and has a minimum of 18% alcohol. Vergine uses mistella (must with alcohol added to prevent fermentation).
Solera Stravecchio/Solera riserva has been aged for at least 10 years and has a minimum of 18% alcohol.
Speciale implies other ingredients such as eggs, spices, and cream have been added.
Store: Marsala can be kept in a cool place at room temperature unopened for years. The flavour does not improve once it has been bottled and conversely, once opened, begins to lose flavour. Once the bottle is open, you can seal it from the air and store at room temperature for or, even better, in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.
Prepare: Dry Marsala can be served chilled to 10˚C as a drink before a meal, with a starter, or with cheese after a meal. Sweet Marsala can be served slightly chilled at 18˚C after a meal as it is or to accompany dessert.
Eat: It is used in pastries, custards, creams (zabaglione), puddings (budino di Panettone), gelato (gelato di crema), or cakes (buccellato). Dry Marsala is used to flavour meat dishes (becacce alla lucana, faraona ripiena, finanziera, scalloppine di vitello).
Mascapone – See Cheese: Mascarpone
Mascarpone cheese – See Cheese: Mascarpone
Mascherpone – See Cheese: Mascarpone
Mazzancolla – See Prawn
Meagre, brown – See Fish: Meagre, brown
Mediterranean sand eel– See Fish: Eel, Mediterranean sand
Mela – See Apple
Melanzane – See Aubergine
Melon / Cantaloupe / Watermelon (Melone / Popone, Anguria / Cocomero, Cantalupo) (Cucumis melo, Citrullus lanatus)
Melon is a fruit which is in season during the summer.
Buy: Buy a melon which is blemish free, is heavy for its size, and smells fresh and sweet, but not overly sweet. Don’t buy melons with green skin. Select the more flavourful, male melon which has a black spot on the end opposite the vine end. A ripe melon often has a flattened side where the skin is paler (on a watermelon this should be yellowy not white or green). The fruit should feel heavy for its size, be firm, plump, and have no blemishes on its skin (soft spots, scarring, or bruising). The stem should be moist but not mouldy and have a clean scar. A light cracking at the stem is a sign of ripeness. Netted melons should have no bald patch and if pressed at the stem end they should feel slightly springy (firm means it is unripe and soft means it is overripe). If you shake the melon and hear a sloshing sound, the fruit is overripe. Watermelons should sound hollow when tapped and look for skin which looks waxy and dull. Watermelons should be heavy for their size, and large for their variety.
Melon (Melone / Popone) (Cucumis melo)
Winter melon (Cucumis melo inodorus) has a thin, smooth green or yellow skin with whitish flesh and is in season during the winter.
Summer melon is either a musk melon or a netted melon with a grooved surface, or a cantaloupe with a smooth, streaked skin and orange flesh.
Cantaloupe (Cantalupo) (Cucumis melo cantalupensis)
The canteloupe is from Italy and is named after Cantelupo, a papal property near Rome. It is smaller, spherical, and has a hard skin. The rind is clearly segmented and smooth although in North America cantaloupe refers to a different variety which is scaly. The flesh has orange flesh with a sweet perfume. July and August are the best months to eat cantaloupes.
Watermelon (Anguria / Cocomero) (Citrullus lanatus)
Watermelon can be round or oblong, has a green striped rind, and weighs up to 15 kilos. It can have yellow or red flesh and sometimes have black seeds. It is in season from June to August. It is eaten fresh, used in sorbets (gelo), ice creams, or preserved (vettaioli).
Store: A ripe melon can be kept at room temperature for up to 5 days or a ripe melon in the refrigerator for up to 3 days wrapped in cling film. Do not let the melon get too close to anything frozen or the flesh will suffer. Cut melons must be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in cling film for up to 2 days.
Prepare: Refrigerate the melon a few hours before serving. If you are using the entire melon without the skin, then cut off the stem end and the opposite end, place the melon cut side down on the board and use a knife to cut off the skin in strips starting at the top and cutting down towards the board. Cut the melon in half. For melons, other than watermelon, use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.
Eat: Melon is normally eaten fresh as a starter with prosciutto (prosciutto e melone), in fruit salads, gelato, sorbet (gelo), in cakes, and tarts. Melon can be candied and used to make panforte. Its sprouts can be preserved (vettaioli).
Melone – See Melon
Menola– See Fish: Picarel
Melù– See Fish: Whiting, blue
Merluzzetto– See Fish: Cod
Merluzzo argentato– See Fish: Hake
Merluzzo atlantico – See Fish: Cod
Merluzzo giallo – See Fish: Pollack
Miele – See Honey
Milk can come from any mammal but the word milk tends to refer to cow’s milk. Ewe’s and goat’s milk are also consumed though. The best milk by far is milk from cows reared on the Alps. It is the creamiest most satisfying milk one could enjoy. Milk is rich in vitamin D and calcium. Calcium is essential for the functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves and the formation of bones and teeth. Vitamin D protects the body from cancers of the stomach, oesophagus, breast, pancreas, and colon. It also contains protein, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. The lactose in the milk, which some people find difficult to digest, promotes the establishment of the intestinal flora, which is essential for human well-being. Milk is an essential part of the diet for children under the age of 4 years old.
Buy: Most milk has been pasteurized to remove any harmful bacteria. Never buy anything labelled “milk drink” as it is not real milk. If the milk is labelled “fresh milk” it should be fresh, not reconstituted powdered milk. Milk should be a creamy white colour with a slightly sweet and a pleasant smell. Generally when cooking or baking with milk, it is best to use whole fresh milk, not UHT, reconstituted (check the label), or skim milk. UHT and reconstituted milk have a bland flavour and skim milk has a watery consistency. Really good milk is often sold in glass bottles and doesn’t travel far from where it is made.
Fresh Milk: This milk can be raw (latte crudo) which has not been treated, although it is quite rare to find this nowadays. Milk which has been pasteurized (latte pastorizzato/latte fresco) has been heated to 72-75˚C for 20 seconds in a vacuum and then is quickly cooled to remove any pathogens, thereby preserving the milk.
Whole milk (Intero) is the best type of milk you can buy and must have a fat content no less than 3.2%. True whole milk will have cream that will rise to the top and needs to be shaken back into the milk. Whole milk will be creamier in the summer when the cows have fresh grass to eat while winter milk will be paler and thinner. Some breeds of cows produce milk which is slightly blue in colour.
Homogenized milk has had the cream evenly mixed throughout. It is good for making gelato as it freezes well but it takes longer to heat.
Semi-skimmed milk (Parzialmente scremato) has undergone a centrifugal process to remove its cream. Semi-skim milk will have had half of the cream removed and has 1-1.8% fat content. It is sometimes refortified with vitamins and milk solids to make up for the nutrients removed by the process. It is good for low-fat diets but is not beneficial to small children.
Skimmed milk (Scremato) has undergone a centrifugal process to remove its cream. Skim milk will have had most of the cream removed and has 0.5% fat content. It is sometimes refortified with vitamins and milk solids to make up for the nutrients removed by the process. It is good for low-fat diets but is not beneficial to small children.
Long-life milk (Latte sterilizzato): This milk has been pasteurized, homogenized, and then sterilized to create milk which has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration.
Ultra Heat Treated (UHT) milk (Uperizzazione) has been pasteurized and then heated to 150˚C for one second to preserve the nutrients and attempt to preserve the lactose. If the lactose caramelises, this is detrimental to the flavour of the milk. While it is inferior to fresh milk, it is helpful to have a container in the pantry if procuring fresh milk is inconvenient.
Evaporated milk (Latte concentrato / Latte evaporato) is whole or skim milk where 50-60% of the water has been removed. It is then homogenized, tinned, and sterilized at 110-115˚C. It can be used in cooking and can be whipped. Before whipping, chill the milk in the freezer until crystals form along the edges. It has a different taste to fresh milk.
Condensed milk (Latte condensato) is whole or skim milk where 50-60% of the water has been removed, it is tinned, and then sterilized. It has extra sugar so is sweet and sticky with a toffee taste. It can be used in cooking and can be whipped. Before whipping, chill in the freezer until crystals form along the edges.
Dehydrated milk / Powdered milk (Latte in polvere) is powdered milk which has a bland flavour. This process makes the milk more easily transportable and prolongs the shelf life. It is vastly inferior to fresh milk but can be used as an ingredient in yoghurt.
Store: Store fresh milk in a closed container in the refrigerator at a temperature not higher than 4˚C until the expiration date on the packaging. Long-life milk can be held at room temperature until the expiration date on the package, usually 3 months. Once opened, long-life milk must be kept in the refrigerator and will last up to 7 days. Evaporated milk can be held at room temperature unopened for years but once opened must be kept refrigerated and used within 1 day.
Prepare: If possible, try not to boil the milk as it reduces its nutritive properties, makes it more likely to scorch, and the solidified proteins and the milk skin form a skin on the top of the milk. It should be heated slowly at low temperatures to no more than a simmer. The addition of flour or sugar helps prevent skin from forming on the top of the milk. Dishes made with milk can benefit from having cling film pressed down on the top of them while cooling or before serving to prevent the skin from forming.
Eat: Italian adults typically don’t drink milk, except in coffee. Milk is an essential ingredient in making yoghurt, cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, custard (latte dolce fritto), creams, soups (minestra di castagne), gelato, puddings (budino di latte), and besciamella sauce. It is also used to boil pasta (lasagne al latte), rice (riso e latte), polenta (polenta al latte), salt cod , stockfish (baccalà alla vicentina), pork (maiale al latte), and many desserts.
Mollica di pane – See Breadcrumbs
Monkfish – See Fish: Monkfish
Monk’s head mushroom – See Mushroom: Funnel
Mora – See Blackberry
Morchella, fungo – See Mushroom: Morel
Morel mushroom – See Mushroom: Morel
Mormora– See Fish: Sea bream, striped
Moro – See Orange
Moscardino – See Octopus
Moscardino bianco – See Octopus
Mozzarella Cheese – See Cheese: Mozzarella
Mozzarella di bufala – See Cheese: Mozzarella
Mucca – See Beef
Mugella – See Fish: Grey mullet
Mullet, Red– See Fish: Mullet, red/Mullet, striped
Mullet, Striped – See Fish: Mullet, red/Mullet, striped
Mullet, striped red– See Fish: Mullet, striped red
Mushroom (Fungo) (Boletus)
Equivalent: 120 grams = 1 starter or side dish serving
A mushroom grows underground in symbiosis with tree roots and is invisible to the eye. Left undisturbed the mushroom plant can live for 10 years at the right temperature and humidity. The capped stalk we think of as a mushroom is the fruit of the plant. There are more than 35,000 varieties of mushrooms which come in all shapes and colours. Many varieties of mushrooms are poisonous so only experts should pick wild mushrooms. The most prized Italian varieties are porcini and royal agaric. Mushrooms are rich in potassium and have phosphorus, calcium, and iron.
Buy: Mushrooms are sold fresh, dried, frozen, preserved in oil (funghi sott’olio), preserved in vinegar, or tinned in water. I do not recommend mushrooms tinned in water.
Mushrooms should be plump, dry, clean and firm. If the gills are open, they should look fresh and not be wet or matted down. Buy fresh mushrooms which don’t have a bad smell, the skin is not darker than usual, wrinkled, or blemished, and does not seem dried out, full of water, sticky, or slimy.
Dried mushrooms, particularly porcini, are excellent but generally used differently than the fresh ones. Dried mushrooms should have a strong scent. The larger and more intact the slices, the more expensive, but it is also easier to detect how long they have been on the shelf. If the dried mushrooms are crumbly, they are too old.
Store: Place mushrooms in a closed, brown paper bag or wrapped in a slightly damp towel, in the refrigerator (not in the vegetable drawer) for up to seven days (for variations to this see the specific mushroom type). Do NOT put them in a plastic bag or they will become slimy. They are delicate in that they are susceptible to drying out if not covered properly but also will be come soggy and decay if exposed to too much moisture. Mushrooms can be thinly sliced and dried under the sun, but need occasional turning. Do not try to preserve mushrooms in oil or vinegar at home as there is a risk of botulism. They can be successfully frozen but the texture deteriorates. Storage times vary according to the variety, so see the types below. Dried mushrooms should be kept in a cool, dark, dry container which is air-tight.
Prepare: Wipe away any dirt with a damp cloth (NEVER wash mushrooms as they soak up water which dilutes their flavour). Trim any damaged spots and tough stems. Check the variety under “Types” below to see if the stalk is used or reserved for broths. Dried mushrooms can be rehydrated in warm water for 20 minutes before using.
Eat: See specific types. Mushrooms preserved in oil are served as a starter. Only porcini, button, and Caesar’s mushrooms are eaten raw in salads. Mushrooms are grilled, baked in parchment, sautéed (funghi trifolati), used in soups and stews, and used to dress pasta (pasta con funghi al pomodoro), polenta, and risotto. Mushrooms pair well with butter, olive oil, garlic, parsley, lemon, rosemary, tarragon, onions, leeks, potatoes, barley pine nuts, wine, and rice.
Button / White / Domestic / Cultivated / Brown / Chestnut / Crimini / Italian field / Portobello (Champignon di Parigi / Prataiolo/ Cappellaccio/ Fungo di Parigi) (Agaricus bisporus, Agaricus hortensis, Agaricus pratensis)
Button mushrooms are cultivated and so are ubiquitous (and cheap).
Buy: There are two types of button mushrooms- the white ones (also called button, domestic, cultivated) and the brown ones (also called chestnut, cremini, Italian field, and the very large ones, Portobello). The brown button mushrooms have slightly more intense flavour than the white ones. They range in size so select the size based on the cooking preparation. The smaller button mushrooms which still have enclosed gills are good for eating raw. The newly opened button mushrooms are good for preserving under oil. The medium-sized button mushrooms are good for making into sauces and sautéeing. The very large brown mushrooms are sold as “Portobello” mushrooms and are best grilled or roasted. It is best to buy them loose so they can be inspected individually. Button mushrooms can be sold fresh or preserved in oil.
Prepare: Wipe away any dirt with a damp cloth. Remove the stem and save for broth. If the mushrooms are very dirty, you can rinse quickly in cold water but it is not ideal. Button mushrooms will oxidise after they are brushed so particularly if they are to eaten raw, sprinkle lemon juice on them after rubbing or slicing to prevent them turning brown. Typically the stem is removed and discarded or reserved for making stock.
Eat: These mushrooms can be used in most mushroom dishes. They are good to mix with dried porcini mushrooms when fresh porcini are not available or prohibitively expensive. Button mushrooms can be thinly sliced and eaten raw as a salad (insalata di champignon crudi), deep-fried (fritti dorati), made into a paste to dress pasta (tonnarelli alla paplina, alla boscaiola) or pizza, grilled, roasted, or sautéed (trifolata).
Caesar’s mushroom (Ovolo) (Amanita caesarea)
Regional names: cocco, coccola, cocco giallo, fungo relate, bolé real, and cocon
The Italian name “ovolo” is derived from the Italian word for egg, “uovo”, as the Caesar’s mushroom when very young is encapsulated in a white veil similar to an egg. As they grow it changes shape from spherical and closed to flat and open. They have been prized since the days of ancient Rome and were called the “food of the Gods”. Caesar’s mushrooms are very rare and so are expensive. It also grows in Sichuan province. Be careful as the poisonous Amanita muscaria mushroom resembles the Caesar’s mushroom.
Buy: Caesar’s mushrooms have a distinctive orange cap, yellow gills, and white stalks. The flesh is white. The can can grow up to 20 cm in diameter and the stalk can be 10 to 15 cm in length. The very young, closed or semi-closed Caesar’s mushrooms are particularly prized and are eaten raw.
Store: Store for no more than 2 days.
Prepare: Wipe with a dry cloth.
Eat: They are best eaten raw thinly sliced as a salad (ovoli in insalata) or on top of carpaccio. The open Caesar’s mushroom are cooked, typically preserved in oil, in soup (zuppa di ovoli), or baked with a breadcrumb topping.
Chanterelle / Girolle (Cantarello)(Cantharellus cibarius)
Regional names: galletto, gallenella, galluccio, galitola, gallinaccio, finferla, cresta di gallo, gialletto, galuzzo, garitola, finferlo
Chanterelles have a strong flavour which I love. They are one of the most popular mushrooms in Europe. In Liguria, there are many recipes using chanterelles. They are in season from late summer through autumn.
Buy: They can be yellow or white in colour and have a compact, meaty, funnel-shaped cap that ranges in size from 4 to 10 cm. The stem is the same colour as the cap and is compact and thick. The flesh inside is white with a spot of yellow. Try not to buy chanterelles which have broken into pieces or have too much sand in them. Chanterelles are also sold preserved in oil, dried, and frozen. Fresh are best.
Store: Chanterelles are hardy and can stay in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 days.
Prepare: Chanterelles can be difficult to clean. Brush with a damp cloth and unless very dirty, do not rinse with water. Add chanterelles later in the cooking process so they do not toughen.
Eat: Chanterelles are excellent in risotto, pasta (spaghetti al sugo di funghi cantarelli), sauces, and stewed as an accompaniment to meat such as chicken or beef cheek (guancia di manzo con patate e finferli). They pair well with eggs, garlic, and parsley.
Funnel / Trooping funnel / Monk’s head (Cimballo / Imbutino) (Clitocybe gibba, Infundibulicybe geotropa / Clitocybe geotropa)
Regional names: cimaballella, volterrano, agarico imbuiforme
The funnel mushroom is in season during the autumn.
Buy: The funnel mushroom can grow to more than 10 cm in diameter and more than 15 cm in height. It has a funnel shaped cap and is white or yellowish in colour. It is very meaty in texture and flavourful.
Common Funnel (Cimballo / Imbutino) (Clitocybe gibba) is white in colour.
Trooping funnel / Monk’s head (Cimballo) (Infundibulicybe geotropa / Clitocybe geotropa) is yellow in colour.
Store: Keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Prepare: The stem is hard and needs to be removed prior to cooking.
Eat: It is commonly used in sauces and soups. It can also be fried and preserved in oil.
Honey armillary mushroom (Chiodino / Piopparello / Pioppino) (Armillariella mellea)
Regional names: famigliola buona, sementino, ciudin, cuet
The Italian name, chiodino, derives from the word for nail, “chiodo”, in reference to the shape of the mushroom. The honey armillary mushroom grows in bunches on logs or tree stumps in the autumn. Their flavour varies depending on what type of wood they grew on. The honey mushroom is abundant as it can be cultivated so its price is relatively low.
Buy: When the honey armillary mushrooms are young, they have a semi-spherical cap which then grows larger as they mature. At medium maturity the cap is still conical and when it is very mature it flattens around the edges and maintains a raised point in the centre of the cap. They also start out a rosy colour with a reddish hue and then turn brown when mature. The gills are white, sometimes flecked with red and the flesh is white. The stem is slightly curved and can grow up to 15 cm in length. They are sold fresh and preserved in oil.
Prepare: Cut off the stalk and throw away or use for broth as they are fibrous in texture. Honey armillary mushrooms can become viscous when cooked, parboiling them beforehand is a way to avoid this, although this can mean they lose their flavour.
Eat: They are best stewed with tomatoes (chiodini in umido col pomodoro) or garlic and parsley and served with polenta. In Lombardia they are cooked with duck, rice, guinea fowls, pork ribs, or preserved in oil. They are also popular in Veneto. In Veneto and Piemonte, the sauté honey armillary mushrooms with in olive oil with garlic and chopped parsley (funghi trifolati).
Morel (Spugnola / Morchella) (Morchella esculenta)
Morel is in fact more of a fungus than a real mushroom. They are usually only found in traditional Italian cooking in Emilia, specifically Modena. Morels are one of my favourite mushrooms. Unfortunately they can be expensive, though it should be noted they are more prized in France than in Italy.
Buy: Morels have an oval, conical or elongated cap that are 5 to 13 cm tall that are spongy in texture. They have a hollow stem, range in colour from tan to brown to grey or black. The best morels are black or brown with a larger oval head in relation to the stem. They are sold fresh or dried, which are also very good.
Prepare: Prepare just before cooking, as morels are highly perishable. As they have a spongy texture they are difficult to clean. Ideally, just wipe them with a cloth or brush away dirt with a stiff brush. If you must rinse them in water, the flavour will suffer.
Eat: In Modena, morels are used to dress pasta (tagliatelle, lasagne Bianca con le spugnole) or cooked with cream on their own (spugnole alla crema).
Oyster mushroom (Orecchione / Fungo ostrica / Pleurotus / Gelone) (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Regional names: orecchione, cardella, melina, peperona, agarico ostreato
These mushrooms are cultivated and so are ubiquitous (and cheap). They are used in a lot of recipes in Puglia. They have a delicate flavour.
Buy: Oyster mushrooms have fan-shaped caps which taper off into their stems. They normally grow in a cluster on stumps, logs, or branches of hardwood trees. They range in colour from pale brownish grey to brownish black. The flesh is white, thick, and soft. The stems are short and tough and the gills are white. It is preferable to buy younger ones as they tend to be more tender, as oyster mushrooms mature they can toughen.
King trumpet mushroom / French horn mushroom / King oyster mushroom / King brown mushroom / Boletus of the steppes / Trumpet royale (Cardoncello / Cardarello / Cardarella) (Pleurotus eryngii ) This variety has a thick stem with a funnel-shaped meaty cap. It is the most common mushroom in Puglia and Basilicata.
Prepare: Wipe away any dirt with a damp cloth. Cut off and discard the stem or save for broth.
Eat: This variety can be used in most mushroom dishes. They are normally stewed, broiled, or preserved in oil. King trumpet mushrooms are gratinéed (cardoncelli gratinati) or cooked with tomatoes (cardoncelli al pomodoro).
Porcini /Cep / Bolete / Pine bolete / Pinewood king bolete / Summer Cep (Porcino) (Boletus edulis, Boletus reticulatus, Boletus aereus, Boletus pinophilus)
Other names: bolé; bolé dij fò; carej; caplet; porsin
Porcini are in season from late summer through autumn. They usually grow under oak, beech, chestnut, fir and pine trees. There are many varieties of porcini mushrooms, but not all of them are good. The king of the porcinis is the boletus edulis, also known as the common porcini. The best ones are grown in Calabria, Campania, and Piemonte. Porcini mushrooms, together with Caesar’s mushrooms, are one of the great mushrooms of Italian cooking and often command a high price. They have a flavour unrivalled by other mushrooms and have a meaty texture.
Buy: Porcini have rounded or flat caps ranging from 5 to 30 cm in diameter with a stalk that can be 20 cm or longer in length and 2 to 5 cm in diameter. Look for smaller, compact and elastic porcini with a hazelnut-coloured cap and a short stalk, indicating that they are a younger and of higher quality. If, however, the intention is to roast or grill, slightly more mature mushrooms are preferable. They should not be sticky. The meaty cap has white or yellow or dark brown pores underneath, rather than gills like other mushrooms. Look for mushrooms which have white or light yellow pores. A mushroom past its prime will be flaccid in texture, have a large cap, a long stem, and thick pores under the cap with a greenish tinge. While the varieties of porcini range in colour from white to brown or dark grey with blackish purple tones, the flesh inside is white. The best porcini will still have a brown cap. Porcini grown in North Africa tend to have a lot of sand in them requiring them to be washed thoroughly, therefore compromising the flavour. Porcini are sold fresh, frozen, or dried.
Dried porcini offer a more intense flavour so are valued independently. Select dried mushrooms which are creamy in colour and are not dark, crumbly, or have signs of pests. Tiny pieces of dried porcini may be gritty so try to buy larger pieces. They should be light cream in colour with some dark patches and should have a strong scent.
Bolete (Porcino nero / Bronzino) (Boletus aereus) havea dark brown cap with a stalk with a dark net-like appearance. The pores range from greyish white to yellow.
Pine bolete / Pinewood king bolete (Porcino rosso/ Porcino dal gambo rosaceo) (Boletus pinophilus) have a brown cap with tones of red and purple but the flesh is white. The stalk is fat with a purplish hue.
Porcino / Cep (Porcino comune) (Boletus edulis) is the most common variety and the cap ranges in colour from white to chestnut colour. The stalk is white and more slender. It is the most prized.
Summer cep (Porcino estivo / porcino reticolato) (Boletus reticulatus) have a very fat stalk with a net like appearance and are not as firm as other porcini.
Store: Store for no more than 2 days. Porcini can be frozen although this may affect their texture.
Prepare: These mushrooms are quite large and their stems are eaten. Normally porcini are simply brushed with a dry cloth and the pores inspected for parasites. Thick pores can be trimmed. If the porcini are very sandy then they will need to be washed in water. Peel the stems with a mushroom peeler or small knife and cut off the end which grows in the ground. Cut the stems from the stalk. Finely slice the stems and the stalks, keeping separate.
Dried porcini need to be soaked for 20 minutes in warm water before using (strain the soaking liquid to remove the grit and use as broth in cooking).
Eat: Porcini are good raw thinly sliced (porcini crudi) or cooked. They are excellent in starters, soups, salads, pastas, risotto, polenta, stuffed pastas, in omelettes, in sauces, with meat, used in stuffing, and on their own- especially grilled (porcini alla griglia), deep-fried (porcini fritti, porcini impanati), stuffed (porcini ripieni), baked (cappelle di porcini al forno) or fried (porcini trifolati). Many dishes in Liguria use porcini mushrooms.
Saffron milk-cap / Red pine (Agarico delizioso / Sanguinello) (Lactarius deliciosus)
Regional names: sanguine lattaiolo, pennecciola, fungo del sangue, lapacendro buono, sanguine, trun, tarun russ
These are valued for their flavour and are used in many recipes in Liguria and Calabria.
Buy: Saffron milk-caps have an orange convex cap that ranges in size from 4 to 14 cm in diameter. They sometimes have dark orange lines in concentric circles on the cap. The stem ranges from 1 to 2 cm in diameter and 3 to 8 cm in length. When cut, the mushroom will exude an orange coloured “milk”.
Eat: They are normally fried or sautéed and pair well with olive oil, garlic and parsley. Typically, they are paired with strong flavourings.
St. George’s (Prugnolo) (Tricholoma gambosum, Thricoloma georgii, Lyophyllum georgii, Calocybe gambosa)
Regional names: sinarolo, spignolo, maggengo, maggiolino, fungo di san Giorgio, sangiorgino, musciarone, masìn, misciarulu, fungo de la saeta
St. George’s mushroom is in season in the spring and is highly prized. It is used in many recipes in Molise.
Buy: It has a firm, meaty light brown or whitish cap which grows to 5 to 10 cm in diameter. When young, the St. George’s mushroom’s cap is semi-spherical in shape and smooth when mature. It has a large stem which is 1 to 2 cm in diameter and up to 3 to 7 cm in length. The flesh is firm and white.
Eat: They pair well with tomatoes, and are used in sauces, soups and stews. St. George’s mushrooms can also be used to dress fresh egg yolk pastas such as tagliatelle or tagliolini.
Musino – See Fish: Grey mullet
Mussel, Sea date / Date mussel / Pholas dactylus (Cozza / Mitilo / Muscolo, Dattero di mare / Folade) (Mytilus galloprovincialis, Modiolus barbatus, Lithophag lithophaga, Pholas dactylus)
Regional names: Mussels: arcella niura, dattero, modiola, mosciolo, musciolo (Marche), pediocio, peocio (Venice); Pholas dactylus: lattaro ‘e mare, lattaro verace,
Equivalents: 900 grams = 2 servings
Buy: Mussels are a shellfish which filter water, so it is essential they are grown in clean waters. They should only be consumed from May to August. All the shells should be firmly shut with no cracks. Only buy very fresh seafood. Buy more than you need as you may need to discard some.
Mussel (Cozze / Mitilo) (Mytilus galloprovincialis, Modiolus barbatus, Mytilus edulis) have a rounded triangular shaped shell which is blackish blue with a smoky brown hue. The inside has a pearly shine to it. They can be farmed or grow wild attaching themselves to rocks or piers in clumps. The small to medium-sized mussels are the best. Avoid large ones if possible. The best mussels are from Taranto in Puglia.
Bearded horse mussel (Cozza pelosa / Modiola) (Modiolus barbatus) is prized for its meat. The shell is easily recognizable as it is covered in fur and is not larger than 5 cm in length.
Blue mussel / Common mussel (Cozza edule / Cozza spagnola / Cozza Atlantico) (Mytilus edulis) is from the Atlantic Ocean. They grow up to 10 cm. It has delicate and flavourful meat.
Mediterranean mussel (Mitilo galloprovinciale / Mitilo comune) (Mytilus galloprovincialis) grow in the Mediterranean Sea and are farmed. They grow up to 10 cm.
Sea date / Date mussel, Pholas dactylus (Dattero di mare, Folade) (Lithophag lithophaga, Pholas dactylus) resemble dates and are difficult to gather as they secrete an acid to help embed themselves in rock. Date mussels must be sold fresh.
Date mussel (Dattero di mare) (Lithophaga lithophaga) have a dark brown shell that is typically 5-8 cm in length but can grow up to 15 cm. They are relatively rare but are found in Liguria and Puglia. They are highly prized for their delicate flavour.
Date mussel / Pholas dactylus (Folade / Dattero di mare) (Pholas dactylus) have an elongated, dull white or grey coloured shell with two openings. They can be 10-12 cm in length. The foot is flat with rasps to assist in boring.
Store: Keep the mussels alive until it is time to cook them. Place them on a damp towel in the refrigerator. They can be kept like this for 2 to 3 days. The day you are going to cook the mussels, scrub the shells under cold running water. Then mix together 100 grams of non-iodized salt per 1 litre of cold water and cover the mussels with this salted water for several hours in the refrigerator so that they filter out any sand or grit.
Prepare: Discard any shells which are open or cracked. Soak the date mussels in cold water, any shells which float to the surface should be discarded. Wash in several changes of water to remove any grit and scrape the shells by scraping them with a knife or stiff brush to clean then. Use a kitchen towel to grab the furry beard of the mussel and pull it off, drawing towards the hinge (not necessary for date mussels). Discard the beard and rinse the mussels again. If they are to be opened, use an oyster knife and insert it in the point of the triangle and pry open. Otherwise they can be placed for a few minutes on a tray in a hot oven or over a high flame in a frying pan (reserve any liquid discharged to filter and use in the dish). Seafood is best cooked gently- by steaming, poaching, or light broiling. Discard any mussels which have not opened during cooking. Seafood needs very little flavourings if very fresh.
Eat: Both mussels and date mussels can be eaten raw, dressed with lemon and pepper (cozze alla leccese), but are generally served cooked. Date mussels are typically cooked in oil, garlic, and parsley (datteri di mare alla marinara, datteri di mare alla veneziana) or used in soups (zuppa di datteri giuliana, zuppa di datteri di La Spezia), or stews (datteri di mare a stufato). Due to their delicate flavour, do not pair date mussels with strong flavours.
Mussels are good boiled (cozze bollite) and used in pasta (vermicelli con le cozze in bianco) and rice (riso con le cozze) dishes, fish soups (zuppa di cozze in bianco, zuppa di cozze al pomodoro), or main dishes. They can also be stuffed (cozze ripiene al sugo), baked (cozze al gratin, cozze in tortiera, tiella di riso con le cozze), deep-fried (cozze fritte, cozze e orziadas), sautéed (cozze, cocozze e ove), or stewed (cozze alla pugliese). There are many recipes in Puglia for mussels.
Nasello – See Fish: Hake
Needlefish, agujon – See Fish: Needlefish, agujon
Nettles (Ortica) (Urtica dioica)
Nettles are a wild green leafy vegetable which has a sweet taste. Nettles have hairs which sting and need to be cooked to destroy the stinging sensation. Young nettle shoots are in season in the spring and autumn.
Buy: Look for nettles which have tender, young tips and oblong slightly triangular-shaped leaves which are unblemished. Nettles should be no longer than finger length otherwise they become tough and unpalatably bitter.
Store: Nettles are best eaten the day they are picked but can be stored dry in a plastic bag in a drawer in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Prepare: Only the tops of the nettle are eaten. When preparing nettles, wear gloves to protect hands from the stinging hairs and snip the tips and tender leaves off and rinse with cold water.
Eat: Eaten as a vegetable or in soups, risottos, stuffed pastas, savoury pies, fresh pasta (pasta aromatizzata), and omelettes (frittata di ortiche).
Nocellaria del Belice DOP – See Olive
Nocciola – See Hazelnut
Norway lobster – See Lobster
Nutella / Hazelnut chocolate spread / Chocolate fondant (Crema Gianduia / Crema Gianduja)
Chocolate fondant is chocolate mixed with other ingredients like vanilla, milk powder, nuts, fruit, etc. Gianduia is a chocolate fondant mixed with toasted hazelnuts and vanilla invented in Torino in 1852.
Hazelnut chocolate spread was first made in Piemonte in the 18th century. The name “gianduia” is a contraction of the name of a carnival mask, “Gioan d’la duja”, meaning “John of the Flagon”.
Buy: Nutella is a spread made from cocoa, skim milk, and hazelnuts industrially produced by Ferrero. As it is industrially produced, the nutritive properties and flavour are inferior to products which are artisanally produced (called Gianduia/Gianduja), particularly as they use palm oil. This spread can also be made at home with superior results.
To make: Toast hazelnuts and grind to a paste with sugar. Melt dark chocolate and mix with milk. Mix the chocolate mixture and the hazelnut mixture together.
Store: It should be kept in a dark, dry place at room temperature with the top firmly closed. Do not place Nutella in the refrigerator or it hardens. If it becomes too hot the oil may separate and the freshness of the product lost.
Prepare: No preparation is necessary.
Eat: It is eaten on toasted bread, biscuits, in or on cakes (torta gianduia), and made into ice cream (gelato di Nutella).
Nutmeg (Noce moscata) (Myristica fragrans)
Equivalents: 1 medium whole nutmeg = 10 grams = 2-3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Nutmeg is a spice which comes from the fruit of a tropical plant which grows in the West Indies, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The bright outer coating of the fruit is dried and called “mace” (macis) and the interior round ball is dried and called “nutmeg”.
Buy: Nutmeg is a light brown coloured oblong ball, 2 to 3 cm in diameter. Do not buy powdered nutmeg as its aromatic oils are volatile and dissipate quickly after being ground. Nutmeg is relatively expensive in contrast to other spices but typically only a little is used at a time so buy in small quantities.
Store: Store sealed, in a cool, dark, dry place. It can be kept for several months to a few years. If once grated, the nutmeg has no flavour or scent, it needs to be replaced.
Prepare: Nutmeg can be grated on a nutmeg grater, rasp grater, or with a fine microplane. Only a little is needed at a time as the flavour is quite pronounced.
Eat: It is used in cured meats and sausages (cotecchino, zampone Modena). It is used to flavour cakes, biscuits, sauces (besciamella), flans (sformato), stewed meats (stufato), fish soups, pastas (tortellini, anolini, passatelli, ravioli), stuffings, and poached fruit. Nutmeg pairs well with spinach, potatoes, cinnamon, cloves, mushrooms, apples, and pears.
Occhialone– See Fish: Sea bream
Occhiata – See Fish: Sea Bream, saddled
Octopus (Polpo / Piovra / Polpessa / Moscardino) (Octopus vulgaris)
Substitutes: cuttlefish and squid
Octopus is a grey to yellowish cephalopod with a rounded head resembling a sack with eight tentacles, each with two rows of suction cups. It lives along the coast throughout Italy and while it is fished year-round, it is best eaten in the winter.
Buy: Octopus should have bright skin, a pleasant smell, and have the skin, tentacles, and suction cups intact. Smaller octopus will be more tender and simpler to prepare. It is very difficult to distinguish between fresh octopus and octopus which has been frozen and thawed.
Atlantic white-spotted octopus (Polpessa / Polpetto / Fragoline di mare) (Octopus macropus) is smaller (its head grows up to 15 cm in length), has two tentacles which are longer than the rest, and is reddish in colour with white flecks.
Common octopus (Polpo / Piovra) (Octopus vulgaris) is the best tasting of the octopus but is more difficult to prepare as it needs to be tenderized. The head can grow up to 25 cm in length. It can grow up to 3 meters in total length but the best ones for eating are 50 cm in total length. They can weigh as little as 100 grams or as much as 25 kilos.
Curled octopus / Lesser octopus / Horned octopus (Moscardino / Polpo muschiàto / Polpo di Aldrovandi / Polpo di sabbia / Moscardino bianco / Sinisco) (Eledone cirrosa) only have one row of suction cups per tentacle. Its head grows up to 50 cm in length. It is normally braised and used in sauces but is less flavourful than the common octopus.
Store: Octopus is best used within a day of purchasing and can be kept sealed in the refrigerator. Octopus can be successfully frozen and will keep for three months if well sealed.
Prepare: Remove the beak and eyes. Turn the head inside out to remove the contents of the body. The ink can be reserved for use in making fresh pasta and pasta or risotto sauces but discard the rest. If the octopus weighs more than 100 grams, use a mallet or cutlet bat, to pound the tentacles and body until tender. Large octopus should also be skinned. Rub the octopus on a rough surface with circular movements to remove the sticky outer substance on the skin, rinsing from time to time (preferably with sea water) until the surface no longer feels slimy. Large octopus may need to be cooked for 2 hours or more, depending on the weight (calculate 1 hour per kilo of weight). Test if the octopus is done by piercing the octopus with the tip of a knife, if it goes in easily, then the octopus is cooked. Smaller octopus (which weigh up to 100 grams each) can be cooked in liquid for about 20 minutes. Do not overcook octopus or the meat will be bland, the skin and suction cups will detach, and it will look unappealing.
Eat: Octopus release liquid when cooked so do not need the addition of liquid when cooking (polpi cotti nella loro acqua, polpo affogato). Octopus can be stewed, baked, stewed (polpi in galera), boiled (polpo alla Luciana, polpo e patate), or pickled (polpo sott’aceto). Octopus pairs well with chillies, mint, parsley, marjoram, oregano, garlic, olive oil, lemon, onion, and tomato.
Olio di olive – See Olive oil
Olio santo – See Olive oil
Oliva – See Olive oil
Olive (Oliva / Uliva) (Olea europaea sativa)
Olives are the fruit of the olive tree whose firm flesh is rich in oil. Green olives are harvested at the end of summer and black olives (which may actually be purple or brown) are harvested in the winter when they are fully ripe. Once harvested, olives are processed in a variety of ways to make them palatable: soaking in water, fermenting, salting, preserving in oil, pickling, treatment with lime and caustic soda, dry curing, and flavouring with aromatics such as garlic, chillies, herbs, onion, lemon, or orange. There are 50 varieties of olives in Italy both for making olive oil and olives.
Buy: Olives can also come stuffed with many different fillings such as pepper or anchovy.
Most notable varieties:
Ascolana from the Marche.
Bella di Spagna is a Spanish variety grown in Puglia.
Cerignola / Bella di Puglia is a large green olive from Puglia.
Nocellaria del Belice DOP from Sicilia is harvested from September by hand. It also makes nice olive oil.
Sant’Agostino from Puglia.
Gaeta is a small, black olive from Campania.
Maiatica is from Basilicata and is also made into oil.
Ponentine is from Liguria and is small in size.
Taggiasca is from Liguria and is considered one of the finest olives.
Black olives can also be dried so appear shrivelled.
Store: Olives can be stored unopened at room temperature for one to two years. Once opened, store the olives in their liquid in a non-metal container for several weeks. If you want to keep them for longer, store them in olive oil in the refrigerator for up to two years.
Prepare: Olives should be removed from the liquid they are stored in before using. If the recipe requires them to be pitted, place them on a cutting board and press down with the palm of the hand and use your fingers to remove the pit.
Eat: Olives are served on their own as a starter (alivi cunzati, alivi ‘a puddastredda, olive conservate), stuffed (olive all’ascolana), or used in focaccia, bread (pan de molche, pane del pescatore), to top pizzas, in pasta sauces (alla puttanesca), in fish dishes, in rabbit dishes, and in chicken dishes.
Olive oil (Olio di Oliva) (Olea europaea sativa)
Olive oil is the most ubiquitous cooking fat throughout Italy although historically it was mainly used in salads as it was difficult to process until the hydraulic press was invented. It is particularly prized in the center and south of Italy and along the coastline in the north. It is produced in every region in Italy except Valle d’Aosta.
The olive tree has always held a historical significance since ancient times. The Greeks believed that Athena created the olive tree and used to award the victors of the Olympic games wreathes made of olive branches. The olive branch has historically also been the symbol of peace in Christianity. Olive oil is an extremely healthy oil to cook with as it increases HDL or good blood cholesterol and so reduces the incidence of heart disease and aids the circulatory system. The Italian diet is much lauded for its benefits to one’s health because of the prevalent use of olive oil. Olive oil is also prized for its flavour.
Olives for making olive oil are harvested from November to January before they are ripe as their oil content is the highest, about 30% of their weight. Olives at this stage are low in acid and have a nice mild flavour. About 100 kilos of olives produces 20 litres of oil. Once harvested, the olives must be processed within a week, although the best oil is processed within a day or two. The olives are rinsed, crushed, and pressed using a stone, wood, or metal press without the use of heat or chemicals. The first oil extracted from the pressing is known as the “first pressing” and is marketed as “virgin olive oil”. The subsequent pressings are considered inferior due to colour (too dark), taste (too acidic or too strongly flavoured), or smell (too strong) and are blended with virgin olive oil and sold as “olive oil”. Outside of Italy virgin olive oil is sold as “extra-virgin olive oil”. Inferior oil may also be treated with centrifugal and heat treatment but is lower quality. The International Olive Oil Council presides over the quality control on the manufacturing of olive oil. The most noted varieties of olives for making olive oil include: Coratina (Puglia), Frantoio (Puglia, Toscana, Umbria), Leccino (Toscana), Taggasca (Liguria), and Lavagnina (Liguria).
Buy: When buying olive oil you need to consider what you are using it for and then select accordingly as olive oil in many places is expensive. When buying olive oil, the main considerations are: the origin of the oil, the flavour, the aroma, the colour, and the grade. Buy olive oil within 6 months of the production date.
Factors to consider:
Origin, flavour and aroma: If you can, taste the oil to determine what qualities you prefer as olive oil varies in flavour and aroma from region to region. Olive oil from Liguria and Toscana are considered the best, particularly olive oil from Lucca. Ligurian olive oil is a pale golden colour with a delicate flavour. Tuscan olive oil is greener in colour with a fruity peppery flavour. Olive oil from Puglia is also very good and has an almond flavour to it. Current legislation requires producers to indicate the place of bottling on the label but not the place of production. Fine olive oils will also state the place of production.
Colour: Generally speaking, the better the olive oil, the deeper the green colour. Oil from Liguria being the notable exception. The general rule of thumb is that the more intense the olive flavour, and the less acid the oil.
Grade: “Extra-virgin olive oil” (vergine extra / extravergine) must have low acidity (less than 1%) although can vary in colour, flavour, and aroma. There is a big range of extra-virgin olive oils and one of the main guides is price if you cannot taste the oil. Artisanally produced extra-virgin olive oil is typically sold in smaller bottles. It is more expensive and should be used in dishes which are simply prepared with delicate flavours so that its flavour stands out. Fine olive oil should also not be heated as heat will alter the oil. Look for extra-virgin olive oil labelled “cold-pressed” or “first-pressing” as it will be lower in acidity and have a greater range of flavours. There are now also olive oils with DOP and DOC protection which are unique.
There are also industrially produced extra-virgin olive oil is by the big brands (Filippo Berio, Colavita, Carapelli, etc.) which are fine for cooking with heat and cost a lot less. They have a nice flavour and good colour. I typically have a bottle of both- the fine olive oil for salads and dressing simple dishes and a bottle of Colavita for cooking with.
“Virgin olive oil” (olio d’oliva vergine) is a grade of olive oil only available in Italy and has 2% acidity. It ranges in colour from golden yellow to green.
“Olive oil” (olio d’oliva) has been further processed and blended with other oils to remove any off flavours and harmful elements. It is paler in colourful and is less flavourful than extra-virgin olive oil as a result. It can be used in other preparations, particularly if a large quantity of heated oil will be required such as in deep-frying. Many sources say deep-frying with olive oil is unwise as it cannot tolerate high frying temperatures but my Ligurian friends assure me they only deep-fry with olive oil.
Store: Olive oil should be stored in a light proof container, sealed from the air in a dry, cool place. It should be consumed between 6 months and 12 months after it was produced but can be held up to 18 months after production.
Prepare: No preparation is needed for olive oil.
Eat: Olive oil is ubiquitous in its use. It is used to dress breads (focaccia, crostini, bruschetta), dip vegetables (pinzimonio), flavour cakes and biscuits, dress salads, soups, and cooked fish, meat, and vegetables. It is also the base for cooking vegetables, meat, and fish. Olive oil can also be flavoured with chillies and used to dress pasta, pizza, salad, and vegetables (olio santo).
Ombrina– See Fish: Shi drum
Onion / Spring onion / Scallion / Green onion (Cipolla) (Allium cepa)
Equivalent: medium onion = 120-180 grams = 1 cup chopped or sliced = ½ cup cooked onion = 1 serving
Onion is the bulb of the onion plant. The bulb is built in concentric layers which come to a peak at the top. Onions are harvested at different stages in their maturity. Before the bulb has formed or has just started to form, the onions are called spring onions. Once a small bulb has formed but before it has grown large, the baby onions are called cipolline. Full grown, mature onions are harvested from May to September and can be dried and sold year-round. They are protected by a paper-like skin and can be yellow, white, or red in colour. They can be round, elongated, or flattened. The size also varies greatly from a few grams to two kilos as there are many varieties. The red varieties are the sweetest. Onions are said to aid digestion and be diuretic. They are rich in potassium and contain calcium and vitamins A, C, B, B1, B2, and PP.
Buy: Select the onion size for how much onion will be needed as they do not keep well once cut. Onions should smell fresh. Freshly harvested onions will appear shiny and moist and will not yet have developed a paper-like outer skin. Dried, mature onions will be dry, firm and compact with no soft spots or black powder forming on them. There should be no moisture on the top or root. The stem should not appear woody. There should also be no green sprouting from them as this indicates the core has suffered. White onions should be shiny whereas the other onions should have a dry skin that crumbles easily. Spring onions should be unblemished and dry.
Spring onion / Green onion / Scallion (Cipollotto / Cipolle novelle) is an immature red or white onion which has been harvested before the bulb has formed or only just begun to form. It is mild and delicate and can be eaten raw. The traditional season for the spring onion was spring through summer. It is used in salads, stuffings, and in omelettes.
Baby onion / Pearl onion / Cipolline (Cipolline / Cipollette) is an immature red or white onion which has been harvested when the bulb has begun to form but is still small. The most common variety of baby onion is Borettana. The best baby white onions (cipolline) are the Brianzola variety from Lombardia. Also very good are the varieties: Precoce di Barletta, Giallognola di Como, and the Borettana.
Mature onions: They are harvested in June and July for consumption during the summer at the end of the summer and autumn to be dried for use all year-round.
Red onion has a red skin and layers. It is sweet and can be used interchangeably with Spanish onions. It is used raw or cooked. The most popular variety is the sweet Rossa di Tropea PGI.
Spanish onion is a larger, slightly flatter brown skinned onion. It is milder than yellow onions. The most popular variety is Ramata di Milano. A notable variety is the Dorata di Parma.
Yellow onion has a golden brown outer skin. This is the strongest flavoured of the globe onions and is a good all-purpose onion.
White onion is sweeter than yellow or pink onions. The most popular variety is the Bianca di maggia.
Store: Spring onions can be kept wrapped in plastic in the drawer of the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Mature onions can be kept for 10 days or more if they are stored in a cool (about 10˚C), dry, dark place with air that circulates. Do not store in the refrigerator or together with potatoes as they become mouldy. After a mature onion has been cut, keep it wrapped in the refrigerator and use it within 2 days. Mature onions which have begun to sprout green leaves are generally no longer usable.
Prepare: To prepare spring onions, rinse under cold water, remove the root end and chop the entire spring onion. The green part can also be used.
To prepare baby onions, parboil them first to more easily remove the skin, top and root. They are typically used whole.
To prepare mature onions, if the onion has a green sprout, cut it in half first to determine if the inside has turned soft (and therefore is unusable). If not then remove the shoot and discard and use the rest of the onion. Cut onions can make eyes tear up. To prevent this, leave the onion in the refrigerator for 1 hour before chopping it. To cut an onion, remove the tip with a knife, keeping the root end in tact. Remove the papery outer layer. To slice rounds, slice down parallel to the cut end. To make slices or dice, place the cut end down on the cutting board and slice the onion in half down through the root. To make slices, place the newly cut end on the cutting board and cut off the root end. Then place the knife parallel to the uncut side and working from one uncut end to the other, slice thinly. To dice the onion, place the newly cut end down and keeping the root attached, make slices from the root towards the cut end across the onion, then turn the onion 90˚ and start dicing the onion until reaching the root. Then prepare according to the recipe but never burn onions as their flavour turns bitter.
Eat: Onion is used as a vegetable and as a flavouring agent. Onions can be eaten raw in salads, in pinzimonio, with beans, with preserved tuna, or with cold cuts. They can be roasted (cipolle al forno), fried (cipolle fritte), boiled, sautéed, and grilled. Onion, along with carrot and celery, form the base of (called soffrito or battuto) many sauces and soups. Onions can be roasted stuffed with meat and served as a starter or side dish (cipolle ripiene, cipolle ripiene con tonno), are used in soups (cipollata, carabaccia), salads, in bread (fitascetta) on top of focaccia, on pizza (pizzalandrea, pizza con cipolle), sauces (salsa di cipolle), in savory tarts, in meat and fish dishes, in omelettes (frittata spagnola), pies, in side dishes (contorni), roasted whole. As a side dish they are served with liver, salt cod (baccalà fritto alla Milanese), and braised meats (Genovese, pollo alla cacciatora Emiliano). The baby globe onions (cipolline) are pickled (cipolline sott’aceto), served in sweet and sour sauce (cipolline in agrodolce), stewed or glazed (cipolline glassate) and served with roast or braised meats, or preserved in vinegar (cipolle sott’aceto) or olive oil. They pair well with mushrooms, roasted meat, particularly veal, butter, cream, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, sage, bay leave, cloves, cinnamon, chilli, vinegar, sugar, honey, cheese, preserved tuna, beans, and potatoes.
Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle (Agretti / Barba di Frate / Barba di Becco) (Lepidium sativum)
This vegetable looks like a fat grass and is juicy and crunchy. The flavour is a bit like spinach and is slightly bitter and acid, particularly when eaten raw. The texture is more similar to seaweed or samphire. It is harvested in the spring when it is most tender.
Buy: Look for unwilted, dry, bright green strands. It is typically tied in bunches with the stem still attached. Ensure there are no signs of rotting.
Store: Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for 3 to 4 days.
Prepare: Wash in cold water and cut off the root end.
Eat: Agretti can be eaten raw, mixed into salads, or boiled quickly in salted water and dressed. Typical dressings include salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar or butter. I like mine with olive oil, anchovy, and garlic. It can also be used in risotto.
Orange (Arancia) (Citrus sinensis, Citrus aurantium)
Orange is a citrus fruit which is in season year-round. It was first introduced to Italy by the Arabs. There is a prized type of orange from Sicilia called the blood orange (arancia rossa) as it has red mottling on the orange skin and the flesh is streaked red and orange.
Buy: Buy organic oranges when possible that are firm but not hard and have smooth skin for their variety. They should be free from soft spots or mould. Oranges should be heavy for their size, although some varieties of oranges have thick skins so factor this in. The colour is not a factor in determining the quality of the flesh as it deeps depending on the weather.
Bitter orange / Sour orange / Seville orange / Bigarade orange (Arancia amara / Arancia di Siviglia) (Citrus aurantium) are sour and bitter and cannot be eaten fresh. The flowers are used for making perfume and orange-flower water. The fruit is used for making marmalade and for cooking duck. The oil is used to make liqueurs.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is a yellow orange with very sour juice and highly aromatic skin grown which is grown in Calabria. It is in season in the winter. Its oil is used to make perfumes and flavour Earl Grey tea. The peel is also candied.
Common orange / Juicing orange (Arancia dolce) (Citrus sinensis) is good for juicing and eating. It is widely grown in southern Italy, particularly Calabria and Sicilia.
Blood orange (Arancia rossa) has a thin skin. It is good eaten fresh and has a tart, rich flavour. Varieties include:
Moro is medium sized, and has very red skin and is often exported. It is in season from November to April but the early season Moro is tart and is best mid-season in January or February. A late season Moro can take on a musky flavour and may turn purple.
Sanguinello is in season from January to June.
Tarocco has the best flavour of the blood oranges, although is less consistent, and is larger. Tarocco is seedless and the flesh only turns red when it is mature. It has a pale red tinge to the skin and the flesh is not as bright. It is in season from December to April.
Calabrese / Ovale is oval in shape, medium-large in size, and is seedless. It is in season from April to July.
Navel orange is good eaten fresh or juiced, but must be consumed fresh or it turns bitter. The navel orange has a very good flavour. It has thick skin and a belly button which is actually a small secondary fruit growing within the fruit. Considering the thickness of its skin, if it is sold by weight, it may be relatively less expensive to buy Valencia oranges, particularly for juicing. It is in season from November through March.
Valencia is a Spanish orange that is the most common orange in the world. It has thin skin and large, very juicy fruit, excellent flavour, and few seeds. The Valencia is heavy for its size and is good for juicing. It is in season from April to May. The skin can sometimes have green tinges but this has no indication of the quality of the flesh.
Store: Oranges can be kept at room temperature for a week or in the refrigerator for a month (if stored where air circulates).
Prepare: To zest an orange, rinse the orange and dry it. Use a zester, rasp grater, or microplane to remove the thin orange coloured part of the zest without grating any of the white, bitter pith. Smooth-skinned varieties are best for zest. To skin an orange, cut off the blossom and stem ends. Set one of the cut ends on the cutting board and use a paring knife to make slices down from the top to the board, slicing off strips and working your way around the orange. Cut off any remaining white pith. Slice into rounds or to segment, hold in your hand and slice along the membranes to release the segments.
Eat: Oranges are eaten as they are or used in salads (insalata di arance, olive all’arancia), granite, sorbet (sorbetto di arancia), gelato, cakes (torta all’arancia), drinks (aranciata), liqueurs, marmalade (marmellata di arance), with duck (anatra all’arancia), and with pigeon (palomba alla todina). The rind is also dried or candied (zest di Carignano) and added to desserts. The fresh zest is also added to cakes, pastry, biscuits, and cured meats (salsiccia di Monte S Biagio, ventricina di Guilmi, sfarricciato). The orange blossoms are distilled into orange flower water used to flavour desserts. It pairs well with strawberries.
Orata– See Fish: Gilthead bream
Orecchiette – See Pasta: Dried Pasta
Orecchione, fungo – See Mushroom: Oyster
Oregano / Greek oregano (Origano) (Origanum vulgare, Origanum heracleoticum)
Regional names: cornabusa, erba acciuga, rigano
Oregano is a herb which grows all over Italy, but its flavour is particularly characteristic of southern Italian cooking. In the spring and summer, it has little pink flowers. In the summer, the young leaves are harvested for cooking.
Buy: Oregano can be fresh or dry and is one of the few herbs whose flavour is preserved when dried. Fresh oregano from southern Italy is said to be the best quality. There is also Mexican oregano which has a more aggressive flavour than the European varieties.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is grown in central and northern Italy but it is less fragrant so less prized.
Greek Oregano (Origanum heracleoticum) is grown in southern Italy and sold in dried bunches in markets. It is prized but difficult to find fresh.
Store: Store dried oregano in a dry, dark place.
Prepare: Dried oregano can be toasted gently in a frying pan to bring out its flavour. Fresh oregano can be rinsed under cold water, dried, leaves removed, and used in cooking.
Eat: Oregano is used on pizza (pizza n