Continuing on with our blog post series on Italian food and cooking, (read our first blog post here on A Beginner’s Guide to Italian Cooking), we’ve put together a handy A-Z of Italian food and cooking terms! Although Italian cooking isn’t a hard cuisine to master, Italian language can be a little more difficult to get to grips with. Ever wondered what cooking your pasta ‘al dente’ really means? What about ‘Sott’olio’ – what are they? And when do you eat them?! Let us enlighten you, by explaining these Italian food and cooking terms (and a whole lot more!) in our A-Z guide.

Print this off, and pop on your kitchen fridge – you’ll be an Italian cooking linguist in no time!

An A-Z of Italian Food and Cooking Terms


  • Alice/Acciuga: Anchovy
  • Aceto Balsamico: Balsamic vinegar
  • Acqua di cottura: Cooking water (from pasta usually)
  • Affumicato: Smoked
  • Agrodolce: Sweet and sour
  • Al Dente: How pasta should be cooked – literally which means “to the tooth,” not hard but with a slight resistence when you bite into it.
  • Al Forno: In the oven
  • Al vapore: Steamed
  • Alla griglia: Grilled
  • All’aglio e Olio: A dish with this name is made with garlic and oil  – a famous, easy-to-make pasta dish is spaghetti all’aglio e olio.
  • Antipasto: A little something that is served before the meal, or as an appetizer
  • Aperitivo: Aperitif
  • Arborio rice : A short-grain, stubby type of rice from the Po Valley. With a higher startch content than most of rices, properly cooked Arborio rice is creamy but firm and chewy.
  • Arrabbiata: ‘Angry/hot.’ Pasta all’arrabiata is a tomato sauce flavored with chilli


  • Bistecca: Steak
  • Alla Bolognese: Bologna-style, a slow-cooked meat sauce with vegetables and tomato
  • Bagnomaria: Bainmarie in French, a way of heating food gently over a pan of hot water
  • Bocconcini – small balls of fresh mozzarella (means small nibble)
  • Brodo: Soup or broth
  • Bruschetta: Toasted bread usually served with a topping of some sort as an antipasto
  • Burro: Butter


  • Caperi: Edible flower buds of the caper bush, usually salted or conserved in olive oil
  • Caponata: A traditional Sicilian vegetable dish made with aubergine and tomato
  • Alla Caprese: Capri-style, usually a salad made with tomato, basil, olive oil and mozzarella
  • Contorno: A side dish of vegetables
  • Crostata: A sweet tart usually made with jam or Nutella
  • Crostini: A small bruschetta
  • Crudo: Raw


  • Dado: A stock cube


  • Fagioli: Beans.
  • Farro: Spelt, a grain used in soups and salads
  • Formaggio: Cheese
  • Frittata: An open omelette made in a pan and finished off under the grill
  • Frutti di Mare: Seafood


  • Gamberi: Shrimp
  • Gelato: ice cream
  • Alla Genovese: In the style of Genova, which means “with basil, garlic and oil.”
  • Gnocchi: Potato dumplings
  • Grana Padana: A Hard cheese similar to Parmesan, cheaper & often used as a substitute


  • Integrale: Wholewheat


  • Marinara: A tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil and oregano
  • Minestra: Soup
  • Mozzarella di Bufala: Cheese made from the milk of water buffalo. Mozzarella is more commonly made from cow’s milk and is known as ‘Fior di Latte.’


  • Olio di Oliva: Olive oil


  • Parmigiano Reggiano: Parmesan cheese
  • Passata: A smooth puree of tomatoes
  • Pecorino: A hard sheep’s milk cheese made in the area around Rome (called Pecorino Romano), as well as in Tuscany, Sardinia and Sicily
  • Peperoncino: Spicy chilli pepper
  • Polpetta: Meatball
  • Pomodoro: Tomato
  • Porcini: A meaty mushroom used both fresh and dried in Italian cuisine
  • Primo: The first course of a traditional Italian meal
  • Alla Puttanesca: A tomato sauce flavored with capers and anchovies, and often with olives, garlic and chile flakes


  • q.b: Quanto basta, used in recipes to mean ‘as much as you need’ for salt, herbs etc.


  • Ripieno: A stuffing or filling


  • Salsa: Sauce
  • Secondo: Main course of a traditional Italian meal
  • Soffritto: A mixture of chopped vegetables, usually onion, carrot and celery which forms the base of many Italian soups, sauces and stews
  • Sott’olio: Vegetables preserved in a jar in olive oil, often eaten as an antipasto


  • Tartufo: A truffle

And there we have it, our A-Z guide of popular Italian food and cooking phrases. Wonder no more if your pasta is ‘al dente’ enough, or if you’ve ordered the right dish on an Italian menu! We’ve got you covered.

Do you have any suggestions of further phrases or terms to add to our guide? Let us know in the comments below!

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