Italian Glossary

There are many Italian terms used in this website and our Market Tour. Below is a list of terms with accompanying definitions.

Acciuga (acciughe-plural)

The Mediterranean anchovy. Also known in dialect as “alice.”

Amarena

“Sour cherry” often preserved in alcohol or sugar syrup, served as a condiment or dessert sauce.

Arrabbiata

“Angry style” referring to hot peppers that give a dish a spicy flavor. Typically found in the regions of Calabria, Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise.

Babbo Natale

“Father Christmas”

Basta

That’s enough!

Broccoli rape (cima di rape)

A bitter green vegetable, popular in regions of Southern Italy, tasting like a cross between broccoli and turnip greens.

Buona Pasqua

Italian for “Happy Easter”.

Borlotti

A variety of cranberry (red and white) shell bean. If dried they must be soaked overnight before cooking.

Campania

A region of Italy south of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Its principal city is Naples.

Cannoli

“Pipes” – crisp fried pastry tubes, filled with sweetened ricotta or pastry cream. In Sicily, sheep milk ricotta is traditionally used and it is often flavored with orange flower water, cinnamon, candied fruit, pistachios and chocolate bits.

Capers

The flower bud of the caper bush, native to the Mediterranean. Their pungent flavor adds piquancy to many sauces. They can be found packed in sea salt or vinegar brine.

Cappuccino

Espresso topped with steamed milk. The color resembles that of a Capuchin monk’s habit.

Carciofi

“Artichoke”.

Che bella vita

“What a beautiful life”.

Columba

“Dove”

Consorzio

Consortium — an association of food or wine producers, from within a specific region, which oversees standards, production, and promotion of their products.

Cotechino

Fresh pork sausage, mildly spiced with ground pork skin.

Cotognata

Quince paste, traditionally made in the regions of Puglia and Sicily and often molded in special forms.

Cucina meridionale

Food representing the regions of Southern Italy.

Espresso

Coffee made by forcing steam through ground, dark roasted coffee to make an intense brew. A well-made espresso has creamy foam floating on top, though there is no cream or milk involved. It is always served in a small demitasse cup.

Fava beans

Cultivated for over 7000 years, these broad beans originated in the Middle East and are often referred to as poor peoples food. Called bacilli (old women) in Tuscany, they are typically served as an antipasto, uncooked accompanied by fresh sheep’s milk cheese.

Fett’unta

“An oily slice” the term used in the region of Tuscany for toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with OO. Most commonly known as bruschetta.

Frittata

A preparation of egg and other ingredients, sautéed and lightly browned. Served hot or room temperature. Similar to a firm, thick omelet.

Frutta di bosco

Fruit of the woods – wild berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, wild strawberries.

Garfagnana

A stretch of the Apennines above the city of Lucca in the region of Tuscany. The villages in this rustic mountain area are known for their local food specialties: farro, chestnuts, mushrooms, walnuts, honey, cheese and salumi.

Gelato

Ice cream.

Green radicchio

A bitter green belonging to the chicory family, commonly eaten in a salad.

Marzipan agnello Pasquale

Almond and sugar paste shaped into a lamb to celebrate Easter. The lamb symbolizes peace, spring, and rebirth.

Mascarpone

Fresh, soft cow’s milk cheese with the consistency of butter but with slightly less butterfat.

Minestra

At one time this referred to the first course of the meal primo piatto whether it was soup, pasta or rice. Today it refers to soup, specifically one with pieces of vegetable or grain in broth.

Minestrone

A very hearty, mixed vegetable soup, subject to enormous variation. From minestrare (to administer), probably because this was the only dish served at the meal. Note that it is redundant to say “minestrone soup”.

Mostaccioli

These small, almond-shaped Southern Italian chocolate iced cakes are made of chocolate and spices, and often filled with dried and candied fruits and nuts.

Mosto

Usually refers to wine “must,” the fresh juice of pressed grapes. The term may also refer to grape or other fruit pomace, the skins and pits left after the pressing.

Mozzarella

Soft fresh white cheese made from cow’s or buffalo’s milk. The name comes from the verb mozzare, to cut off, decribing the way the cheese is formed as handfuls of the cheese are torn off and twisted.

Negroni

Cocktail made with Campari, gin and red sweet vermouth named after Count Negroni who fashioned the drink around 1935 at a bar in Florence.

Orecchiette

Pasta in the shape of “small ears”, from the region of Puglia. Orecchiette are made from small thin rounds of pasta that are pressed with the thumb to form a hollow in the center.

Pancetta

Fatty pork belly, the same cut used in America for bacon. It is often rolled, flavored with salt and pepper and cured.

Pandoro

Tall and shaped like a Christmas star, Pandoro (golden bread) is a sweet bread with an intense yellow color and a characteristic aroma of butter and vanilla. It’s topped with powdered sugar, reminiscent of snow.

Panettone

Tall, dome-shaped, soft, sweet bread with light-yellow to golden color. Its aroma is buttery, flowery and fruity. Traditional panettone is fragrant with raisins and candied citrus peel, although variations of the classic recipe can be flavored or filled with chocolate chips, custard or fruits of all kinds.

Panino

“Small bread” small sandwich.

Pantelleria

An island off the west coast of Sicily, known for capers and sweet wine.

Panzanella

Summer salad made of moistened dried bread pieces, tomato, onion, cucumber, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Typically found in central Italy.

Parmigiano

Refers to Parmigiano Reggiano, a cow’s milk cheese, produced in a government controlled area (DOP) from the river Po to the Appenines and recognized as such by the European Union. Made into 60 kg. wheels and aged a minimum of 12 months, it has a grainy, crumbly texture and a nutty, buttery flavor. By law, the outside of the wheel must be imprinted with the words Parmigiano Reggiano in dotted letters.

Pastiera napolitana

This Easter specialty is one of the most famous of all Neapolitan pastries. It is a typical ricotta type cheesecake distinguished by the addition of cooked, hulled, whole wheat berries (grano), diced candied fruit, and orange flower water in a pastry crust. Many Italian-American versions have substituted barley or rice for the wheat berries.

Pecorino

“Little sheep” — cheese made from fresh ewe’s milk.

Pecorino Romano

A sharp, hard sheeps milk cheese traditionally from around Rome but now also made in Sardinia. Recognized by the European Union (DOP), the best are exported wrapped in a dark plastic material recalling the old age custom of massaging the cheeses with oil and grease or ashes as they aged.

Perugina BACI

“Kisses” — round chocolate hazelnut candies made by the Perugina candy company. The classic foil wrapping has within it a paper imprinted with a romantic saying.

Pesto

An uncooked sauce typically made of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil. It gets its name from the traditional mortar and pestle used to crush the ingredients. There are now “pestos” made from myriad other ingredients.

Piccante

Sharp, spicy, tangy.

Pinoli

Pine nuts, especially from the Italian stone pine tree. Pignoli is an alternative but unusual spelling. They are eaten raw or toasted and are essential to the Ligurian basil pesto. In Sicily, they are often used with currants in many Arab influenced dishes.

Pizza chiena

Dialect for pizza ripiena (stuffed pie) traditionally made at Easter in the regions of Campania and Abruzzo. This baked, savory pie, lattice topped or fully enclosed in a pastry crust has a filling of ricotta, mozzarella, prosciutto and/or other preserved pork products and seasonings.

Prezzemolo

Flat leaf Italian parsley.

Primo piatto

From the Latin primus — The first course of the meal although it usually follows the antipasto. It is usually soup, pasta, polenta or risotto.

Prosecco

White wine grape of the Veneto area, used in making “frizzante” (semi-sparkling) or “spumante” (sparkling) wines. Light in fragrance and typically fruity, this simple and refreshing wine continues to be enjoyed for celebrations or just something simple to sip while daydreaming of Italian holidays.

Puglia

The long slender region forming the heel of the Italian boot.

Ragu

Meat sauce, usually referring to a long simmered sauce made with meat, vegetables, and tomatoes.

Ribollita

“Re-boiled” – a hearty, leftover traditional Tuscan soup made with beans and vegetables, left to stand layered with bread and reheated. It should be thick enough to eat with a fork.

Risotto

An Italian rice dish made by slowly stirring hot broth into a mixture of short grain, starchy rice that has been sautéed in butter. The mixture is stirred continually while it cooks until all the liquid is absorbed before more broth is added. This labor-intensive technique results in rice that is very creamy while the grains remain separate and slightly firm.

Robiola

Soft, creamy, rich cow’s milk cheese from the Lombardia region.

Salumeria

Shop where salumi are sold.

Salute

Health. Often used as a toast – cheers! to your health!

Sauté

To cook food quickly in a small amount of oil in a skillet or sauté pan over direct heat.

Savoy cabbage

Crinkly textured, dark green, mild flavored cabbage. Should be eaten soon after purchase.

Secondi

From the Latin secundus — The second course of the meal, usually referring to the meat, poultry, or fish course.

Sfogliatelle

A Neapolitan breakfast, “little sheets” of flaky pastry in the shape of a clam filled with ricotta and semolina (cream of wheat), fragrant with orange peel, vanilla and cinnamon.

Sogno di Sorrento

Dreams of Sorrento. Sorrento is a very popular resort town on the Amalfi Coast.

Sorbetto

Sherbet or sorbet.

Soffritto

Refers to finely chopped, onion, carrot and celery sauteed in olive oil to form the base of a soup, stew or sauce. Soffritto translates as “under fried”.

Speck

This specialty of Alto -Adige is a type of smoked prosciutto.

Tagliatelle

Freshly made pasta ribbons made with eggs, about 1/4 inch wide. From the verb tagliare – to cut.

Torrone

The most typical product of the Italian confectionery tradition, torrone (nougat) is made of honey, almonds or hazelnuts, and beaten egg white. Other variations from different parts of Italy require the addition of varied ingredients, such as pistachio nuts, chocolate, liqueurs, cake and candied fruits. Torrone can be soft (morbide or tenero) or hard; large or small (torroncini), chocolate coated, and so on.

Trattoria

A local eatery, less elegant than a ristorante and usually having a limited seasonal menu of rustic specialties.

Trieste

The city and province situated on the coastal border of the upper Adriatic was once the main seaport of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. Its cuisine has Austrian, Hungarian, Jewish, Slavic and Oriental roots.

Truffles “tartufi”

A fungus grown underground near the roots of trees. Black or the prized white truffles are one of the most expensive foods in the world. Truffles are usually eaten raw, shaved over pasta, risotto, in salads and in many other dishes. Tartufi di cioccolata are chocolates shaped like truffles.

Valpelleunentze

Referring to the Alpine mountain town of Valpelline in the region of Valle d’Aosta.

Zeppole

Fried puffs made for the feast of St. Joseph, March 19. The pastry is traditionally filled with pastry cream and Amarena.