This glossary of Italian cooking terms is provided for the benefit of anyone who wants to cook, eat or talk about Italian food more confidently, hope it helps.
Abbrustolire (To Grill or To Bake)
To grill, either over flames or charcoal, or to bake in the oven. The term Abbrustolire is mainly used in connection with bread, which is first rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, as in Roman bruschetta or Tuscan pannunta. Other ingredients such as polenta slices, courgettes, aubergine can all be cooked this way, and peppers can be Cooked Abbrustolire until their skins blacken and are the peeled off to reveal soft tender flesh. Most ingredients cooked Abbustolire take on a delicious, slightly burnt taste.
Abruzzese, All' (Abruzzo style)
A dish cooked in the traditional style of the food of Abruzzo, generally implies a considerable use of tomatoes and chilli.
Foods cooked in water. Pork, veal, beef and fish can all be cooked Affogato, but the term mainly applies to the poaching of eggs. Another dish that can be cooked "Affogato" is ice cream, a scoop or two of ice cream is served covered with either hot chocolate sauce or hot coffee, called l'affogato all caffe.
Compared to other cuisines, smoking ingredients does not play a great part in the food of Italy. However, some pork products are cured then smoked, the most comman being pancetta and speck. In northern Italy they eat smoked fish but much of this is imported, but there is a tradition of smoking trout and a more recent development is to smoke swordfish. In some regions of Italy cheese's are smoked such as Assiago, Mozzarella, Pecorino and Burrata.
Agro, All' (A sharp flavour)
A type of seasoning by squeezing lemon juice over boiled vegetables. Asparagus, spinach, Swiss chard and broccoli are all often served all'agro.
Arrabbiata, All' ("Angry", hot)
In Italy this term mainly refers to a hot, spicy tomato sauce for pasta flavoured with chilli, garlic and basil. The sauce is believed to have originated in Abruzzo, has now become popular almost world wide.
Arrostire (To Roast)
There are three basic ways to cook Arrostire - Arrosto alla Griglia (on a spit), Arrosto al Forno (in an oven) and Arrosto in Regame (in a casserole or pot roast). Meats and fish can be cooked by any of these means and vegetables mainly by the last two. Arrosto alla Griglia is probably the oldest of the three methods, and is still considered the best for large pieces of meat, such as Porchetta, and most game. A leccarda (container) is hung beneath the meat to collect the dripping fats and juices which are then laddled out over the meat to baste it. Arrosto al Forno is used for cooking smaller cuts of pork, lamb, beef, veal, poultry, game and vegetables, many of the these smaller cuts are believed to be to lean for Arrosto alla Griglia. The most commonly used of the three methods is Arrosto in Regame, or roasting on the stovetop. Meat is first browned and sealed in a pan or casserole then cooked over a low heat with the addition of, or a mixture of, vegetables, wine, stock, water or balsamic vinegar. The liquid added must be just enough to prevent the meat from stewing or braising.
A word mainly used in connection with pasta, gnocchi and rice that is drained of the water or stock which it has been cooked in. Pasta as we know it should be called pastaciutta to distinguish it from pasta in brodo (pasta in stock or soup).
Italans are masters of this ingredient. Leftovers are rarely served just as they are, Italians tend to tweak them into a new dish, for example, leftover roasted meat would be torn or chopped and made in a ragu or a filling for raviolli, leftover risotto is stuffed and rolled into balls, breadcrumbed and deep fried to make Arrancini. Many of Italy's most famous dishes have sprung up from the use of leftovers, famous Italian dishes such as frittata, pizza, ribolitta, pappa al pomodoro, bruschetta, crostini and tortini have all evolved from the basic need to use up leftover foods.
Bagno Maria (Bain Marie)
This term refers to the type of saucepan certain foods are cooked in. A more common method, we will all have used, is to place a metal mixing bowl over a pan of steadily boiling water (but making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl) so the bowl s warmed gently by the steam from the water below. This gentle heat is suitable for melting chocolate, making custards or that well known Italian dessert zabaglione.
Meats are often battuto, beaten with a meat mallet, to tenderise or speed up their cooking time. But Battuto, more often than not, is used to refer to the first step of cooking many great Italian dishes. The base of many stocks, soups and sauces are called the Battuto, is a mixture of pancetta (or pork belly) with onion and garlic (if celery, carrots and herbs are added it becomes a Soffritto) which is chopped so finely it appears to be pounded or beaten almost to a pulp. Battuto is often used "al crudo", which means it is added to a dish without being previously cooked to add texture.
A dish prepared by boiling and then being simply dressed with butter or oil is often called "in Bianco" (in the white state). The term is also used for the addition of a simply coloured sauce, Spaghetti alle Vongole can be served with tomato sauce added, in which case it becomes Spaghetti alle Vongole in Bianco. A plain white risotto made with just butter, rice, stock and grated Parmesan is known as Risotto Bianco (white risotto). Dishes prepared Bianco tend to be light and are often fed to the elderly, ill or those on a strict diet.
Bollire (To Boil)
When boiling meat, fish or vegetables the ingredients are cooked in water which is lessare (steadily boiling). So where you would cook pasta bollire, in boiling water or stock, dishes such as Bollito Misto (assorted boiled meats) are cooked lessare, in slightly boiling water or stock which should never reach boiling point.
Bolognese, alla (Bologna Style)
There are countless dishes that originated in Bologna, from the rich, elaborate dishes of the city to the cucina povera dishes of the suburbs. Probably the best known dish of the region is the classical ragu alla Bolognese, therefore tagliatelle alla Bolognese, ravioli alla Bolognese, tortellini alla Bolognese, and so on are all examples of alla Bolognese dishes. The characteristics of Bolognese style food is slow cooked dishes, using butter rather than olive oil.
Boscaiola, alla (Forest style)
A modern restaurant term with a rather loose meaning. It is not a specific cooking method or regional style, it tends to mean dishes containing wild, foraged ingredients such as mushrooms, truffles or wild game.
Brassato (A method of cooking)
A method of cooking and a dish in its own right. Brassato is a meat, usually beef marinated with different flavourings and red wine then slow cooked till tender. The term Brassato has come to mean any dish cooked in this style.
Brodettare (To cook in a broth)
A method of cooking, mainly used with baby lamb, kid or rabbit. The meat is slow cooked in a broth, sometimes with white wine added.
Cacciatora, alla ("in the hunter" style)
A method of cooking many different meats such as lamb, poultry, boar or rabbit. In northern Italy the meat is cooked in a little wine and flavoured with carrots, celery, onion, tomato and sometimes mushrooms. In southern Italy however, flavours such as garlic, chilli, vinegar, rosemary and olives may be added to alla cacciatora dishes.
Carpione (Method of preserving fish)
A method of preserving fish in northern Italy, similar to Scarpece in southern Italy and Sicily, or the traditional Saor dishes of Venice. Traditionally made in Lombardy from fresh water fish.
Cartoccio ("paper bag")
An ancient method of cooking by tightly wrapping ingredients in grease proof, waxed paper or, nowadays, in tin foil then cooking in the oven.
Casalinga / Casarecce (Home cooking)
Both these terms are derived from the Italian word Casa, meaning home. They are used to describe the traditional everyday Italian family cooking, the cooking of mamma, something which every Italian holds dear to their heart.
The name of a cooking implement from Abruzzo used to cut pasta. The implement is a rectangular wooden box with taught strings across the top onto which a sheet of pasta is placed and rolled over with a polling pin to cut the pasta on the strings. The name alla chittara is given to any pasta cut this way, it will resemble square spaghetti.
Cotoletta (Fried in Breadcrumbs)
Any food that has been coated in dried breadcrumbs then shallow or deep fried in oil. Pork, veal, chicken, fish and cheese can all be cooked this way.
Creta, alla (Cooked in clay)
An ancient method of cooking meat, poultry or game, especially small birds. The meat is seasoned then wrapped in soft clay and sealed then baked in a fire. Once the clay is baked hard it is cracked with a hammer. Nowadays the term is used to describe any small bird cooked in a bird-shaped clay pot.
A method of cooking meat, game and fish in a pastry crust. Similar to the French method "en croute". This is a particularly effective method of cooking fish as the pastry keeps the delicate flavours sealed in.
Cooking a dish "al crudo" means the main ingredients are added to the dish together with the oil and flavourings without being previously cooked. Al crudo is a very healthy method of cooking.
Dente, al ("to the tooth")
A term used in connection with pasta and rice. It means that the ingredient is cooked through but still offers a little resistance when bitten, this being the essential sign that pasta or rice has been cooked perfectly.
Dorare (To gild)
To give an ingredient a golden colour, either by shallow or deep frying, or by glazing with egg or olive oil.
Ferri, ai (Griiled or Griddled)
To cook over embers or in a ridged cast iron pan, to give charr-lines. A very old method of cookery used by our ancestors who used to roast meats on wooden poles over one fires.
Term used for the varying shapes (Fomati) of pasta.
Friggere (To fry)
A common method of cookery used throughout Italy and indeed the world. To cook an ingredient quickly in oil or butter in a pan over a high heat.
The word Frullato literally means whisked, but also applies to an ingredient that is frothed.
Funghetto, al (Mushroom style)
A method of cooking mushrooms, courgettes and aubergines. This term is mainly used in Liguria and this technique is known as Trifolato throughout the rest of Italy.
Genovese, alla (Genoa style)
This term is generally applied to any dish which contains olive oil, herbs, garlic and pine nuts, the flavours of the regions classic pesto's.
To cook food by directly exposing it to the embers, flames or other sauce of heat. Griglia is one of the oldest methods of cooking and to some is considered a primitive, and some what crude, method of cooking.
Gauzzetto (Method of Cooking)
The term "in gauzzetto" means to be cooked in a light sauce made with minimal ingredients, for example tomatoes and wine. Many lighter meats such as frogs, chicken, seafood and baccala can all be cooked "in gauzzetto".
Imbottire (To stuff)
A term generally connected to peppers, bread rolls and focaccia. Peppers can be stuffed with rice, vegetables and sometimes meat or fish. Bread rolls, focaccias and panini can be "imbottire" with salumi, cheeses etc.
Impanare (To breadcrumb)
The term impanare derives from pane (bread) and means to coat an ingredient, usually meat or fish with breadcrumbs and either shallow fry, deep fry or bake.
Impastare (To knead)
To knead a dough, whether it be bread, pasta or pastry.
Inglese, all (In English style)
A dish that has been lightly dressed in butter and often within vegetables. Can apply to pasta, meat, fish and vegetables.
Insaccato (To stuff)
A general term for salami and sausages or any other meat product that is stuffed into a skin. The word Insaccato comes from Sacco (bag) and means literally bagged.
Insaporire (To make tasty)
A term meaning to add flavour to a dish during its preparation. In Italian cooking it means to many different things - to add chopped garlic and chilli, to use a soffritto base, to season with salt, pepper and other spices, to add fresh herbs at the end of cooking, to beat butter or Parmesan into a risotto . . and so on.
Lardellare (To lard)
Large cuts of meat are often larded with strips of fat or Lardo before roasting to help keep the meat moist. This is dove by threading strings of fat through the joint wit a needle.
A method of cooking meat or fish in simmering water or stock. Not boiling, see Bollire.
Lesso is an adjective to describe how a food is cooked. Pesci Lesso is boiled fish, Patate Lesse is boiled potatoes, Vedure Lesse is boiled vegetables, and so on.
Macinare (To mince, grind or crush)
A term most commonly used with meat, but can apply to vegetables, garlic and potatoes. Carne Macinare is ground mince (put through a mincer) rather than it being chopped by hand. Aglio Macinare is crushed garlic, either by using a garlic press or simply squashing under a knife blade on a chopping board.
A term applied to a meat with little fat. Also a word used for the meatless food eaten on fast days and high holidays.
Mantecare (To pound to a paste)
Taken from the Spanish word "Manteca" meaning fat. Mantecare is a term used to mean to pound to a paste, usuall applied to butter when making buttercreams and icecream. It also means to beat butter or Parmesan into a risotto at the end of cooking to make it creamy.
Marinara, alla (Sailors style)
This term doesn't really mean any particular set of ingredients or any particular method of cooking, so it's quite hard to see a connection between any alla marinara recipes other than they were once cooked by sailors. There is spaghetti alla marinara, spaghetti cooked with a tomato sauce with chilli, garlic and olive oil and then there is pizza alla marinara, a pizza topped with tomatoes, garlic and oregano.
A mixture of ingredients and liquid - sometimes stock, lemon juice, milk or wine, in which an ingredient is steeped in to either flavour it, tenderise it or both. Diffrent ingredients and recipes call for different marinades.
Milanese, alla (Milanese style)
As with many other alla . . . . dishes this term doesn't apply to any one set of ingredients or flavours, but rather to food cooked from original Milanese recipes. There a a few comman threads through out alla Milanese dishes, the use of butter rather than oil, the use of saffron in rice dishes and the use of bread crumbling, but other than this many Milanese recipes are completely different each other.
Ondo, all' (Wavy)
All' Ondo is a northern Italian term used to describe the perfect consistency of a risotto. It means a risotto should be creamy and held together but not dry or overly runny.
Paesana, alla (The peasants style)
Dishes cooked alla Paesana should generally feature easily accessible, cheap (or free, foraged) ingredients, meats should be locally reared and vegetables locally grown.
Parmigiana, alla (The Parma style)
A general term for a dish containing Parmesan or possibly Prosciutto.
Passato (Creamed or strained)
A term usually applied to vegetables with a consistency between a purée and a cream. A good example of a passato is tomato passata. Passato's are generally made by passing food through a food mill or passing through a sieve.
Pastaciutta (Drained pasta)
An old fashioned word used to describe pasta served in a little sauce as opposed to cooking in and serving it in a broth,Pasta in Brodo.
Pescatore, alla (Fish and tomato sauce)
A pasta sauce containing fresh fish in a tomato sauce.
Pimizia (Early crops)
A term used for the first p, early crop fruit and vegetables that appea on the markets.
An Italian tem taken from the French word purée, meaning to pulp fruit or vegetables to make them a smooth cream.
Ripassare (Sautéing pre-cooked vegetables)
A term for reheating previously boiled vegetables, a very common technique with Swiss chard, spinach and other greens.
Ripieno (Stuffing or filling)
A term meaning to stuff one ingredient with another. Pasta ripieno include shapes such a raviolli, tortellini or cannelloni, vegetables such as aubergine, peppers, courgettes or tomatoes can be served ripieno.
Rosolare (To sauté)
A very popular method of cooking, both in Italy an the res of the world. To cook gently in butter or oil till softened or sealed but not over coloured.
Rotolo (A roll)
Generally used to refer to a pasta dish where ingredients and scattered over a large sheet of pasta dough, which is then rolled up into a cylinder shape. Bread dough can be rolled flat and ingredients scattered over it then rolled up and baked.
Salmi (A cooking method)
A method of preparing game similar to juggled in Britain and Civet in France. Numerous spices are essential to salmi and grated chocolate is sometimes added to enhance the flavours.
Scottare/ Sbollentare (To blanch)
To part cook an ingredient in salted or acidulated water.
Sott' Olio (Under oil)
A method of preserving vegetables by covering them in oil in a sealed glass jar.
Sobbollire (To simmer gently)
To simmer gently so bubbles only occasionally break the surface. A method over slow cooking usually used with sauces, soups, stews and ragu.
Straccotto (Extra cooked)
A northern Italian term used to describe a long, slow cooked dish such as stufato and brasato or other dishes where the meat is not marinated in wine but slow cooked in it.
Strascinare (To sauté blanched vegetables)
A central and southern Italian method of cooking mainly used for green vegetables such as spinach, beets, chicory, turnip tops or broccoli. The blanched vegetables are often cooked quickly in oil, garlic and chilli.
Stufato (A method of slow cooking)
This term is both the name of a dish and a method of cooking. Meat, either in one large joint or smaller pieces, is first marinated with different flavourings then cooking it in a covered casserole in the marinade for several hours.
Trifolare (A method of cooking)
A way of cooking certain vegetables, such as mushrooms, courgettes, aubergines and jerusalem artichokes. The vegetables are sliced and then fried in oil with garlic and parsley.
Trito (Chopped vegetables)
Similar to a Battuto, however with herbs, garlic, onion, celery and carrot instead of pancetta or pork back fat.
Umido (To stew slowly)
To stew slowly in a small amount of liquid. The liquid is usually a tomato sauce, often with stock, wine or meat juices added. Dishes such as Spezzatini, Brasati and Stufati are all examples of Umido, each is cooked slightly different but the theory is the same.
Vapore (Steam cooking)
A rather recent method of cookery to Italy, but do to the health benefits of steaming has become an established favourite worldwide. In Italy steamed food is usually simply dressed with olive oil or a light sauce.
Veneziana, alla (Venezian style)
As with all other alla . . Terms it simply means the traditional cooking and recipes of the region of Venezia. For example, Fegato alla Venezia or Baccala alla Veneziana.