Italian food is often held up as one of the best cuisines in the world, but if there’s one criticism, you could say that it’s a bit meat heavy. Ragu (spaghetti Bolognese to the British), bistecca alla Fiorentina, and Porchetta are all off the menu for vegetarians.
However, don’t be put off! There’s so much great food you can enjoy in Italy without a hint of meat in sight! In this post, let’s take a look at the top 10 vegetarian Italian dishes!
1. Parmigiana di melanzane
Parma, Sicily, and Campania fight over being the ancestral home of this delicious dish, which is an excellent alternative to a meaty lasagne. In place of meat, you have layers of fried aubergine (melanzane) baked in a rich and flavourful tomato sauce before being rounded off with cheese. If you don’t want to use Parmesan, which contains rennet, then there are some excellent vegetarian cheeses you can use instead!
Whatever the origins of Parmigiana di Melanzane, it’s safe to say that it’s one of the tastiest and most popular vegetarian Italian dishes there is!
2. Carciofi alla romana
One of the most famous dishes of Roman cuisine, Carciofi alla romana, which literally translates to Roman style artichokes, will make even the most carnivorous foodie forget about meat during their meal! Most popular during the springtime, it’s made in almost every home in the capital city of Rome, and it’s a staple of restaurant menus too. Of course, there are variations on the recipe, but you can have a go yourself by making a sauce with garlic, white wine, oil, lemons, and herbs. This tasty Italian vegetarian dish is best served warm or at room temperature!
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3. Caprese (mozzarella, basil and tomatoes)
Sometimes, the simplest food is the best, and you don’t get much simpler (or more delicious) than a Caprese salad. Best enjoyed on a hot summer’s day, there’s no argument to where this dish originates from – the island of Capri! The key ingredients are tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and sweet basil – kind of like a margherita pizza without the base. Season it with salt and olive oil, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, sprinkle some rocket over the top. Then you’re good to go!
Caprese is a popular starter not only in its home of Campania, but across the whole of Italy! But of you wish to taste the tasty buffalo mozzarella, you definitely need to go to Paestum! Check our day trip from Sorrento to Paestum with mozzarella tasting!
An aubergine dish that is definitely attributed to Sicily, you can’t go wrong with this spicy vegetable stew. The sweet and sour agrodolce consists of typical flavours of the Mediterranean’s largest island. There’s some argument to what goes in a caponata, but everyone can agree that it includes red wine vinegar, aubergines, and tomatoes in one form or another! Caponata can be eaten on its own, but it’s even better with cous cous, crostini, or of course – pasta. We are in Italy after all!
5. Pasta with pesto sauce
Pesto is so popular that you can take liquids larger than 100ml through Genoa Airport – all because so much pesto would go to waste otherwise! This much-loved Ligurian staple is made of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. If you want to make this dish vegan, you can omit the parmesan and use an alternative! Linguine is the pasta which is most perfectly paired with pesto, but spaghetti, penne, and tagliatelle will also have your mouth watering.
Pasta with pesto sauce is best enjoyed overlooking sea views in Cinque Terre!
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6. Orecchiette with cime di rapa (broccoli)
Orecchiette means little ears in Italian, and you can really see why this unusual shape of pasta is called that. Made from semolina dough, the pasta is perfect with light, oily sauces that just coat it. It can be tricky to find this dish outside of its native region of Puglia, but it’s not impossible to make at home. Garlic and chilli give the dish an extra kick which you’ll need to fry before adding fully drained cime di rapa. If you can’t get hold of the real stuff, purple sprouting or tenderstem broccoli is an excellent alternative! The best time to enjoy this dish is in the autumn – as Cime di Rapa are freshest around October time!
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7. Milanese risotto
Milanese cuisine is less about pizza and pasta, and more about rice and polenta. And this risotto is one of the tastiest dishes to hail from the global fashion and design capital. All you’ll need to make this one is arborio rice, white wine, a little saffron, and onion. Many dishes require chicken stock, but you could try using vegetable instead. Once the rice is creamy and the risotto is soupy, then it’s ready to eat. Just make sure you constantly stirring so it doesn’t stick to the pan!
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8. Polenta with mushrooms
Ragu doesn’t have to be meat based. This light mouth-watering sauce is the perfect complement to creamy and thick polenta, originally known as a Northern Italian ‘peasant’ food, you can find it especially in Trentino Alto Adige and Veneto. Polenta is not only vegetarian, but as it’s made from cornmeal, it’s also free of gluten. So, it’s safe for anyone with coeliac disease to eat!
9. Gnocchi alla sorrentina
Sorrento style gnocchi is another dish that makes use of the simplest ingredients to give a mind-blowingly tasty result. To complement your gnocchi, you’ll need the freshest mozzarella and basil, as well as good quality canned tomatoes. And that’s it! You can make gnocchi from scratch with just potatoes and semolina flour but if that sounds like too much effort, shop-bought gnocchi can be just as good. Boiling the gnocchi then combining the ingredients before finishing it off in the oven can all be done in under half an hour!
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No list of Italian food is complete without pizza! And a simple Margherita is one of the finest examples of Italian vegetarian food. It’s not the only one though… The great thing about pizzas is that they’re so easy to customise. Many Italian restaurants will let you create your own, just don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave a Neapolitan restaurant when you ask for pineapple!
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