As Mario Batali has said (probably hundreds of times) before, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are Italian, and those who wish they were Italian.” When considering the cuisine Italian kids usually grow up with on their dinner tables, we have a hard time disagreeing with him.
If you've ever had the experience of plunking yourself down in a trattoria or osteria, perusing a menu and promptly realizing you have no idea what you're doing: we're here to help. For example, do you know what Vitello Tonnato is? You probably should before you order it (it's cold, sliced veal in tuna mayonnaise sauce -- SEE, aren't you glad you know that??). We are all for experimentation, throwing caution to the wind and seeing where a guess can take us -- but sometimes it's nice to know what you're talking about, so we created a little Italian menu cheat sheet for you. If nothing else, you may impress a few friends.
We might not all speak Italian, but we can all fake it.
Your menu will usually be broken down into courses something like these: antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, dolci. <strong>DON'T PANIC</strong> -- those just mean: before the meal, first course, second/main course, sides, dessert. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pravin8/2923921102/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">pravin.premkumar</a></em>
We know this list can be dizzying sometimes. By now, you probably know that bruschetta is toast with stuff on top and a caprese involves thick slices of tomato and mozzarella, dotted with basil. But how about these: <strong>Involtini</strong> - usually eggplant or zucchini wrapped around ricotta <strong>Burrata</strong> - fresh mozzarella that's been stuffed with soft curds from the cheese making process - DO NOT MISS <strong>Mozzarella en Carozza</strong> - these are fried mozzarella grilled cheeses - EAT THEM <strong>Fritto Misto</strong> - all the fried stuff! <strong>Antipasto Caldo</strong> - don't be fooled by how this sampler plate sounds -- 'caldo' means 'hot' in Italian <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnjoh/4756227828/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">star5112</a></em>
Italians make a mean soup. Don't be afraid of the ones with the funny names! <strong>Minestrone</strong> - brothy soup with lots of seasonal vegetables, sometimes pasta <strong>Pasta e Fagiole</strong> - thick, hearty stew of pasta, beans and tomatoes <strong>Pappa al Pomodoro</strong> - tomato and bread soup <strong>Tortellini en Brodo</strong> - broth-based soup, with tortellini floating around (ultimate cure for a cold) <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/u-suke/4912215367/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">kawanet</a></em>
Let's Talk Sauce
Most Italian restaurants in America will top just about any kind of pasta with any kind of sauce. Here are some you may have overlooked: <strong>Amatriciana</strong> - tomato sauce with bacon -- YEAH <strong>Alla Norma</strong> - tomato sauce with eggplant <strong>Arrabiata</strong> - 'arrabiata' means 'angry' in Italian, which is why this tomato sauce is always spicy (also 'fra diavolo' some places) <strong>Carbonara</strong> - creamy egg-based sauce with (again!) bacon <strong>Puttanesca</strong> - literally translates to 'whore' in Italian (we don't make this stuff up, guys), the legend says the name originates from its salty and spicy nature -- olives, capers, anchovies <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/marikoiv/5448098983/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">marikoiv</a></em>
Having a basic grasp on the Italian words for meat can really help guide you in the Secondi portion of the meal. <strong>Pollo</strong> - chicken (in Italian, you pronounce the 'L's! <strong>Maiale</strong> - pork <strong>Bistecca</strong> - beef <strong>Vitello</strong> - veal <strong>Fegato</strong> - liver <strong>Polpette</strong> - little meatballs <strong>Pesce Intero</strong> - whole fish (okay, it's not technically meat, but still really good to know) <em>Photo via Flickr user thepinkpeppercorn</em>
Vegetables tend to come as a la carte sides in Italian restaurants. They are frequently our most favorite parts of the meal. Don't skip the weird ones: <strong>Scarola</strong> - escarole, bitter leaf in chicory (think radicchio) family, can be raw, sautéed, braised <strong>Broccoli Rabe</strong> (or Rape/Rapini) - broccoli's slightly bitter cousin, best friends with garlic and crushed chilis <strong>Funghi</strong> - you probably guess this one -- mushrooms <strong>Scaffata</strong> - all the bright greenest stuff -- peas (piselli), fava beans, zucchini, romaine, braised together <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/maggiejane/4782714963/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Maggie Hoffman</a></em>
We wouldn't leave you without dessert! We hope you've had tiramisu and cannoli by now, so here are some of the sweets you may have been skipping: <strong>Affogato</strong> - means 'drowned' in Italian -- for the less sweet-inclined, a scoop of ice cream or gelato topped with a hot espresso <strong>Zabaglione</strong> - pronounced za-ball-YO-nay, fresh Italian custard usually made with brandy <strong>Spuma</strong> - mousse, you've had mousse before, right? <strong>Torta di Ricotta</strong> - Italian cheesecake, made with ricotta <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/55935853@N00/4485849609/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Ewan-M</a></em>
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