Italian ingredients

7 Basic Ingredients of Traditional Italian Food

Last Updated on March 22, 2023

As everybody knows, Italian cuisine is one of the most famous and preferred in the world. Maybe it is because Italians love their food and transmit that love and passion into its preparation. However, the secret to their success is the ingredients that they use, where the main character is the freshness and how they cultivate and prepare it.

Most people think that Italian cuisine is summed up in pasta, pizza, and Caprese salad; but, let me tell you, there is much more to it. This country has a great variety of dishes because in each region there are differences. Nonetheless, these are the 7 basic ingredients behind most Italian dishes.

1. Tomatoes

Una publicación compartida de Laura Zavan (@laura.zavan) el

If an ingredient that can’t stay out of an Italian meal exists, that is the tomato. The reason behind this is that Italy is a big producer of them. And there are more than three hundred types of it (Cherry, Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Pomodorino, Beefsteak, etc). But the best part is the delicious recipes that they prepare with each one of them, like sauces, salads, soup, bruschettas, pizzas, gazpacho and many more.

2. Olive oil

Olive oil is the most consumed liquid in Italy. In fact, it is called liquid gold for the importance that it has in the history of Italian cuisine. In my opinion, the food in Italy would not be the same without it.

Olive oil is present in almost every preparation of Italian food. The taste of it is considered to be one of the best in the world, especially the one from the Tuscan region. Therefore, to taste its pure flavor, Italians enjoy eating it served on a nice piece of bread.

3. Basil

Una publicación compartida de Prats (@prats2007) el

This particular herb is one of the most famous and appreciated in this Mediterranean country. Actually, amateur cooks and professional chefs tend to plant this herb in their yard to have it fresh whenever they need it. Basil is present in a variety of fresh salads, and it is also used to prepare the popular pesto sauce (along with garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil). Pesto is perfect to eat with pasta, salad, potatoes, fish or chicken, for example.

4. Cheese

Italian cheese is more than Mozzarella and Parmesan. The list is very extensive and each one has its own prominence in every Italian recipe. For example, Mozzarella is perfect for pizza, Burrata and Pecorino for salad, Parmesan for pasta or risotto, Ricotta for fritters and Mascarpone for dessert (like in the mouth-watering tiramisu).

Especially, the cheese is considered to be one of the best antipasti, which is the Italian word for an appetizer. You can have it cooked in a provoletta or raw with some bread. However, both options are amazingly delicious.

TAKEAWAY: Cheese is so appreciated in Italy that there’s a bank that gives cheap loans to local cheese producers in exchange of big wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano. In fact, Italy’s Credem Bank holds over 190 million euros in high-quality Italian cheese. So, if the producers can’t return the loan, the bank can sell the cheese and get their money back.

5. Meat

Beef, chicken, lamb, pork and more types of meat are consumed like a second dish in Italy. Usually, is served along with vegetables or legumes, but never ever ever accompanied by pasta. The most popular recipes they prepare with meat are Braised Chicken, Meatballs in tomato sauce, Steaks, Spareribs and Ossobuco.

6. Bread

There are three elements that cannot stay out of an Italian table: wine, water and, of course, bread. Italy has 20 regions and each one produces their own bread. So, Italy has, at least, 20 different types of bread. Also, it’s used to make many of the traditional dishes such as focaccia. Focaccia is a flat bread topped with several ingredients and herbs, similar to pizza but without a sauce.

7. Pasta

This ingredient is the pride of the Italians, it’s the representation of Italian cuisine in the world, and everybody knows that pasta comes from Italy. However, pasta is not just spaghetti, macaroni and tagliatelle. Italy has as many types of pasta as preparations for it. So, if you want to try them all, you should maybe need to eat two or three preparations a day for a whole year or two.

You can find long pasta, short pasta, filled pasta, baked pasta, fresh pasta… The most popular types of pasta are spaghetti, fusilli, ravioli, lasagna, penne, fettuccine, pappardelle, etc. They all have different preparations and sauces. The best part is that you can always personalize your favorite sauces. For example, if you’re making penne alla vodka, you can tweak it and make a spicy vodka sauce to boost the flavors even more! You can also mix in your preferred add-ons like shrimp, scallops, spinach, or chicken.

All in all, everybody knows that the food in Italy has its own particular label in the world and you can find an Italian restaurant everywhere you go. Nevertheless, the flavor is not, obviously, the same of the real traditional pasta of this beautiful land by the Mediterranean sea.

Other related articles:

8 Sicilian Dishes You Should Try While in Italy

5 of The Best Foods to Eat in Venice

How To Eat Like A Local In Rome – Infographic

How should I prepare for a trip to Rome?

5 Must-Visit Attractions in Rome


About Yareli Parra

Yareli has a degree in tourism management, enjoys discovering original places, try new gastronomic options and share her discoveries through her articles.

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  1. This really helped with my food technology project about tradition Italian Ingredients . Thank you 😊

  2. I love how this article talked about the basic ingredients in Italian dishes, and it’s awesome how healthy they are. Like tomatoes, which are powerful anti-oxidants. It’s interesting to know that tomatoes have more than three hundred types, and are used in almost all of Italian dishes like sauces, salads, and soups. Italian cuisine is my favorite, and I’m grateful that I came across this article. Thanks!

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