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Know Your Food: A Guide to the Names of Common Italian Dishes and Their Ingredients

Published July 23rd, 2020 by Devteam

Italian food is the most popular food in the world, with 84% of people in 24 countries saying they prefer the cuisine. While most people are familiar with pizza, spaghetti, and lasagna, there are several Italian menu terms that you may not know. 

Don't let a foreign word stop you from trying all of the delicious dishes that Italian cuisine has to offer. This guide will help you to try all of the delicious flavors of Italy by explaining common terms you'll see on the menu. 


You'll see this phrase in the appetizer or side orders section of the menu. The meaning of antipasto is "before food".  Traditionally, it's a plate of cheeses, cured meats, olives, and anchovies.

Many modern Italian restaurants get creative and add hard-boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, and nuts. 


When reading through Italian pasta dishes, you'll begin to notice that the name of the pasta used in the dish is a part of the dish name. This helps you to know what you're ordering. 

Fettuccine:  This flat style of pasta is most well known for its appearance in fettuccine alfredo. The noodles are long, wide, and flat. 

Linguine: This pasta is similar to fettuccine in that it's long and flat, but it's slightly skinnier in width. You'll see it paired with seafood and a white wine sauce. 

Penne: This tube-shaped pasta has ridges on the outside to help it hold the sauce. It comes in a variety of different sized tubes, and you'll see it served with a marinara sauce. 

Lasagne: Did you know this dish gets its named from the noodles used? This pasta is long flat sheets that get layered with ground beef, red sauce, and cheese. 

Ravioli: These are pillows of pasta stuffed with deliciousness. Two layers of flat pasta wrap around everything from cheese to meat and seafood. 

Gnocchi:  The general meaning of gnocchi is a small dumpling-style pasta. It's generally small pillowy lumps. Traditional Italian restaurants serve gnocchi as an appetizer, but most Italian restaurants in America serve it as a main pasta dish.


The other half of ordering a pasta dish is knowing what kind of sauce to pair it with. There are three staples you'll see on every Italian menu, marinara, alfredo, and pesto. A few other delicious alternatives may also make an appearance. 

Marinara: This is a standard thick red sauce made from tomatoes with garlic, onions, and herbs. For something similar but lighter, try the pasta al Pomodoro. 

Alfredo:  Typically served with fettuccine, this thick and creamy sauce is made with parmesan cheese, cream, and butter. The sauce will coat the noodles and become a delicious mix in your mouth. 

Pesto:  This green sauce is made from pine nuts, garlic, salt, basil, and hard cheese. Everything gets blended together with olive oil to become a sauce that's tossed on pasta. 

Carbonara:  This is a cheese lovers' sauce as it tastes incredibly rich. It's made with Romano or Parmigiano cheese, egg, cured pork, and black pepper. 

Marsala:  This sauce is made with Marsala wine and often paired with chicken. It has a rich earthy flavor with a subtle sweetness thanks to mushrooms. 

Know Your Italian Menu Terms

Now that you're familiar with these common Italian menu terms, you're ready to order like a true Italian. Don't be afraid to venture beyond the standard spaghetti and red sauce and try a dish with one of these Italian ingredient names. 

Browse our menu of delicious Italian dishes and pick out what you'll try on your next visit. 

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