Yes, pasta is one of the world’s most beloved culinary inventions (uh hello, we devoted an entire issue to it). But in Italy, as elsewhere, meals often spotlight a piece of meat or seafood, and that braciole, cacciatore, or baccala needs to be plated with something.
Our best Italian vegetable dishes tend to showcase fresh and seasonal Mediteranean ingredients that play nicely with hearty proteins. Think sweet and sour cipollini onions, simple roasted artichokes, and zesty fried eggplant with basil and capers. Of course, no roundup of Italian sides would be complete without a caprese salad—that popular combination of tomatoes, burrata, basil, and olive oil, made no less delectable by its ubiquity.
Most of these options would make a lovely side dish for lasagna, timpana, or pasta bolognese (though pasta is typically its own separate course in Italy). One obvious exception, unless you’re in the mood for some serious carb-loading: risotto, a rich and creamy side best served alongside more modest portions of meat. The silky rice dish is much easier to make than its reputation suggests, and positively sings when paired with classic Italian mains (the extravagant risotto alla Milanese traditionally accompanies hearty, braised osso bucco.)
So whether you’re after an easy vegetable side to round out your pasta dinner, or a simple risotto to go with your Sunday roast, one of these recipes will yield just the thing to serve, alongside a nice bottle of Chianti.
A dish as simple as caprese salad demands the best ingredients: Use firm, in-season tomatoes, the freshest burrata, and dress with pristine olive oil and top-quality balsamic vinegar. Get the recipe for Caprese Salad » Landon Nordeman
Risotto alla Milanese
Fried Dough with Arugula and Grape Tomatoes (Angioletti Fritti con Rucola e Pomodori)
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Pecorino Flans with Tomato Sauce (Pecorino Tortas con Salsa di Pomodoro)
Arugula, Pecorino, Pine Nut, and Pear Salad (Rucola con Pecorino, Pignoli e Pere)
Roasted Artichokes (Carciofi Arrostiti)
Risotto Cacio e Pepe
Chef Massimo Bottura developed this recipe to utilize the nearly 1,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano damaged after earthquakes devastated the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy in 2012. Get the recipe for Risotto Cacio e Pepe » Farideh Sadeghin
Sweet, ripe, summer tomatoes dressed in olive oil, vinegar, and basil are tossed with garlicky, toasted bread cubes to soak up the delicious juices in this classic Italian salad. Get the recipe for Summer Panzanella » Helen Rosner
Tricolore Salad with Grapefruit Saba Vinaigrette
Pan-Fried Eggplant with Balsamic, Basil, and Capers
Mortadella and Fontina Slab Pie
This flaky, comforting puff pastry hand pie is evil but genius—it tastes like the Italian version of a ham and cheese croissant, but without the labor of from-scratch pastry. Mortadella, a pork-based deli meat with pistachios and delicate morsels of pork fat, is available at many grocery stores, and Italian markets. Get the recipe for Mortadella and Fontina Slab Pie » Stacy Adimando
Cipolline in Agrodolce (Sweet and Sour Cipolline Onions)
Ricotta, Potato, and Scallion Fritters
Sweet Peas with Prosciutto
Cherry Tomato Tarte Tatin
Juicy cherry or grape tomatoes are coated in a light caramel to make the “topping” for this tart, but the whole thing is baked upside down in a skillet. Do most of the steps to prepare it in advance—make the zucchini paste and defrost the puff pastry a few hours or up to two days ahead—but be sure to serve the tart just after baking, turning it out from the pan in front of guests. It tastes best while the caramel is still runny and the warm, topmost layer of dough has a custardy consistency. Get the recipe for Cherry Tomato Tarte Tatin » Michelle Heimerman
Artichoke Risotto with Capocollo and Pecorino
“I come from Milano, which is actually the patria, or land, of risotto,” Goggi says. At Masseria Moroseta in Puglia, she cooks with artichokes from her garden, and is sure to include plenty of their edible stems. She braises the artichokes, then purées them into a cream for cooking the rice, and reserves a few pieces of the hearts for serving. “I love the pairing of capocollo and Pecorino with this dish because they are traditional of this place.” Get the recipe for Artichoke Risotto with Capocollo and Pecorino » Eva Kolenko
Radicchio and Polignano Carrot Salad with Burrata and Pomegranate
The dark-purple, orange, and yellow carrots of Polignano—a town north of Ostuni on Italy’s Adriatic coast—have a startlingly bright color and punchy flavor. But any colorful, tender carrot will do. Goggi tops this salad with a tart, preserved-lemon vinaigrette, some cumin, mounds of burrata, and pomegranate seeds. “Pomegranates grow wild all over Italy, but Italians typically don’t use them,” she says. Get the recipe for Radicchio and Polignano Carrot Salad with Burrata and Pomegranate » Eva Kolenko
Sardinian Flatbreads with Parmigiano, Coppa, and Chiles (Carta di Musica)
Roasted Garlic Polenta “Mash” with Herbs and Mascarpone