9 Traditional Italian Pasta Dishes

Italian pasta dish

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Every tourist loves to try some traditional Italian pasta dishes. But which are the most authentic recipes, and which dishes are associated with different regions? And which type of pasta goes with which sauce? I asked a number of travel bloggers for their suggestions.

Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese

Lori from Italy Foodies tells us about one of Italy’s best known pasta dishes.

Bologna is well known for its food, and arguably no dish is more emblematic of Emilia Romagna than Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Like most dishes in Bologna, this is a simple dish with just a few ingredients. It is often seen on menus as Tagliatelle al ragù as the sauce is a simple tomato based ragù. In Italy, alla Bolognese basically means “with ground meat”. The ingredients vary a bit from chef to chef, but the sauce will be chunky and thick no matter where you try it. 

The most common recipe includes tomatoes, some milk, often porcini mushrooms, a splash of wine, garlic, a bit of onion and carrots, and either ground pork, beef, or both. The meat is often browned using pancetta. Then the other ingredients are sauteed, seasoned, and blended together. The sauce is slowly cooked until it is thick and creamy.

White plate with tagliatelle and bolognese sauce, one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes
A classic tagliatelle bolognese (image by RitaE from Pixabay)

Although tagliatelle can be found in several other regions, it is believed to have originated in Emilia Romagna in the 15th century. Tagliatelle is an egg-based pasta that is long, wide and flat, and pairs well with chunky sauce. You’ll have no trouble finding this dish as every restaurant in Bologna serves it. Buon Appetito!

Spaghetti Carbonara

This is another one that is popular outside of Italy, contributed by Roxanne of Faraway Worlds.

One of the more popular pasta dishes internationally, spaghetti carbonara is both delicious and simple to make. While recipes with cream and bacon have become popular overseas, the traditional Roman carbonara recipe contains just five ingredients: guanciale (similar to bacon but made with pork cheeks instead of belly), eggs, pecorino romano and black pepper. The pan is removed from the heat before the eggs are added and the residual heat of the pasta and the pan gently cooks the eggs and melts the cheese.

The result is a rich, creamy sauce, flavoured with the juices of the guanciale. While spaghetti is the most popular pasta to use with carbonara, it’s not uncommon to see other types of pasta used in this dish, particularly fettuccine.

The origin of the Roman recipe for carbonara is a matter of debate, but the current recipe only became popular after World War II. One theory of the origin of the dish is that evacuees from the Abruzzo mountains came to Rome after the war, bringing the dish with them. Another is that the recipe was widely made in Rome from the turn of the 20th century but only spread wider once it was included in printed recipe books after the war. Regardless of its origins, spaghetti carbonara remains a staple Roman dish which is loved throughout the world.

Spaghetti Cacio E Pepe

Cacio e pepe is my personal favourite pasta dish! This contribution is from Claudia of Strictly Rome.

Travelling to Rome, and having spaghetti Cacio e Pepe is a real must. Served at any good local trattoria (Felice A Testaccio is one of the most popular trattorie regularly serving this dish), and in many restaurants, this dish literally only requires three ingredients to be made the right way. Spaghetti, cacio (pecorino romano cheese) and black pepper. You can say it’s actually five ingredients, if you count the water and salt in which you have to boil the pasta! The secret to a good spaghetti cacio e pepe is mastering the cheese sauce so that it becomes creamy but doesn’t clamp. Some would suggest adding butter or other ingredients to the sauce – but that would be a sacrilege! 

Curious to know how a good spaghetti cacio e pepe is done? Follow this recipe – for four persons. In a large pot, boil a lot of water and salt. When the water boils, throw in 360 grams of good quality spaghetti (about 90 grams per person) and stir them occasionally. Heat up a non-stick pan to toast the pepper and add a couple of spoons of pasta water. Add around 150 grams of pecorino and some pasta water and whisk vigorously until you obtain a creamy texture. 

Grey plate with spaghetti and a plain sauce of cheese and pepper
A simple dish of cacio e pepe (photo copyright Claudia Tavani)

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and keep some water aside. Throw the pasta in the sauce and stir for a few moments, adding some of the pasta water if it appears to be dry. Serve immediately!

Genovese Pesto With Trofie

Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles suggests this Ligurian dish.

Liguria is famous for many foods but undoubtedly the most popular Ligurian culinary creation is pesto genovese. Pesto comes from the word pestare, which means “to pound.” Fragrant basil grows prolifically in the hills of Liguria, and has been collected for centuries for culinary use. Pesto alla Genovese combines basil with garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan and pecorino cheeses for a truly delicious sauce. All you do is find the freshest ingredients and pound them to a coarse paste in a traditional mortar (or a modern blender or chopping machine).

Trofie is a spiral pasta from Liguria that is perfect for “holding” the tasty pesto. Trofie al pesto can be found on the menus of most restaurants in Liguria, and makes for a fresh delightful light lunch or a great first course in a larger meal. Il Frantoio in Lerici is a great place to try this famous regional dish. The trofie al pesto here includes diced potatoes and green beans, and tastes delicious!

Pasta Chi Sardi

A Sicilian pasta dish is recommended by Caroline of Veggie Wayfarer.

One of the typical pasta dishes from Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is pasta with sardines (pasta chi sardi). As is the case for many of the world’s most loved traditional foods, this dish is simple and made with ingredients that are affordable and found in great abundance: sultanas, wild fennel, fresh sardines, onions, pine nuts and bucatini pasta. Top it off with breadcrumbs (Parmesan was usually too expensive for the traditional fisherman’s family) for crunch and texture and there you have it!

Try to have this delicacy when it is the season for wild fennel (March-August). This pasta dish is a staple on any Sicilian menu, especially in Palermo, the capital city. It would be hard not to find a good place to try it: even more touristy restaurants like Antica Focacceria San Francesco take pride in presenting you with a well prepared dish of pasta chi sardi. To get some of the best sardines in the city head over to the aptly named Sardina Pastabar and enjoy your new favourite pasta dish!

White plate with a fork digging into a dish of pasta and sardines
Pasta chi sardi (photo by Stijn Nieuwendijk via Flickr)

Make sure to leave some room in your belly for some of the other delicious Palermitan street food that is on offer in abundance around the city: arancini, brioche con gelato or even pane con la milza (bread with spleen)!

Pasta And Patate With Provola

This one looks delicious – and filling! From Alessia of Italian Trip Abroad.

Italy is known for many things and especially for its delicious and yummy cuisine. Traditional food is on the kitchen table every day, from fancy dishes to easy ones that – thanks to simple products – become unique and tasty.

We all know that when thinking about food from Naples the first thing that will come to everyone’s mind is the famous pizza. However, the local cuisine has a lot more to offer, and what you need to eat in Naples is delicious pasta and patate with provola. This amazing combination of carbs on top of other carbs is a pure Neapolitan dish that everyone loves but is still not very well known among tourists.

Spoon lifting pasta, potato and stringy cheese from a plate
Pasta e patate con provola (photo copyright Alessia Vurchio)

This traditional dish is made with pasta and simple well-cooked potato, tomato, parmesan and a lot of love. The addition of stringy provola – smoked mozzarella – makes the product even tastier. If you ever plan a trip to Naples, make sure to add to your list Trattoria Da Nennella as it’s one of the best places to eat this classic pasta dish.


A classic Sardinian dish from Claudia of Strictly Sardinia.

Malloreddus alla campidanese is one of the most famous pasta dishes you will find in Sardinia. Visit any traditional local trattoria or – better – a good agriturismo and chances to eat it won’t be missing. In Cagliari, you will definitely find it at Pani e Casu, a lovely restaurant in the historic centre focusing on Sardinian staples.

Known as gnocchetti sardi in Italian as their shape resembles that of gnocchi (though the texture and taste are completely different), malloreddus was invented in the Sardinian region of Campidano and it’s made with semolina and water, though some varieties also add saffron. It has a firm texture that always remains al dente.  

Black dish with pasta, tomato sauce and cheese
Classic Sicilian malloreddus (photo copyright Claudia Tavani)

Malloreddus are usually served with a sauce made with tomato passata, onions, fresh Sardinian-style pork sausage (which normally is not too peppery and includes fennel seeds), dry Sardinian sausage, ground pork meat and even some rosemary. The sauce is cooked for up to three hours! Once the pasta is cooked, it’s drained, mixed with the sauce and served with abundant grated Sardinian pecorino cheese.

Lombrichelli Alla Viterbese

Lisa of Travel Connect Experience tells us about a traditional homemade pasta.

Recipes for homemade pasta are handed down in Italy from generation to generation, usually from mother to daughter or from grandmother to granddaughter. That is why, for a dish that is spread all over the province of Viterbo in the northern part of Latium, we will find different recipes with different seasonings.

Lombrichelli alla Viterbese is a first course of long fresh pasta that resembles spaghetti and which is prepared with just water and flour and “pulled” by hand, without the use of machines. Preparing it really well requires a lot of time and practice. There are two theories about the origin of the name. Lombrichelli means “little earthworms” in Italian, so it could refer to the particular shape of the pasta, which is reminiscent of earthworms. Alternatively the name derives from the expression l’ umbrichelli, because the dish resembles umbrichi, a type of homemade pasta from the nearby region of Umbria.

White dish of homemade pasta on a table with a green water bottle
Lombrichelli alla viterbese (photo copyright Lisa Ini)

Being a dish of the peasant tradition and therefore poor, usually when it is eaten at home it is seasoned with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. However, when it is eaten at a restaurant, it has more complex and tasty ingredients, such as the exquisite Lombrichelli with wild boar ragù that you can taste at La Corte, a restaurant in Nepi, a small town near Viterbo.

Spaghetti With Spiny Murex

And, finally, an unusual Venetian speciality discovered by Enzo of Inguaribile Viaggiatore.

During a walk at the fish market in Chioggia (near Venice) my curiosity was captured by a shell I had never seen. I asked the fishmonger for an explanation, and he told me that it was spiny murex (garusoli in the Venetian dialect), and he suggested an excellent recipe to taste them.

For those not from Venice, I want to explain that spiny murex are little known molluscs: they have a spiral-wound shell, live in the sea and do not feed by filtering the water, but on the contrary, they are predators of other molluscs, especially clams. Spiny murex is perhaps the only mollusc to have entered history due to the tiny droplet of clear liquid in one of their glands that turns deep purple when exposed to the air. Since ancient times, this pigment has been known as purple, a precious material that cost much more than gold.

Spaghetti with spiny murex combines the molluscs with pasta, chilli, garlic, white wine and olive oil, with perhaps a little tomato. You can taste this dish at the Osteria la Busara or the Osteria Trefanti.

About Bewitched by italy

Bewitched By Italy is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), but Italy remains one of my favourite destinations. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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