Generally speaking, Italians are still quite suspicious of vegetarianism, mostly because they think all vegetarians/vegans eat is tofu and lettuce. But most of them may have never stopped to consider that some of Italy’s most popular dishes are actually either vegan or vegetarian. Filling and flavourful, they have nothing to envy meat-based dishes and, if you follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet, you have plenty of options. In fact, while we have listed just 7 of our favourite Italian vegetarian and vegan dishes, there are many more we could have included….
1. Insalata Caprese
Insalata Caprese is one of Italy’s most popular vegetarian dishes. It is a salad that is eaten as a single dish or second course, usually in summer. Its name descends from the island of Capri, where it’s thought to have originated. It consists of tomato, preferably of the variety called fiascone originating from the Sorrento peninsula, or San Marzano, and buffalo mozzarella, all cut into slices, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and basil. Sometimes oregano and/or black pepper are added.
Sicilian cuisine has gifted us with wonderful dishes, often plant-based, making use of ingredients such as eggplants, tomatoes, and basil. These are indeed the undisputed protagonists of caponata, a side dish that is made by cutting the vegetables into cubes and cooking them in extra virgin olive oil. The traditional recipe includes eggplants, olives, tomatoes, celery, capers, and onions. These are cut into pieces and cooked over low heat, seasoned with oil, salt, vinegar, pepper, and lots of basil.
3. Bruschetta al Pomodoro
Bruschetta al pomodoro is a popular appetizer consisting of sliced, toasted bread rubbed with garlic, topped with finely chopped tomatoes, drizzled with high-quality olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and fresh basil leaves. Simple, elegant, flavourful, it is perfect start to a meal and is often prepared for parties and celebrations or offered in restaurants before courses are served.
4. Pasta e Fagioli
Pasta e fagioli is a vegan, healthy, balanced, tasty, and smart meal. Legumes and cereals complement each other in terms of protein, as the amino acids that are missing in legumes are found in abundance in cereals (nutritionists recommend combining cereals and legumes in the same meal).
Tuscan ribollita soup rightly fits into Italy’s list of best vegetarian foods. Ribollita falls within the tradition of the so-called ‘cucina povera’, peasant cooking that made use of whatever ingredient was easily and cheaply available. The main ingredients of ribollita are potatoes, black cabbage, savoy cabbage, and cannellini beans. The perfect bread for ribollita is Tuscan bread. Ribollita can be kept in the refrigerator for several days and actually gets better every time you reheat it.
6. Pizza Margherita
Pizza Margherita is to many the true Italian flag. According to popular tradition, in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy, during a visit to Naples of Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). They named it after the Queen - Pizza Margherita.
Since 2009, Pizza Margherita has been one of the three Neapolitan pizzas with an STG EU label (Specialità Tradizionali Garantite - Traditional Guaranteed Specialty), together with the marinara (garlic and oregano) and the Margherita extra (mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, fresh basil and tomatoes) - all of them vegetarian-friendly.
7. Melanzane alla parmigiana
The dish over which Italians fight the most as to what version is the most authentic is Eggplant parmigiana. This is a beloved comfort food that originated in southern Italy and is now popular all over the country (and abroad). It is a delicious melt of fried eggplant (you can also just bake them for a lighter version), baked in the oven with tomato sauce, basil, garlic, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.