A Glossary of Italian Products to Help American Cooks : Variety of Food and Wines Defined in a Special List That Includes Pasta and Cheeses

Times Staff Writer

Here is a glossary of Italian products found in restaurants and grocery stores where Italian products and wines are sold.


Arborio --short-grain rice farmed in the Po Valley in Northern Italy. It has a rich, creamy texture and full flavor when cooked. This imported rice comes in cloth sacks.

Gnocchi-- small dumplings, sometimes available in frozen form. They are made of corn flour or potatoes and are served with tomato or other sauces.

Agnelotti-- a small round pasta that is cooked, then stuffed with meat or vegetables and served with tomato or meat sauce and cheese.

Bucatini-- long macaroni tubes that are served baked or with sauces.

Cappelletti-- a rather large tortellini that is shaped like a little hat and is usually filled with cheese and minced poultry or sausage. It is excellent served dry with tomato or butter sauce or added to soup.

Capelli d'angelo --Literally translated, capelli d'angelo means "angel's hair." This vermicelli noodle is one of the finest strand pastas, used chiefly with sauces, but also in soups.

Conchiglie-- large or small seashell-shaped pasta is served with sauces.

Farfalle-- the Italian name for "butterfly." This bow-shaped pasta is used chiefly with sauces or occasionally added to soups.

Fettuccine-- long, thin fresh or dry strips of macaroni that are popularly eaten with a butter and cheese sauce, or meat and seafood sauces.

Fusilli-- corkskrew-shaped pasta that is made for sauces.

Linguine-- popular flat, long-stranded pasta that is generally used fresh with cream or clam sauces.

Penne-- thin, diagonally cut tube macaroni that is served with sauces.

Ravioli-- pillow-shaped squares of pasta that are filled with meat, fish, poultry, vegetables or cheese and served with sauces or added to soups.

Rigatoni-- short, fat, ribbed tube macaroni that is served with rich sauces.

Tagliatelle-- long strips of macaroni which are a specialty of Bologna but are found anywhere . They are best served with sauces or simply laced with butter and grated Parmesan cheese.

Tortellini-- small or large cap-shaped pasta that are stuffed with meat, poultry or cheese. They are served with any sauce but are especially good with cream, butter and cheese.


Asiago-- a hard cheese made of cow's milk that is produced in the Veneto region. It is best eaten as an appetizer but can be used for grating.

Bocconcini-- Literally, "little morsels," the tiny balls of fresh mozzarella are usually made of buffalo milk in Italy, but are available at some specialty Italian markets here, made with cow's milk. They are wonderful dressed with olive oil and herbs to serve as appetizers. They can also be breaded and fried, or sliced or diced to add to salads.

Caciocavallo-- This hard, mild cheese is usually available at most cheese stores. It can be eaten at the table. The grating-type caciocavallo is aged and strong in flavor.

Fontina-- a full-cream, medium-hard cheese that is produced in the Piedmont region for table use. It makes a fine after-dinner cheese with fruit or a light accompaniment to soup, pasta or salad.

Grana Padano-- a hard grating cheese gaining in popularity. It is made of partially skimmed cow's milk and is produced in many regions, including Piedmont, Lombary and Venice and Emilia. The cheese is also eaten as an appetizer or after a meal, before or with the fruit.

Mozzarella de Bufala-- Imported from Italy, this fresh, pure-white mozzarella packed in water or brine is made with buffalo milk from buffalo bred in the Campania region near Naples. The fresh mozzarella is about two to three inches in diameter and is used as you would the tiny bocconcini. Imported fresh mozzarella is air-freighted and vacuum-packed in brine and will remain fresh in the refrigerator up to 10 days if properly stored. Fresh mozzarella is sometimes found in smoked form. Domestic fresh mozzarella made with cow's milk is also available at specialty Italian markets here.

Parmigiano Reggiano-- High-quality cow's milk is used for producing this excellent cooking and table hard cheese. Produced in the Emilia region in North Central Italy, the cheese can be eaten alone with fruit or grated to add to pastas or salads.

Pecorino--Pecorino Romano, the full-cream yew's milk cheese produced in Lazio, near Rome, is ripened for eight months before use as a table or grating cheese. The cheese is also produced in Sardinia (Pecorino Sardo) and Sicily (Pecorino Siciliana).

Provolone-- This medium-hard full-cream cow's milk cheese produced throughout Italy has a mild, delicate flavor, which becomes stronger as it ages. It is an excellent slicing cheese for sandwiches or for eating with fruit.

Gorgonzola-- Although Gorgonzola falls in the general category of blue cheeses, it is not considered as such. Because of its classification it has not received its denomination status for the European blue cheese quota entry to the United States. The very soft cheese is made with cow's cream in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions. It is used primarily as a table cheese as well as in cooked dishes and sauces.

Taleggio-- Slowly becoming known to American consumers, this soft full-cream cheese from cow's milk is produced in the Lombardy, Piedmont and Venice areas. It is used as a table cheese and is fine as a dessert cheese.

Mascarpone-- a creamy cheese that is used like American cream cheese as a spread or as a filling for some pastas and desserts. Some mascarpone is sold layered with other cheeses as a table cheese.


Balsamic vinegar-- This aromatic vinegar is produced in the province of Emilia-Romagna, in the areas of Bologna and Modena. The vinegar is treated with special herbs and made from wines of the region.

Extra-virgin olive oil-- This oil is the result of the first pressing of the olives and is the purest form of olive oil with the strongest and richest flavor. Virgin olive oil is the result of two or more pressing of the olives, and refined olive oil is put through further refinement stages.

Gelati-- Italian ices that are now found worldwide in all flavors. Most Italian delis and specialty stores carry them.

Pizza Rustica-- This pie made of egg dough is generally filled with sausages, cheese and a green vegetable bound in egg. It is generally found as a deli item but can be prepared for a luncheon or light meal.

Funghi porcini-- These Italian morels are usually found dry in packaged form requiring reconstitution with water, or in jars preserved in oil. Fresh porcini are now being produced in the West Coast of the United States and are sold chiefly to the restaurant trade. They are sometimes available at specialty grocery stores.

Prosciutto-- A Food and Drug Administration embargo on pork products caused by an Italian hog disease dating back to the '60s prevents any Italian pork products, including sausages, salamis and prosciutto, from entering the United States, according to the Italian Trade Commission in Los Angeles. However, there is hope that revised on-site FDA inspection regulations will again permit imported prosciutto from Parma. Italian prosciutto should not be confused with so-called "imported" brands from Canada or so-called Italian-type prosciutto often sold in Italian markets here. Some domestic brands, such as Citterio, manufactured in Pennsylvania, are produced according to the Italian-style prosciuttos.

Sun-dried tomatoes-- These tomatoes that are dried by the sun throughout Italy are most prized when they are produced in the sun belt of the Campania region near Naples and Salerno, where the tomatoes grown are called san marzano, the pear-shaped plum tomatoes. They are excellent served by themselves as marinated appetizers or added to pizzas or cooked dishes and sauces.

Tartufi-- white truffles dug up by specially trained dogs in the Alba region in Piedmont, where the truffles are mainly harvested. They are more prized than the black truffles grown in Umbria. The costly delicacy is generally air-freighted fresh to the restaurant trade, where the truffles are grated over pasta or used in meat dishes and other cooked dishes. Some canned products are available at specialty stores.


Wines marked with a D.O.C. ( Denominazione di Origine Controllata ) certifies the origin of the grapes and wine. The practice begun in 1970 differentiates D.O.C. wines from table wines. D.O.C. wines are those in which at least 90% of the grapes are from the place of production, whereas table wines are those in which at least 70% of the grapes are from place of origin. However, there are many fine wines without D.O.C. markings.

Asti Spumante-- the Italian sparkling wine that is considered the Champagne of Italy. It is produced from Muscat grapes of the Piedmont region. The light, straw-colored wine is best served with dessert.

Barbera-- This dark, ruby red, slightly dry wine from the Piedmont and d'Aosta Valley region is best served with wild game and spicy dishes. The sparkling variety is a dessert wine.

Bardolino-- This well-known name among Italian wines is produced in the Veneto and Lake Garda area. The robust, red wine is best served with roasts and is a good accompaniment to any meal using meat.

Barolo-- This wine from the Piedmont region boasts a dark, ruby red color and refreshing bouquet. This excellent wine is good with any roast.

Brunello di Montalcino-- This brilliant, garnet red wine with a big, robust flavor is a product of Tuscany, one of the chief wine-producing areas of North Central Italy. Brunello is considered one of the best Italian wines. Both the bouquet, reminiscent of violets, and the flavor improve with aging. The wine is best served with roasts, as well as game and pate.

Chianti classico-- This aged Chianti is produced in Tuscany around Florence, Siena and Pisa, among other places. The wine is an all-around classic, which goes well with any meals, red roasts and game. When more than 5 years old, Chianti classico is best with rare game. The wine is also an excellent cheese wine.

Corvo--Corvo Rosso di Casteldaccia (red) and Corvo Bianco di Casteldaccia (white) are considered excellent wines from Sicily. The Corvo white is straw yellow and has a distinctive bouquet. It goes well with hors d'oeuvres and special meals. The Corvo red has a full-bodied fruity characteristic with an aromatic bouquet. It is best served with fine game and roasts.

Gattinara-- This wine, gaining in popularity here, is from the Piedmont region. Gattinara is considered a connoisseur's wine because of its rather rough characteristics, probably due to its high tannin content. Aging improves color, taste and bouquet. Gattinara is best served with fine, highly seasoned dishes, game, red meats, liver, sausages and cutlets.

Il grigio-- Gaining in popularity here, Il grigio is a brut Champagne-like wine from the Venice area. It goes well with any food, dessert or cheese.

Lambrusco-- Produced in the Emilia-Romagna region around Bolgona, Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia, Lambrusco is a naturally fermented wine with a fruity flavor and thirst-quenching characteristic reminiscent of pop wines. This largest-selling Italian wine in America goes well with desserts and as a between-meals beverage. Lambrusco is also served with pasta such as tortellini and lasagna.

Pinot Grigio-- This superior white wine from the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region in Northern Italy varies in color from straw yellow to grayish pink. Its pleasing bouquet and distinctive sharpness in flavor goes well with hors d'oeuvres and fish.

Soave-- One of the top-selling Italian white wines produced in the Veneto region, soave has a velvety flavor and light aroma. It's best served with hors d'oeuvres and fish.

Valpolicella-- Another popular Italian wine in the United States produced in the Veneto region has a intense ruby-red color and delicate bouquet. "Superior" dry Valpolicella is still darker in color and incorporates a velvety quality to its light bouquet of bitter almonds. It is served with all meals and is particularly good with roasts.


Anise-- The aromatic, licorice-flavored seed of a plant in the parsley family is used to flavor sausages, cookies and cakes, as well as meats and pickles.

Arugula-- This wildly grown plant, also known as rocket, is eaten as a green in salads with dressing by itself or with other greens and/or vegetables.

Basil-- This leaf of a plant from the mint family has a clove-like aroma and lemony, anise-like taste. Basil provides one of the most distinctive flavors of Italian cookery and is used fresh in tomato salads and tomato-based sauces, soups (such as minestrone), egg dishes, and many pasta and pizza dishes. Basil is the key ingredient of pesto, a green sauce used on pastas.

Eggplant-- Small, thin eggplants (known as Japanese eggplant in markets) is the preferred eggplant in dishes such as capponata, the chopped appetizer, and other eggplant dishes in Italian cookery.

Fennel-- This aromatic, licorice-flavored herb of the parsley family has tall stalk-like stems with yellow flowers and ribbed bulb. The bulb is used in salads or cooked dishes. It can be cut into quarters or eighths to saute and serve with dressing as an appetizer.

Italian parsley-- The flat-leafed version of the curly parsley is said to have been cultivated in the Mediterranean in the 3rd Century B.C. The mild herb is used to flavor meats, tomato sauces, pasta sauces and butters, as well as soups and fish dishes.

Oregano-- This herb of the mint family of plants has fragrant small leaves and is used as a seasoning in sauces and grilled meats, fish and poultry. The herb is a staple in Southern Italian cookery.

Radicchio-- Imported from Verona and its environs, this dark red and white cabbage-like salad lettuce is prized for its bittersweet taste. Radicchio is fine dressed with oils and vinegar to serve as a companion to roasts of all kinds.

Rosemary-- Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is an evergreen plant of the mint family. The needle-like leaves are used fresh or dried in roast or grilled beef, pork, veal, chicken, poultry and game dishes.

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