The Most Popular Italian Meat-based Dishes
We all know that Italian cuisine is one of the largest culinary heritages in the world. While not surprising, many people are unaware that this cuisine goes well beyond pizza and the popular pasta dishes most associated with it.
There are countless types of meat dishes and many ways to prepare them, from tender steaks to succulent meat stews, which are indeed as emblematic of Italian cuisine as it is a bowl of pasta! And their names alone express this; think of “La Milanese”, “La Fiorentina” or the world-renowned “Bolognese”: a number of Italian meat dishes proudly bear the name of their city of origin.
The type of meat used usually depends on the animals bred in a particular region, but typically Italians favor pork, beef, lamb, and certain types of game such as rabbit and wild boar, especially in the more mountainous and hilly areas such as Tuscany and Umbria. Other regions prefer game such as duck, which remains an exclusive delicacy for the sophisticated few.
Though meat dishes in Italy are varied, Italians are known to stick to their own traditions rather than venture into new regions. So next time you are cooking for your Italian relatives, don’t go mixing chicken and pasta or chances are they won’t be visiting again.
But now let’s delve into the various meat dishes most loved by Italians!
Arista is one of the most loved Italian meats, originally from Tuscany, and consists of lean pork loin seasoned in finely chopped rosemary, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, tied with twine and then roasted for a few hours.
Once ready, the Arista is thinly cut and can be savored both hot and cold with delicious gravy on top.
It is believed that Arista got its name from the Greek word Aristos, meaning excellent, a word that the Byzantine Patriarch Bessarion shouted when trying this divine meat upon his arrival in Florence in 1430.
2. Coniglio alla Cacciatora
Translated as Hunter’s style rabbit, this wonderful dish may well hold the place of honor of meat dishes and you should try it at least once in your life.
This typical Tuscan recipe encapsulates all the warmth and flavors of the region’s cuisine, recalling tradition and culture in a comforting winter stew.
According to the original recipe, the rabbit is left to slow cook for hours in a mixture of tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, laurel, and sometimes mushrooms, turning incredibly tender and succulent. An exquisite prize for the clever hunter!
3. Bistecca alla Fiorentina
It is impossible not to mention the king of all meat dishes: the great Florentine Steak. This is a T-bone steak from a young steer, typically Chianina cattle, a typical Tuscan breed from the hills around Florence.
It is traditionally grilled on embers, giving it a deliciously smoky taste, and many people ask for it served rare, al sangue. But don’t worry, you won’t be judged if the sight of the blood bothers you.
The most credited myth on the origins of its name is that at the time of the Renaissance, Florence was a major meeting point between many anglophone travelers, who were indeed great lovers of this traditional meat and would shout in the squares “beef-steak”. Thus the people from Florence, captured by its exotic-sounding name, decided to call it bistecca.
For more local culinary delights, check out our Florence food guide.
A symbol of Florentine cucina povera, this humble Tuscan meat stew was in fact traditionally made with the leftover and unused parts of beef, slow-cooked in Chianti, with the addition of the typical soffritto (diced onions, celery, and carrots), garlic, fresh herbs and a large amount of crushed black peppercorns.
The term peposo derives from pepe, Italian for pepper, and the reason why this wonderful Tuscan specialty has become an all-time favorite for true pepper lovers!
5. Cinghiale in Umido
Another Tuscan delicacy, Cinghiale in umido is a hearty stew made with wild boar meat, slow-cooked in a tomato sauce, red wine, and soffritto sauce.
Traditionally prepared during the cold winter season, this chunky stew is typically flavored with bay leaves, red chili flakes, and juniper berries and served on a bed of creamy polenta.
Cinghiale in umido is a popular dish particularly in the southern parts of Tuscany, particularly Maremma, a beautifully green area brimming with wild boars.
6. Cotoletta alla Milanese
This signature dish from Milan is nothing more than breaded tender veal deep fried in butter. Yes, you read it correctly. It is true that Italians don’t generally prefer fried food, but, at the end of the day, we all make exceptions and, after all, how could anyone resist these deliciously crunchy cutlets?
Indeed, many are the historical references proving that Italians have enjoyed this dish for centuries, from its ancient name “lombolos cum panitio” appearing in an 1148 menu, to the reference made by the great 18th Century Italian philosopher and economist Pietro Verri in one of his books.
Ossobuco is undoubtedly one of the most typical Italian meat dishes.
These cross-cut veal shanks braised in vegetables, broth, and white wine are a culinary specialty of the Lombardy region, more specifically of the city of Milan.
Its funny-sounding name, literally meaning “bone with a hole”, refers to the marrow hole at the center of the veal. Ossobuco is typically served on a bed of saffron risotto alla Milanese or creamy polenta, depending on the part of the region.
8. Bollito Misto
Originating from the northern Piemonte region, bollito is a quintessential dish from the alpine culinary tradition. This hearty meat dish consists of a great variety of different meats, such as beef and veal cuts, to which additional parts called ammennicoli or frattaglie are integrated.
Bollito is typically served with a delicious array of steamed vegetables immersed in tasty cooking broth, with the accompaniment of traditional condiments such as bagnetto verde or salsa verde, made with parsley, garlic, and anchovies. A must-have when in Piemonte!
9. Brasato al Barolo
Another classic dish from the Piemonte region, home of the beloved Barolo wine, brasato is a delicious beef stew cooked with Barolo, vegetables, herbs and spices, such as bay leaves, cloves or even cinnamon.
The meat is slowly braised and marinated for a long time, utilizing the braising sauce as the final top-quality garnish, which adds an irresistible touch to the dish.
This Piemontese specialty has become a source of pride for the Italian peninsula, not only for the delicious meat but also for the use of the prestigious local wine.
10. Porchetta di Ariccia
This is a simple pork roast which has become a prized culinary symbol of the Lazio region thanks to its particularly flavorful stuffing made with fennel, rosemary, and garlic.
The pork is slowly roasted on a spit over a wood fire, which makes the skin deliciously crispy and smoky while keeping the inside incredibly succulent and tender.
Porchetta is typically served from traditional vans during village festivals, fairs, and outdoor concerts, making it the number one Italian street food delicacy.
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