These easy Italian recipes are simple and classic: from vodka sauce pasta to Margherita pizza to Caprese salad. Channel your inner Italian grandmother!
Do you love Italian food? We do! Alex and I have traveled to Italy a few times together, and we would jump on a plane to do it again in a second. Why? Many things, but an important one: the food! After our honeymoon years ago, we couldn’t stop thinking about that Margherita pizza we ate in Rome and the Caprese salad in Capri. Over the years, we set about to re-create the Italian recipes we so loved. Here, we’ve collected our best easy Italian recipes that make Italian cooking accessible to the everyday home cook.
What is easy when it comes to Italian recipes? It’s not necessarily fast. These recipes are simple and use tried and true cooking techniques: not shortcuts! Some are fast like cacio e pepe. and some are slower, like our long-simmered vodka sauce. Some use time honored techniques like pizza dough, and others use new techniques like skillet eggplant marinara. Whatever the case, all were created especially for you: the modern home cook.
This vodka sauce will shoot you to Italian grandmother status in no time! Flavored with garlic and basil, the creamy sauce is served over rigatoni with lots of Parmesan. Simmering with butter and half an onion infuses a richness, and the vodka is cooked off leaving a fruity undertone. Then it's blended with Parmesan cheese until smooth. This vodka sauce pasta is so full of flavor, it’s worth every second of that simmer. Serve with Fennel Orange Salad for a dynamic pairing.
One of the most classic Italian recipes out there is pizza Margherita! And this recipe is the best margherita pizza recipe out there, based on our visits to Italy and years of research. It features our ultimate 5-minute garlicky pizza sauce, gooey mozzarella, and fresh basil. The kicker is our Pizza Dough Master Recipe, honed over years and years and tested around the globe. This is really is the best dough!
Minestrone soup is an Italian recipe designed for using up any veggies you had on hand. This classic Italian soup is full of chunky vegetables, white beans, and pasta in a tomato-y broth. Serve this soup with basil pesto (or vegan pesto) and it’s called Minestrone alla genovese. In Italian this means “minestrone soup from Genoa,” the capital of the region of Liguria Italy and where all the great pesto comes from!
Ever had Cacio e pepe? Essentially the roman equivalent of mac and cheese, the name means "cheese and pepper pasta." Pecorino Romano cheese makes a quick and creamy sauce flavored with black pepper. This version is served with a Parmesan crisp, made by baking grated Parmesan until it forms into a crispy cracker. It’s a truly easy recipe that’s elegant in its simplicity.
This tortellini soup is savory and hearty, with a lightly sweet depth that makes you want the bowl to be never-ending. The trick? Tomato paste and paprika give just the right complexity to the broth. And a bit of carrot and celery add texture and crunch. Whole basil leaves are added right after the tortellini cooks, which meld into the beautiful velvety broth. Add a bit of Parmesan cheese and it’s a little bit of heaven.
This Italian-style mussels marinara is so quick and easy to make, and the flavor is incredible. Mussels are simmered in a tangy marinara sauce, scented with basil and garlic. After they've soaked up the marinara flavor, they're served over al dente bucatini pasta. It's one of those recipes that's much fancier than the effort involved: you can make it in under 30 minutes! Don't want the mussels? Try Homemade Pasta Marinara instead.
Want a pizza pocket? This calzone recipe uses our Pizza Dough Master Recipe to make a pocket filled with savory sauteed veggies, gooey cheese, and a little marinara. Then use extra sauce for dipping! This recipe shows you how to make a calzone that's not soggy or overstuffed, but perfectly golden brown and crisp.
Italian-style dinner in 15 minutes? Oh yes. It takes just minutes to make the sauce, and the gnocchi boil up in 3 minutes. The flavor? It tastes like the fanciest ever mac and cheese: but takes literally no effort at all. It's modeled after the famous Italian recipe, Cacio e Pepe pasta (literally “cheese and pepper pasta” in Italian -- see above!). Our version uses chewy gnocchi dumpling-style pasta and it’s simply to die for.
Ribollita is an Italian vegetable stew traditionally thickened by bread as a way to use up old crusts going stale. It might look like just a humble stew, but honestly, the flavors in this ribollita are mind blowing. It’s gently simmered so that the flavors meld together beautifully. The crusty bread cubes are almost like dumplings when soaked in the savory broth.
Here’s a tasty pasta recipe that’s Italian comfort food with a healthy spin: creamy cavatappi pasta! Cavatappi is corkscrew shaped pasta, and it's paired with a creamy cauliflower sauce that coats the noodles perfectly. It’s cheesy but not too rich, made with cauliflower to infuse all the nutrients in this healthy veggie. Mixed with spinach and sundried tomatoes, it's perfect as a weeknight pasta dinner but fancy enough for entertaining.
This Italian-style chopped salad recipe is killer. Without fail, people always ask, "Wow! What is in this?" It's filled with crisp romaine, sliced shallots, and Parmesan cheese. The kicker? Sliced pepperoncini, which add tang and a little heat. Top it off with our classic Homemade Italian Dressing and it's the perfect pair to just about anything.
One of the more ubiquitous of Italian recipes, the simplicity of pesto plastic is always classic. This one is effortless: homemade basil pesto, ripe juicy tomatoes, and a splash of cream. With seasonal ingredients, it will always, always taste beautiful and fresh. And that’s something we can’t get tired of! The silky smooth, savory basil pesto coats the tender pasta, punctuated by the pop of the cherry tomatoes. (We also have a vegan version: Vegan Pesto Pasta.)
Though it’s easy to make, this classic Italian recipe truly one of the greatest taste treats known to man. The mozzarella tomato basil salad is a thing of glory, when the summer tomatoes are the juiciest and the summer basil is bushy and prolific. It’s also called Caprese salad (salad from Capri, Italy) and it’s simple perfection. If you'd like, top with Balsamic Reduction.
Pasta puttanesca is one of the most classic pasta dinner ideas there is. It also has a interesting namesake (go to the post for why!). Not only is it easy to make, but its incredibly robust flavor also makes for a flavorful and satisfying meal. It's a tangy tomato sauce that's studded with briny Kalamata olives to give it a nuanced flavor.
This Italian sandwich recipe was inspired by our recent trip to Italy. While in Pisa (as in, the Leaning Tower of), we went to a sweet little sandwich shop and had a sandwich like this. The bread is spread with basil pesto and Kalamata olive spread, and then it’s filled with grilled eggplant, juicy ripe tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. It’s pretty darn heavenly, if we do say so ourselves.
Ready for the BEST way to eat kale? This salad recipe features Tuscan kale, the dark green Italian variety of this leafy. You might be wary of eating raw kale, which can sometimes have a bitter taste. But with this flavor popping vinaigrette of lemon, Parmesan cheese, and garlic, the bitter taste of the kale is mellowed and melds beautifully with the other flavors. This salad makes a perfect pair with any of our Italian dinner recipes.
This Italian-style eggplant pasta has got it all! It's packed with savory and zesty flavor: tender roasted eggplant, zesty marinara sauce, peppery basil, and salty capers. It's incredibly versatile: it works for weeknights and for serving to company! It’s cozy yet elegant all at once. Use any noodle you like: long shapes like spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine, or short shapes like penne or rigatoni.
What says Italian recipe more than risotto with truffles? This dish sounds gourmet, but it’s actually quite simple to put together. The creamy Parmesan rice is paired with the earthy flavor of black truffle in a symphony of flavor. The recipe calls for canned black truffles and mushrooms, which is a worthy splurge. If you can’t find them, you can also garnish with a drizzle of truffle oil.
Last but not least in our Italian recipes: lasagna! There's nothing more popular than this cozy Italian baked pasta, and this one has a little flair with the spicy kale filling. A little spice is the perfect pair for this healthy leafy green. Along with the greens, this lasagna has both mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese to make a gooey filling. It's become a family favorite around here! Want a plant based version? Try Favorite Vegan Lasagna.
Here's a spin on mussels marinara: shrimp marinara! It combines the most flavorful, simple marinara sauce with tasty sauteed shrimp. Serve it over pasta and it’s a classic Italian recipe that has all the carefree vibe of the Mediterranean without the fuss. But it’s showy enough for entertaining, too. With a big salad, it’s great for an easy dinner party.
Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vodka, oregano, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt. Stir to combine. Add the halved onion and simmer for 1 hour with the lid tilted, stirring occasionally.
After the simmering time, remove the onion. Transfer the sauce to a blender, or use an immersion blender to blend the sauce. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until it melts.
Meanwhile, boil heavily salted water in a large pot. Cook the pasta to al dente (see the section above). When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Combine it with the vodka sauce. Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and torn fresh basil leaves.
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.