17 Best Italian Side Dishes

Caprese Salad

The Spruce / Leah Maroney

Want to make your Italian meals more exciting? No Italian-themed dinner would be complete without delicious sides. We've collected the side dish recipes you are likely to find on real Italian menus so you can make them at home. Whether you're serving up a Roman-style, multicourse feast, want to put an Italian spin on your usual weeknight meals, or are just craving cacio e pepe pasta, here are the best Italian side dishes to try.

  • 01 of 17

    Arancini di Riso (Sicilian Fried Stuffed Rice Balls)

     Arancini di riso (Sicilian fried stuffed rice balls)

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Arancini, a Sicilian recipe for deep-fried, saffron-scented rice balls stuffed with a filling of meat, green peas, and tomato sauce, is one of the best-loved small bites in Italy. They are often served as a bar snack or appetizer, with garlic aioli or pomodoro sauce for dipping, but also make a nice side dish.

  • 02 of 17

    Creamy Polenta

    Creamy polenta

    Claudia Totir / Getty Images

    Polenta is a popular side dish in northern Italy, where it is often made to accompany meat dishes in place of pasta. It can also be cooled, then sliced and fried, grilled, or baked. It is essentially a thick and creamy cornmeal porridge made with water or stock. You can make it at home with this easy, 30-minute recipe.

  • 03 of 17

    Caprese Salad

    Caprese salad

    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    With fresh, ripe, red tomatoes, aromatic basil leaves, and slabs of soft, fresh mozzarella cheese, the famous tricolor caprese salad is like Italy on a plate. This classic recipe dresses the salad in a tangy, sweetened balsamic glaze that elevates all of the ingredients.

  • 04 of 17

    Cacio e Pepe Pasta

    Cacio e pepe pasta

    The Spruce / Elaine Lemm

    In Italy, pasta is most often served as a primo, or first course, versus an American-style main dish. One of the most popular preparations is spaghetti cacio e pepe, which literally means "cheese and pepper spaghetti." You need only 15 minutes and three ingredients to make this wonderfully cheesy, creamy dish: a box of dried pasta, whole peppercorns, and a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese.

    Continue to 5 of 17 below.
  • 05 of 17

    Caponata alla Siciliana

    Caponata alla Siciliana

    haoliang / Getty Images

    Caponata is an eggplant-based stewed vegetable delight that is the Sicilian cousin of traditional French ratatouille. Similar to Sicilian pasta recipes, caponata includes salty, briny ingredients such as capers and green olives for a regional flavor profile that is instantly recognizable. Serve as a vegetable side dish for seafood or meat, or enjoy it on toast for a hearty snack.

  • 06 of 17

    Roasted Whole Artichokes

    Roasted whole artichokes

    The Spruce

    Enjoy a nutritious, Roman-style side dish with this clever recipe that uses your oven, not the stovetop, to steam whole artichokes. Simply dress artichokes in a little olive oil and lemon juice, seal them in foil packets, and pop them into the oven to slowly steam to perfection. A garlic clove in the center of each choke infuses the delicate flesh with fantastic Italian flavor.

  • 07 of 17

    Tuscan Focaccia Bread

    Tuscan focaccia bread

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

    Focaccia is a much-loved, olive oil-soaked flatbread from northern Italy. Light and airy with a soft and tender crumb, it is often scattered with dried rosemary. It makes a traditional accompaniment for antipasto delights or a dipping bread for soup. Leftover focaccia can be turned into croutons for panzanella salad or used to make bruschetta.

  • 08 of 17

    Italian Wedding Soup (Minestra Maritata)

    Italian wedding soup (minestra maritata)

    The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

    Loaded with browned, crumbled sausage and plenty of green vegetables, simmered in a rich, homemade chicken or beef stock, and generously topped with grated Italian cheese, this hearty wedding soup would be right at home at your next holiday dinner or any Italian-themed feast. 

    Continue to 9 of 17 below.
  • 09 of 17

    Risotto Milanese

    Foolproof Rrsotto milanese

    Clive Streeter / Getty Images

    The elegant simplicity of risotto Milanese, with its delicate saffron taste, is hard to match. For a risotto that rivals Italian restaurant versions, use homemade chicken stock or purchase a good-quality jarred broth (this is not the time for bouillon cubes). A few grinds of pepper and Parmesan cheese are all that's needed to finish this elegant side dish that goes great with poultry or fish.

  • 10 of 17

    Bruschetta

    Authentic bruschetta on bread

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

    Americans love bruschetta, the classic Italian appetizer that tops toasted slices of crusty, garlic-infused bread with chopped fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil leaves, olive oil, and flaky salt. To avoid soggy slices, drain excess liquid from the tomato mixture first before using it to top mini-toasts.

  • 11 of 17

    Panzanella Salad

    Panzanella salad

    The Spruce / Anita Schecter

    Faced with a loaf of bread going stale on the counter, Italians will make panzanella salad. This popular side dish or starter is a great way to use day-old bread, which is transformed into seasoned croutons for tossing with fresh salad vegetables and herbs. This tasty version boasts a garlicky Dijon and olive oil dressing. Fresh mozzarella or bocconcini cheese balls would be a welcome addition, too.

  • 12 of 17

    Instant Pot Minestrone

    Instant Pot minestrone

    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Minestrone, a rustic vegetarian soup that combines tomatoes and vegetables with pasta or rice, is one of Italy's most popular exports. Skip standing and stirring at the stovetop with this Instant Pot recipe that lets you whip up a delicious batch of minestrone in a fraction of the time.

    Continue to 13 of 17 below.
  • 13 of 17

    Perfect Grilled Eggplant

    Perfect grilled eggplant

    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt

    Luscious, creamy-tasting grilled eggplant, with crispy bits around the edges, is a yummy addition to antipasto platters and goes great with grilled lamb chops. This easy recipe uses the power of brining to remove the bitterness from eggplant, so it comes off the grill perfectly delicious.

  • 14 of 17

    Giardiniera (Italian-Style Mixed Pickled Vegetables)

    Giardiniera (Italian-style mixed pickled vegetables)

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

    Giardiniera are tangy, pickled mixed vegetables topped with olive oil. You will find them on most Italian restaurant antipasto platters, where they often mingle with other pickled treats. Make them easily at home with this recipe that takes only 20 minutes of hands-on time. Chill for a week before eating or store in the fridge for up to three months.

  • 15 of 17

    Burrata Salad

    Burrata salad

    The Spruce / Elaine Lemm

    With the sweet grilled nectarines, ripe cherry tomatoes, ultra-creamy Italian burrata cheese, fresh salad greens, and an herbaceous pesto dressing, this stunning salad is endlessly exciting. Serve it for summer dinners al fresco when the ingredients are in season.

  • 16 of 17

    Fried Zucchini Blossoms

    Fried zucchini blossoms

    The Spruce / Rochelle Ramos

    Delicately battered and fried zucchini blossoms, with or without a cheesy stuffing inside, are a true Italian treat. You can find zucchini blossoms (the edible flowers of the squash plant) at many farmers markets in the summer when they are in season. They make an impressive appetizer or side for Italian-style feasts.

    Continue to 17 of 17 below.
  • 17 of 17

    Roasted Broccoli Rabe

    Roasted broccoli rabe

    The Spruce / Molly Watson

    Roasting stalks of green broccoli rabe (also called rapini) with good-quality olive oil makes the ends crisp and enhances the natural bitterness in this vegetable that is prized by Italians. Feel free to add some minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, or a few drops of fresh lemon juice, if you like, to heighten the taste further.