12 Best Italian Side Dishes

Caprese Salad

The Spruce / Leah Maroney

When I was growing up, Italian night usually meant a box of dried spaghetti with a jar of red sauce, maybe with a pound of browned ground beef stirred in if we were feeling fancy. On super special occasions, we might add some garlic bread, the kind that came with a foil bag to bake it in. But after I studied abroad in Italy during college, my Italian cooking repertoire expanded considerably. If you're looking to branch out, too, try some of these delicious Italian sides, salads, bread and more for a dinner that's more in the spirit of an Italian feast.

  • 01 of 12

    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.

  • 02 of 12

    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.

  • 03 of 12

    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.

  • 04 of 12

    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.

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  • 05 of 12

    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.

  • 06 of 12

    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.

  • 07 of 12

    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.

  • 08 of 12

    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.

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  • 09 of 12

    Baked Polenta with Parmesan Cheese

    Baked polenta

    The Spruce

    Baking polenta gives it a firmer, crispier texture than the stovetop kind that makes a perfect replacement for rice or potatoes. Use Italian polenta for best results, but stone-ground grits or medium grind cornmeal will work too.

  • 10 of 12

    Buttery Garlic Bread

    How to make garlic bread

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Garlic bread may rank as the OG Italian side dish for a reason. It just doesn't get any better than a crispy, buttery, pungent loaf. Grab a loaf of Italian bread, baguette, or any crusty loaf and load it up with the good stuff to serve alongside your favorite pasta.

  • 11 of 12

    Cauliflower Parmesan

    Cauliflower Parmesan.

    This easy roasted cauliflower Parmesan will make a lighter, healthy vegetarian main or a side dish for an Italian roast or pasta main. We included a recipe for a simple homemade sauce, but we won't judge if you reach for your favorite prepared version, either.

  • 12 of 12

    Roasted Potatoes

    Roasted potatoes with herbs
    Arx0nt / Getty Images

    Italian food is all about is all about using simple quality ingredients and elevating their taste through cooking. Nothing is more humble than the potato and roasting them with dried herbs and Parmesan makes them the perfect accompaniment to any meat or fish main dish.