15 Best Italian Side Dishes

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 side dishes for a feast that tastes like the old country.

  • 01 of 15

    Italian Wedding Soup

    Italian wedding soup recipe

    ​The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

    For a homey starter, reach for this Italian wedding soup. Despite the name, it actually originated as a traditional Easter or Christmas dish. The peasant-style soup comes loaded with carrots, celery, savoy cabbage, and leafy greens like escarole and chicory, as well as Italian sausage for protein.

  • 02 of 15

    Stuffed Artichokes

    stuffed italian artichokes

     Leah Maroney

    Whether you've prepared artichokes before or just order them at your favorite Italian joint, these baked stuffed artichokes will add flair to your meal. They do need an hour to bake, so prep them ahead of time and stick them in the oven while you get the main dish ready.

  • 03 of 15

    Italian Pasta Salad

    Italian Pasta Salad
    The Spruce.

    Whip up this pasta salad with lots of veggies and rotini, all tied together with bottled Italian dressing. It works great for a summer picnic or cookout, since it just tastes better as it sits. Use other vegetables or pasta shapes to suit what's in season – or the fridge.

  • 04 of 15

    Panzanella Salad

    Panzanella Salad

    Anita Schecter

    Use up a loaf of Italian bread or baguette that's going stale with Panzanella, a simple summer salad that also makes the most of ripe tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, basil, and red onion. If you use fresh bread, toast it with some olive oil to give it a little crunch so it doesn't get soggy once you dress the salad.

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  • 05 of 15

    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.

  • 06 of 15

    Roasted Broccoli Rabe

    roasted-broccoli-raab.jpg
    Roasted Broccoli Rabe. Photo © Molly Watson

    Italian broccoli rabe has a famously bitter bite, but roasting mellows it out so the cruciferous vegetable has a more subtle, toasty flavor. It tastes lovely with just a little olive oil and sea salt, but you can hit it with a squeeze of fresh lemon or a sprinkle of fresh grated Parmesan for more panache.

  • 07 of 15

    Sicilian Arancini

    Classic Sicilian arancini rice balls

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    With their crispy exterior and rice enrobed ragu, peas, and mozzarella filling, arancini or rice balls serve as a perfect starter or side to any Italian feast. Many other fillings switch up the flavor, so start with this classic and then try your hand at experimenting.

  • 08 of 15

    Buttery Garlic Bread

    How to garlic bread recipe

    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.

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  • 09 of 15

    Grilled Eggplant

    grilled eggplant
    Perfect Grilled Eggplant. Photo © Molly Watson

    Eggplant often features in Italian cuisine, often loaded with breadcrumbs and cheese. Lighten things up by grilling the spheroid vegetable to bring out its sweetness with a little smoke. Brine it in salted water for 30 minutes before grilling to get a nice, crispy texture.

  • 10 of 15

    Instant Pot Risotto

    Instant Pot Risotto

     Kristina Vanni

    Using your Instant Pot to make creamy, cheesy risotto means you don't have to stand over the stove stirring to get the right consistency. This basic version can serve as a decadent side for a roast or other protein, or a contribution to a dinner party that looks far more labor-intensive than it really is.

  • 11 of 15

    Pasta e Fagioli Soup

    Copycat Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli

    Jennifer Perillo 

    Get your Olive Garden fix right in your own kitchen with this simple and satisfying copycat pasta e fagioli soup recipe. You probably already know it's a great light lunch with breadsticks and a green salad, but try it as a side for a larger meal or a starter, too.

  • 12 of 15

    Cauliflower Parmesan

    Cauliflower-Parmesan-Hero

    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.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Antipasto Salad

    Antipasto Salad

    Leah Maroney

    Serve this showstopper of an antipasto salad as a starter or side for your next Italian feast. This recipe includes the traditional ingredients for an antipasto as well as mixed greens, for added heft. Mix it up with your favorite Italian deli meats and cheeses, as well as any pickled vegetables you prefer.

  • 14 of 15

    Tuscan Focaccia

    Tuscan Focaccia Bread

    Elaine Lemm

     

    While it does take some time to proof, one taste of the olive-oil rich focaccia will prove worth the wait. It tastes best fresh out of the oven with a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and some flaky salt as a side for pasta, bracciole, or any Italian main meal.

  • 15 of 15

    Giardiniera

    Giardiniera Italian-style mixed pickled vegetable recipe

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

    Italian-style mixed pickled vegetables make a great topping for Italian beef or chicken sandwiches, as part of an antipasto plate, or a side dish that adds color and zing. They come out tangy, colorful, and delicious, and also would work as a simple homemade gift.