Are you living the Dolce Vita? If not, don’t worry, neither are we. While we can’t all sit sipping a glass of cold chianti admiring beautiful, well-dressed people in speedboats, we can at least try and eat as if we were. Our list of 30 of the best Italian appetizers will have you shouting ‘mamma mia’ and gesticulating wildly in no time. They are simple to make and full of lovely Mediterranean ingredients. Read on to find out more.
Best Italian Appetizers
Caponata is a cross between a casserole and a ratatouille! Italy’s south coast is within sailing distance of the north coast of Africa, which features eggplant heavily in many dishes. This is an eggplant salad heavily laden with an Italian influence. Tango tomatoes, olives, red peppers, and parsley all feature. Top it off with some crunchy toasted pine nuts! Italian recipes don’t get better than this.
You could call it ‘fried bread,’ but you’d be doing the humble crostini a huge disservice! Literally translated as ‘small crust,’ crostini is great for soaking up olive oil and balsamic dip. The best thing is it is easy to make and is great for using up stale baguettes. Just brush with high-quality olive oil and bake until golden and crispy. Easy, right?
This is more than garlic bread. Focaccia is the ultimate sharing food. Lightly score with a pizza cutter and tear off chunks of this chewy dough. It is quite filling so don’t spoil your dinner by eating too much. It is great to save a little ready for mopping up rich and delicious Italian sauces. The key to great tasting focaccia is generous seasoning and the use of fresh herbs like basil and oregano.
4. Marinated Mozzarella
The Italians mix hectic with taking it easy. We prefer the latter. You can make a decent portion of marinated mozzarella in under 15 minutes. Perfect! They take an hour to infuse, so maybe pour a chilled white wine and relax. This recipe combines olive oil, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes… Oh, and of course, fresh balls of mozzarella. It’s so easy!
Olives? Cheese? Peppers? Slices of cured meats? Which is your favorite? Can’t decide? Well, here’s the answer. Have them all. Antipasto is what precludes an appetizer in Italy. It’s
like a really light Italian tapas. Take a little here and a little there, and spend the afternoon grazing. It doesn’t get any more Italian than this
6. Italian Pizza Bites
Ok, so maybe it does! Pizza is pretty Italian. It’s also very filling, which is why making mini pizzas might be the way forward. These aren’t pizzas in the true sense of the word. They are more like pizza-flavored cupcakes. They make for a great lunch box filler, and they can even be frozen individually to reheat at a later date!
7. Tuscan Truffles
If figs, cured ham, and toasted pine nuts get your taste buds going, then you need to check these out! These bite-sized ‘truffles’ don’t contain any truffle (but you can use truffle oil if you feel flush). You’ll be able to assemble them in less than 25 minutes, so they are great for dinner parties too!
8. Tomato Panzanella Salad
If the thought of eating stale bread doesn’t fill you with glee, wait until you have tried this… it works better with old bread. Trust us! This salad is a mix of juicy ripe tomatoes, a little garlic, mustard, mozzarella, and croutons! The croutons soften slightly in the tomato juice. The inclusion of red wine vinegar makes them taste even more summery. Is your mouth watering? Ours is!
9. Antipasto Salad
So we’ve covered Antipasto… But to make life even easier, why not create a dish that you can just dig into without having to use several smaller dishes and bowls? This contains everything we love about Antipasto. Juicy and succulent olives, crumbly cheese, crunchy summer vegetables, and a fine drizzle of olive oil too!
10. Antipasto Skewers
Like the taste of Antipasto, but don’t want to lump it together in one salad? Assemble Antipasto on a skewer for the ultimate presentation. Layers of thick cured sausage, plump olives, and salty cheese on a stick sound pretty good to us. It’s like the best bits of barbecue, without the cooking!
11. Italian Stuffed Mushrooms
Now you have two choices, go small or go big? What are you saying? We love to make this with huge portobello mushrooms, but little ones work just as well if you can’t get them. Simply stuff the cups with a cheesy breadcrumb and garlic mixture before roasting to perfection. If it sounds delicious yet simple, that’s because it is!
12. Caprese Flatbread
Part pizza, part salad, it sounds like a great pairing. This is a flatbread topped with herby pesto and cheese. Add some spinach, a few tomatoes, and a balsamic drizzle, and then bake! The cheese and tomatoes melt down and soak into the base. This melds with the balsamic to create a really fresh yet savory taste. Delicious hot or cold too!
13. Pizza Sticks
But not if you oil your pan… Joking aside, these handheld delights are a great surprise when presented at the dinner table, as they don’t look anything like a pizza. We cheat a little by using premade dough, but you can make your own if you have time. Don’t overfill as the ingredients can get a little oily, and nobody wants a soggy stick!
14. Cheese Twists
Boring old dry breadsticks? No, thanks! Also referred to as cheese straws, you’d better make a big batch as they won’t last 10 minutes! Make life easy for yourself and buy a premade roll of puff pastry from the store! Aside from that, all you’ll need is some Italian cheese, a little flour, and some patience as you watch them unfold and turn golden in the oven.
15. Zucchini Garlic Bites
Combining grated zucchini, breadcrumbs, and some fine parmesan cheese seems almost too easy! The best thing about these bites is they are baked, not fried, so they aren’t too oily. The way to ensure they stay crisp is to give your grated zucchini a really good squeeze in a piece of cloth to get rid of all the excess liquid.
16. Whipped Ricotta Crostini
You’ve already seen crostini. Now it’s time to take it to the next level. Think of this dish as classy Italian cheese on toast! Crispy and crunchy garlic bread meets a simple mix of ricotta combined with olive oil and cream. Feel free to add some prosciutto or roasted eggplant.
Provided you can get hold of good quality ingredients carpaccio is really easy. It is thin slices of raw beef that are marinated. Yes, we said ‘raw’. Get thin slivers by slightly freezing your beef. From there, a handful of rocket, some parmesan shavings, and a little red wine vinegar should finish the dish off nicely. Make sure to source your beef from a quality butcher.
18. Spaghetti Fritters
Made too much spaghetti? This is a great way to use up the extra! Combine with a couple of beaten eggs, some Italian herbs, and a few handfuls of parmesan cheese. Heat some olive oil and fry spoonfuls of the mixture until golden brown on each side. The spaghetti turns a little crunchy, with a soft cheese center. Delicious.
19. Italian Roasted Cauliflower
So, cauliflower might not be the most Italian of dishes… But we don’t care. This is scrumptious! Once you’ve added a dash of tomato paste, some oregano, and a little garlic, you’ll find your kitchen smells like an Italian vineyard! Bake until soft and melted and serve alongside a small crostino!
20. Italian Gazpacho
Tomatoes and basil? Perhaps a toasted crostino on the side? Gazpacho is a chilled summer soup that is light and really refreshing. If you can find good quality tomatoes, you’ll get all of that summer sweetness in a bowl. It’s really easy to make and is actually a no-cook recipe too!
21. Arancini Balls
Arancini balls are a great way to make use of leftover risotto. They are actually pretty light, considering that they are fried. The added cheese melts as they fry, so you end up with something crisp on the outside and really gooey and melty on the inside.
22. Ravioli Nachos
Nachos are traditionally Mexican appetizers. So we swop them out for filled pasta parcels! Go all veggie or add some sausage ravioli! From there, feel free to play jazz. We love using
spaghetti sauce and alfredo sauce along with some cheddar cheese. Bake, share, and enjoy! Don’t eat too much, it’s really filling!
23. Calzone Pinwheels
Calzone is a folded pizza, like an Italian hand pie, if you will. We use premade store-bought crescent roll pastry. From there, it’s simply a case of filling your case and baking before slices into thick rounds that are further baked to set the ingredients.
23. Marinated Olives
Since Roman times, olives have been a part of Italian culture, so we couldn’t make a list of 30 make ahead Italian appetizers without mentioning them. Here’s the great thing, they last for ages and only get better with time. We speed up the process by gently heating the olives in a pan with spices like cumin, thyme, and red peppers… Oh, and don’t forget the garlic!
24. Italian Pull-Apart Dough Balls
Italian families all crowd around the table. It is all about sharing with this recipe! We like to serve this one in a cast iron pan (even though it is oven-baked). There are only 5 ingredients in this recipe, none of which are hard to find, so if you want to wow your guests while making something really easy, give it a go!
25. Chicken Florentine Flatbread
Some call it flatbread, some call it pizza, here is what we call it. Super tasty! This is a pretty filling dish that works well as an Italian starter or a main course. Aside from the tomato sauce, you’ll find that it is pretty similar to pizza. We like to cut down on the work and use store-bought flatbreads to save all that kneading and messing!
26. Italian Tomato Salad
Great Italian food is all about simple, fresh ingredients. They don’t come much simpler or fresher than this. A few thick slices of tomato, an acidic oil and vinegar dressing, and a dusting of fresh herbs and garlic is about all it takes. Don’t skimp on the salt and pepper… Your mouth and guests will thank you for it.
27. Margherita Flatbread
The original pizza from Napoli was a Margherita. Cheese, tomatoes, and not much else. (definitely no ham and pineapple… yuck!) This recipe seeks to recreate being stood under Etna with a slice in your hand. It will take you all of 15 minutes to make, especially if you use naan bread like the recipe suggests.
28. Italian Green Beans
Italian can get a little heavy on the ol’ carb front. If you want to lighten it up and get some greens onto your table, Italian green beans are the way forward! They are steamed and drenched in a preprepared parmesan, breadcrumb, and garlic dressing before being reheated in a frying pan. Super simple, super tasty!
29. Italian Meatballs
No list of Italian appetizers would be complete without a few meatballs. These aren’t quick to make, but when was the last time you saw Italians rushing? (Maybe Rome?) This recipe mixes three different kinds of meat, pork, beef, and Italian sausage, before a handful of breadcrumbs are added with some parmesan. From there, it’s a case of searing the meatballs with a crust before stewing them in a rich sauce until they are cooked through.
Here’s another candidate for the best stale bread recipe. And another that is improved by using it! Want a top tip? Don’t cook the garlic or mash it. Just cut a clove in half and rub it raw on the toasted bread. That’s how they do it in Italy! Blanch your tomatoes too before peeling and chopping. You lose all of that bitter skin!
Herbs, garlic, oil, cured meats, and fresh cheeses are all a solid fixture in our list of 30 Italian appetizers. Some are more filling than others so choose the main course you pair them with wisely. What is your favorite on our list? Let us know in the comments.