Our Favorite Healthy Italian Recipes
By Winter LeBlanc
Updated August 31, 2021
Eating Italian doesn’t have to mean giving up on your diet goals. Actually, traditional Italian food has all of the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet because that’s exactly what it is! Here are 14 of our favorite healthy Italian recipes by our Italian recipe developer, Giorgia Fontana.
Italian Cuisine & the Mediterranean Diet
In the United States, pizza and pasta are the two most popular Italian foods – neither of which we usually associate with healthy eating. However, traditional Italian cuisine (including traditional pizza and pasta recipes) is actually very healthy and is a main culinary and cultural component of the Mediterranean Diet. With recipes made of simple, high-quality ingredients and a culture of leisurely dining, eating Italian is delicious and enjoyable.
Extra virgin olive oil is the foundation of the 14 healthy Italian recipes found below. Like in many other parts of the Mediterranean, olives are harvested locally and processed in a way that maximizes the antioxidant levels in the oil. High quality olive oil protects against heart disease and other diet-related diseases, which is why people eating a Mediterranean Diet are living longer than those following the Standard American Diet or SAD. Other super nutritious foods like garlic, tomatoes, seafood, whole grains, beans, nuts, and dark leafy greens are also at the forefront of traditional Italian. Learn more about these superfoods by clicking here. Enjoy these healthy italian recipes!
Spezzatino – Italian Beef Stew
Beef spezzatino is one of the most traditional dishes in Italy where it’s eaten throughout the country, from the mountains in the north to the islands in the south. However, in northern Italy most people eat it along with polenta while in the southern regions it’s usually served with just a few thick slices of crusty bread. This dish is so common that there are endless variations and basically every family has its own recipe.
Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms
Fall is finally here and what better way to celebrate this colorful season than by eating its most iconic products? Pumpkin and mushrooms are always a great combination and they work together amazingly well in this classic pumpkin risotto. The sweet and slightly nutty flavor of the pumpkin pairs perfectly with the umami of the mushrooms, the salty sharpness of the Pecorino cheese ties everything together, creating a great creamy consistency.
Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana
When you travel to Naples, in southern Italy, one of the dishes that you absolutely have to try is eggplant Parmigiana. This traditional preparation is essentially a rich vegetable lasagna that uses eggplant slices in place of pasta and combines them with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and basil leaves. Basically, all the quintessential ingredients of classical Italian cuisine.
Risotto Radicchio and Gorgonzola
Risotto is one of the most beloved Italian dishes, especially in the northern regions where it’s eaten at least once a week. The most classical version of it is the Saffron Risotto from Milan, but of course there are quite a few regional variations that are definitely worth a try. This is why today I want to share with you a risotto recipe from Veneto, the northeastern Italian region where Venezia is located and where I used to live during my university years.
Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce – Spaghetti alla Portofino
It is known that, here in Italy, we love our pasta. We love it so much that we eat it almost every day (or at least a few days a week). For this reason, during the last few centuries, we have invented an endless variety of sauces and gravies to enjoy with it. In fact, the beauty of most pasta dishes, including this tomato basil pasta sauce, is that you can usually cook the sauce while the pasta is boiling. In this way, it is possible to save time and have a great meal ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.
Peperonata is an evergreen Italian side dish that originates in Sicily, and is usually prepared during summer time. At this time of the year,in southern Italy, bell peppers are at their best, extremely plump and bright in color.
Beans and Tuna Salad
Here in Italy, this beans and tuna salad is a great classic, eaten especially during the summer months to fight the growing heat. According to tradition, this dish originates in northern Tuscany, but it’s widely prepared all over the country, sometimes with regional variations. In the southern regions of Italy for instance, it’s quite common to add a few fresh chilies in place of pepper, or to use chili infused olive oil instead of the regular one.
Pesto Genovese (Traditional Italian Pesto)
Here in Liguria, where I was born and where I live, pesto Genovese is the quintessential food. It’s that preparation that you make for Sunday family meals, the dish that you prepare when someone comes home from afar and that flavor that you miss the most when you are away and you feel homesick. Therefore, it’s that one recipe that everyone from here needs to know how to prepare.
Italian Chocolate Coffee Cake
Who says that you can’t make a delicious cake without using any butter? Here in Italy, it’s pretty common to bake sweets with olive oil, and this chocolate coffee cake recipe is the perfect demonstration that a cake can be mouth-watering and heavenly satisfying even without containing a lot of saturated fats.
Grilled Eggplant with Mint and Garlic Dressing
Eggplant is probably the most beloved ingredient with Sicilian people, so much so that they consider it the queen of all vegetables. In fact, there are endless recipes from the region that feature it as a main ingredient either baked, fried, sautéed, pickled, stuffed or grilled. This grilled eggplant recipe is a Sicilian favorite.
Spinach and Ricotta Frittata
Although not usually found in restaurants, here in Italy frittata is a very common dish to make at home. For us, it’s a classical party starter or a great picnic dish, but you can definitely eat it at any time of the day you prefer, from breakfast to dinner.
Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara
When you travel to Rome, eating a traditional Carbonara is an absolute must. In fact, this classical dish from central Italy is one of the most rich and mouth-watering pasta recipes you might ever taste. The recipe is so famous that you can now count endless variations of it all around the world. No one knows who actually invented this amazing combination of flavors, what is certain is just the origin of the name: carbonara simply means coal worker’s style.
Italian Red Pesto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula
When you think about pesto, the first thing that comes to mind is the traditional Pesto alla Genovese, the world-famous cold sauce made with fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and pine nuts.
Sautéed Chicory Greens Southern Italian Style
Eating bitter chicory greens is an ancient tradition in the Italian cuisine, especially in the southern regions. For centuries people used to hand-pick the wild variety of this plant in the surrounding areas of their homes and cook it right away, sometimes sautéed and sometimes simply boiled. I can even recall that when I was a little girl, my grandmother used to go out in the rain during spring time to pick the freshest chicory she could find.
I loved the recipe you shared for the pumpkin risotto with mushrooms! I lived in Italy for about two years, and I grew to really love the food. My boyfriend and I are hoping to go to an Italian restaurant this week so I can show him some of my favorite foods.
It caught my attention when you said that extra virgin olive oil is the foundation of most healthy Italian recipes since it protects against heart disease and other diet-related diseases. My aunt is visiting next weekend, and since she has a weak heart, I wanted to make sure the restaurant I choose for our lunch meeting won’t compromise her health. I hope I can find an authentic Italian food restaurant when we meet this Saturday.
love love love your recipes! From one of you’re first participants of your 10 week program! Thanks Bill!
Thank you Gayle!