Italian cuisine has long been known for its plant-based ingredients, making it a go-to destination for vegans looking to explore new flavors. While some regions may have a stronger emphasis on animal products, there are plenty of vegan options to be found on menus throughout the country. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of 11 vegan dishes that you can expect to find on non-vegan restaurant menus in Italy. Even if you find yourself in a restaurant that primarily serves meat and dairy dishes, you can still ask the staff to prepare one of these delicious and easy-to-make dishes. From classic pasta dishes to hearty vegetable stews, these dishes feature common restaurant kitchen ingredients and are sure to impress your taste buds. So whether you’re a committed vegan or simply looking to try something new, these dishes offer a great way to experience the flavors of Italy while staying true to your dietary preferences.
When ordering these vegan-friendly dishes at non-vegan restaurants in Italy, it’s important to remember to ask for them without cheese. In Italian, “senza formaggio” means “without cheese”, and adding this phrase to your order will help ensure that your meal is fully vegan. While some of these dishes might include cheese, many restaurants will be happy to accommodate your request and make the dish without it as it might be added as a garnish. So don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need to enjoy a delicious and satisfying vegan meal in Italy!
1. Pasta e Ceci (Pasta and Chickpeas)
Pasta e Ceci is a traditional Italian dish made with pasta and chickpeas. Originating from the Campania region in southern Italy, this simple yet satisfying dish is often found on the menu in Italian restaurants throughout the country.
The dish typically consists of cooked pasta mixed with a flavorful chickpea broth. The broth is made by sautéing chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until fragrant, then adding chickpeas, vegetable broth, and a blend of herbs and spices, such as red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and rosemary. The mixture is simmered until the flavors have melded together and the chickpeas are tender. The cooked pasta is then added to the pot and cooked until al dente.
Pasta e Ceci is a versatile dish that can be served as a main course or a side dish. It’s often enjoyed hot, garnished with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese (just ask them to omit this). The dish pairs well with a slice of crusty bread, which can be used to soak up the flavorful broth.
2. Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)
Pasta e Fagioli is a classic Italian dish made with pasta and beans that originates from the central regions of Campania and Lazio. This hearty and flavorful dish is often found on the menu in Italian restaurants throughout Italy.
The dish typically consists of small pasta shapes, such as ditalini or elbow macaroni, cooked in a rich broth made with beans, vegetables, and a blend of herbs and spices. The broth is usually made with cannellini beans, but sometimes other types of beans are used depending on the region.
Pasta e Fagioli is a versatile dish that can be served as a main course or a side dish. It’s often enjoyed hot, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese (optional) and a drizzle of olive oil. The dish pairs well with a slice of crusty bread, which can be used to soak up the flavorful broth.
3. Spaghetti Aglio Olio (translated to Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil)
Spaghetti Aglio Olio is a simple yet flavorful pasta dish that’s popular throughout Italy. This dish originates from the southern region of Campania and is often found on the menu in Italian restaurants throughout the country.
The dish consists of spaghetti noodles that are cooked until al dente and tossed with a sauce made from garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. The garlic and red pepper flakes are sautéed in the olive oil until fragrant and then tossed with the cooked spaghetti.
Spaghetti Aglio Olio is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed as a main course or a side dish. It’s occasionally served with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, so just ask for ‘senza formaggio’. The dish pairs well with a glass of red wine and a simple green salad.
This dish is a popular choice for anyone looking for a flavorful yet simple pasta dish.
4. Penne all’Arrabbiata (translated to Angry Penne)
Penne all’Arrabbiata is a popular pasta dish that originates from the central region of Lazio, specifically the city of Rome. The name “arrabbiata” means “angry” in Italian, which reflects the dish’s spicy and fiery tomato sauce.
The dish consists of penne pasta cooked until al dente and tossed with a sauce made from garlic, chili pepper, and tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes. The sauce is typically made by sautéing garlic and chili pepper in olive oil before adding the tomato sauce and cooking it until it thickens.
Penne all’Arrabbiata is often garnished with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano cheese so as always, just say ‘senza formaggio’.
However, vegans can omit the cheese and still enjoy the dish. The dish pairs well with a glass of red wine and a side of garlic bread.
This dish is a popular choice for anyone who enjoys spicy food and bold flavors. It’s also a great option for vegetarians and vegans, as it doesn’t contain any meat or dairy products. When ordering this dish at an Italian restaurant, be sure to specify if you prefer it without cheese.
5. Carciofi alla Romana (Translated – Artichokes cooked in the Roman style)
Carciofi alla Romana is a classic Roman dish that is commonly found on menus in Rome and other parts of Italy. This dish is made with artichokes, which are cleaned and trimmed before being stuffed with garlic, parsley, and mint. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
The stuffed artichokes are then braised in a mixture of white wine, olive oil, and water until they are tender and flavorful. The resulting dish is a delicious combination of the slightly sweet and earthy artichokes and the savory filling.
Carciofi alla Romana is typically served as an appetizer or side dish and pairs well with a variety of other Italian dishes. This dish is a great choice for vegans and vegetarians, as it doesn’t contain any meat or dairy products.
When ordering this dish at an Italian restaurant, be sure to specify if you prefer it without cheese. This dish is a great option for anyone looking for a flavorful and unique vegetable dish.
Caponata is a classic Sicilian dish that is popular throughout Italy. It is a sweet and sour vegetable stew made with eggplant, onions, celery, tomatoes, olives, capers, and vinegar. The dish is typically served cold as an appetizer or side dish and can also be served as a topping for crostini or bruschetta.
The dish is made by sautéing diced eggplant, onions, and celery in olive oil until they are soft and tender. Tomatoes, olives, and capers are then added to the mixture along with a splash of vinegar and a pinch of sugar. The mixture is then simmered until the flavors meld together.
Caponata is a great vegan and vegetarian option that is packed with flavor and texture. It is a perfect example of the sweet and sour flavor combination that is so common in Sicilian cuisine. When ordering this dish at an Italian restaurant, be sure to ask if it contains any non-vegan ingredients such as anchovies or cheese. Unlikely, but possible!
Caponata is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed year-round, but it is particularly popular in the summertime when eggplants are in season. It pairs well with a variety of other Italian dishes and can also be enjoyed as a standalone appetizer.
7. Pizza Marinara
Pizza Marinara is a classic Neapolitan pizza that is a vegan-friendly option found in many Italian restaurants. This pizza is topped with a simple tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, and does not contain any cheese or other animal products.
The name “Marinara” is derived from the Italian word “marinai,” meaning “sailors.” This dish was popular among sailors because it was a simple and easy-to-make dish that could be prepared with ingredients that could be easily stored on long voyages.
This pizza is typically served as an appetizer or main dish and pairs well with a variety of other Italian dishes.
Pizza Marinara is a great vegan option that is both flavorful and satisfying. It is a perfect example of the simple and delicious cuisine that is so popular in Naples and throughout Italy. Whether you are a vegan or simply looking for a tasty and healthy option, Pizza Marinara is a great choice.
8. Fave e Cicoria
Fave e Cicoria is a popular vegan dish in Southern Italy, particularly in the region of Puglia. The dish is made with fava beans and chicory, both of which are staple ingredients in Pugliese cuisine. It is a hearty and nutritious dish that is perfect for a cold winter day.
To make Fave e Cicoria, dried fava beans are soaked overnight and then boiled until tender. The chicory is sautéed in garlic and olive oil until it is wilted and tender. The fava beans are then added to the chicory and the mixture is simmered until the flavors have melded together.
Fave e Cicoria is typically served as a main dish, but it can also be served as a side dish or appetizer. It is often accompanied by a slice of crusty bread and a glass of red wine.
This dish is a great example of the simple and hearty cuisine that is so popular in Southern Italy. It is also a great vegan option that is both delicious and nutritious.
9. Farinata / Cecina / Socca
Farinata, Cecina, and Socca are three different names for essentially the same dish, which is a thin, savory pancake made from chickpea flour. This dish is popular throughout Italy, particularly in the regions of Liguria, Tuscany, and Provence, respectively.
To make Farinata / Cecina / Socca, chickpea flour is mixed with water and olive oil to form a batter. The batter is then poured into a hot cast-iron skillet and baked until golden and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The pancake is typically served hot and can be eaten as a snack or as part of a meal.
Farinata, Cecina, and Socca are all vegan-friendly and are a great option for those who are gluten-free or looking for a healthy and nutritious snack. These dishes are often served as street food in Italy and are perfect for eating on the go.
When ordering this dish at an Italian restaurant, be sure to ask for the version from the region you are in. It is typically served plain, but it can also be topped with a variety of toppings, such as rosemary, onions, or black pepper.
Farinata, Cecina, and Socca are typically eaten as a snack or as part of a meal, and can be enjoyed any time of day. In Liguria, for example, Farinata is often eaten as a snack in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon, while in Tuscany and Provence, it is more commonly eaten as a side dish with a meal. Regardless of when or where you eat it, this savory chickpea pancake is a delicious and satisfying treat.
Panzanella is a traditional Tuscan salad made with stale bread, tomatoes, onions, and other fresh vegetables. This dish originated in the countryside of Tuscany, where it was created as a way to use up leftover bread and other ingredients.
To make Panzanella, stale bread is soaked in water until it becomes soft, and then is squeezed to remove the excess water. The bread is then torn into bite-sized pieces and mixed with chopped tomatoes, sliced onions, cucumbers, and other fresh vegetables. The salad is then dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and salt, and is allowed to sit for several hours to allow the flavors to meld together.
Panzanella is a vegan-friendly dish that is perfect for summertime, when tomatoes and other fresh vegetables are at their peak. This salad is typically served as a starter or as a side dish, and is perfect for sharing with friends and family.
When ordering Panzanella at an Italian restaurant, be sure to ask if it is vegan, as some variations may include non-vegan ingredients such as cheese or anchovies.
Panzanella is a delicious and refreshing dish that celebrates the flavors of Tuscany. Whether you are enjoying it as a light lunch or as part of a larger meal, this Tuscan salad is sure to delight your taste buds.
11. Bruschetta al Pomodoro
Bruschetta al Pomodoro is a classic Italian appetizer that consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with diced fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. This dish originated in central Italy, specifically in the region of Lazio, and has become popular throughout the country and beyond.
To make Bruschetta al Pomodoro, a rustic bread such as ciabatta or sourdough is grilled or toasted until crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. The bread is then rubbed with a clove of garlic, which adds a subtle but distinct flavor to the dish. Diced fresh tomatoes are then added on top of the bread, along with torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Some variations may also include other ingredients such as capers, olives, or balsamic vinegar.
Bruschetta al Pomodoro is a vegan-friendly dish that is perfect for enjoying as an appetizer or snack. It is typically served at room temperature and is best consumed immediately after preparation, to ensure that the bread stays crispy and the tomatoes remain fresh and flavorful.
When ordering Bruschetta al Pomodoro at an Italian restaurant, be sure to ask if it is vegan, as some variations may include non-vegan ingredients such as cheese or anchovies. If you are making it at home, be sure to use fresh, ripe tomatoes and high-quality olive oil to achieve the best flavor.
Bruschetta al Pomodoro is a simple but delicious dish that celebrates the flavors of Italy. Whether you are enjoying it on a warm summer day or as a starter to a larger meal, this classic appetizer is sure to satisfy your cravings for fresh and flavorful cuisine.
In conclusion, Italian cuisine offers plenty of vegan-friendly options for vegans and non-vegans alike. From classic pasta dishes like Pasta e Ceci and Penne all’Arrabbiata, to appetizers like Bruschetta al Pomodoro and Panzanella, there are many delicious and satisfying plant-based meals to be found on menus throughout Italy.
While some regions of Italy may be more animal-product focused than others, there are still plenty of options for those following a vegan diet. And with the rise of plant-based eating worldwide, many Italian restaurants are adapting their menus to cater to the growing demand for vegan food.
So whether you’re a lifelong vegan or simply looking to try something new, don’t be afraid to explore the vegan-friendly side of Italian cuisine. With its rich history and diverse regional cuisines, Italy has something to offer for everyone.