Ask anyone – one of the greatest joys of visiting Italy is the food. Everybody and their mother loves Italian food, and the Italians themselves are so exceedingly proud of it, that they refuse to admit that any other cuisine can even come close. But what if you’re a Vegan? It can be challenging enough to find safe foods in your own culture. The Vegan movement is widespread in English-speaking countries, but is only beginning to take hold in Italy – a country whose cuisine is associated with luscious cheeses and sumptuous meat-based dishes.
So what’s a hungry Vegan in Italy to do? Sure, you could hunt down the Vegan restaurants – feeding your face with heavily doctored, inauthentic versions of traditional Italian cuisine. You could memorize the phrases for “no cream, please” and “is this made with vegetable stock?” – braving language mishaps and death stares from waitstaff. Or you could opt for dishes that are naturally, 100% Vegan and will require zero substitutions and “double checks.” Here, a round up of Italian recipes that will always be 100% Vegan-friendly.
Bruschetta Classica Nowadays, there are many non-vegan variations on this classic antipasto, but the original is 100% safe. Bread, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, and perhaps a pinch of oregano.
Caponata Siciliana A Sicilian favorite, this healthy and zesty antipasto calls for vinegar, olive oil, black olives, eggplant, basil, pinoli nuts, tomatoes, celery, onions, capers, and sugar.
Beware of the fried antipasti – sometimes the batter or filling will have eggs in it, and sometimes the vegetables themselves – such as zucchini blossoms – will be stuffed with cheese and anchovies.
What would a trip to Italy be without pizza? The good news is that, unlike pizza found in English-speaking countries, Italian pizza isn’t always smothered in cheese. Try a slice of:
Pizza Rossa – pizza dough (yeast, flour, water, olive oil, salt, pepper), tomato sauce, salt, pepper, oregano.
Pizza Bianca - pizza dough with extra olive oil on top. Baked up nice and crispy.
Focaccia – pizza dough with loads of olive oil. Sometimes topped with sea salt and rosemary, or cherry tomatoes, or olives.
There are many vegetarian pasta and risotto dishes that eschew meats and, instead, utilize butter, cheese, and could substitute vegetable for chicken broth (i.e., minestrone, spaghetti alle melanzane, spaghetti al pesto, spaghetti alle noci, penne all’arrabbiata, risotto allo zafferano). To avoid language issues, however, I’ve included only dishes whose recipes are traditionally 100% vegan.
Spaghetti aglio oglio e peperoncino The classic Italian midnight snack; revered for its deliciousness, simplicity, and ease of preparation. Spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, salt.
Pasta al pomodoro fresco Pasta with heavenly simple tomato sauce: tomatoes, olive oil, onion, salt, pepper, basil.
Secondi and Contorni
A secondo in Italian cuisine refers to hearty, almost always meat-based entrees, so Vegans will be hard-pressed to find a secondo that’s, well, not a secondo. However, the secondo is accompanied by the contorno – a vegetable-based side dish – which is where Vegans will find great joy. Italian vegetable side dishes will usually have been sauteed in garlic and olive oil; sometimes spruced up with a squirt of lemon and some sprinklings of rosemary, basil, or mint. The choices are many – sauteed spinach, grilled eggplant and zucchini, roasted potatoes – but here two of my very favorite vegan Italian side dishes:
carciofi alla romana Roman-style artichokes; trimmed, cored, stuffed with bread crumbs, parsley, mint, and garlic and then braised for hours in a steam bath of water and olive oil. When done properly, they come out fragrant and divinely tender as potatoes. Enjoy them in summer, when they’re in season.
Broccoletti ripassati Deliciously bitter broccoli rabe, sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and a bit of hot pepper. A wintertime delight.
Alas, Italian desserts tend to be inextricably linked to dairy; I would even recommend being wary of sorbetto, which is sometimes prepared with egg or egg white. But fruit is an integral part of ending an Italian meal – even in restaurants – so fresh, in-season produce will be readily available. A delicious all-Vegan fruit dessert is:
fragole con limone e zucchero Strawberries marinated in lemon juice and sugar. So simple, delicious, and satisfying – you’ll be making it for yourself as soon as you get home.
What’s your favorite 100% vegan recipe?
All photos by Eva Sandoval