9 Naturally Gluten-Free Italian Dishes We Love

Italy is a surprisingly gluten-free-friendly destination, if you know what dishes to look for.

While it’s undeniable that Italian cuisine and gluten are dear friends, Italy is a notably gluten-free-friendly destination. This may come as a surprise, but Italy has become a leader in accessible and enjoyable travel for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Italian chefs have demonstrated ingenuity and dedication in their quest to recreate classics like pizza, pasta, and pastries that deliver the same taste and texture as gluten-based dishes, without the attached fear of falling ill.

Italy is also the birthplace of many naturally gluten-free recipes. Many of which happen to be signature dishes of the Italian culinary tradition. I’m going to show you how you can enjoy authenticity and dine like a local, without feeling like your meal was an adaptation of an original recipe.

1. Risotto

Pasta may be Italy’s most popular dish, but risotto is a staple on northern Italian tables. Risotto alla Milanese is often considered the star of this hearty comfort food. However, this naturally gluten-free dish comes in many variations. There’s an option for every palate, with some other renditions including funghi misti or radicchio. Risotteria Melotti in Rome has made it possible for devoted pasta lovers to still enjoy their beloved cacio e pepe or amatriciana in a plate of this creamy classic!


2. Polenta

Ground cornmeal, known as polenta, was once considered a humble peasant’s meal. Today it is a dietary staple in mountainous regions like Lombardy, Piedmont, and Valle d’Aosta. With an abundance of corn grown in the Po Valley, it’s no wonder this creamy porridge is as popular as pasta among northerners. It’s the perfect remedy for a cold, damp winter’s day. Polenta was traditionally served on a large wooden board and eaten as a communal meal instead of being individually plated.

While serving ragù on top of it has always been popular, chefs have reimagined different ways to serve this dish. Whether served as a casserole, grilled, fried, or made into a sweet treat, it’s the epitome of Italian comfort food. I’ve noticed that polenta is often overlooked by tourists, and that shouldn’t be the case! On your next visit to Italy, I recommend you give it a try if you want a taste of Italian tradition.


3. Carciofo alla Giudia

When in Rome, one must order carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichokes. They’re perfect as an antipasto or as an accompaniment to local dishes like l’abbacchio al forno (roasted lamb). Beyond their incredible taste, these crispy fried artichokes are true works of art that resemble a flower! This specialty can be found on menus all across the city. But, in the Jewish Ghetto, restaurants like Nonna Betta fill the neighborhood air with their fragrance. With Rome offering visitors so many culinary options to choose from, it can be easy to run out of time to try all the local delights. These, however, are an absolute must!


4. Farinata

Exemplifying the simplistic nature of Italian cuisine, this savory recipe could be described as a cross between a chickpea flour pancake and an unleavened flatbread. Known as farinata in Liguria and la cecina in Tuscany, this is a popular street food in Genoa. It’s almost as though the Genovese created a gluten-free cousin of its famous focaccia, which has long been enjoyed as an on-the-go snack while wandering the city’s labyrinth of alleyways.


5. Pesto

This list would be incomplete without pesto, and while it is a condiment rather than a dish, its versatility is undeniable. The origins of pesto are disputed, and there are a myriad of variations, but the best-known recipe is Pesto Genovese. Ground into a fine paste with a mortar and pestle, the mixture of basil, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil creates an irresistible and buttery-rich texture.

Pesto is naturally gluten-free and can be enjoyed in many ways — even at breakfast as a spread on gluten-free toast. The best part is that you can bring home a few jars of this green goodness to enjoy even once your vacation is over.


6. Castagnaccio

Believed to have originated in Tuscany, Castagnaccio is a classic example of la cucina povera. Typically baked in the autumn months, this dense cake is made using chestnut flour and a handful of other ingredients such as water, olive oil, pine nuts, and raisins. This dessert has made its way into neighboring regions, with some adding their own twist to the original recipe through the addition of ingredients such as cacao powder, rosemary, and orange zest. Chestnuts are naturally sweet while packing a nutritional punch — making them a great option not only for dessert but also for colazione (breakfast) or merenda (afternoon snack).


7. Panna Cotta

You’d be hard-pressed to dine at a restaurant in Italy that doesn’t offer Panna Cotta on its menu. It’s arguably the most loved dolce in Italy and happens to be naturally gluten-free! Despite the richness of this elegant pudding, its silky, smooth texture makes it the perfect way to end any meal. Pairings and flavorings with fruit are most common, but coffee and chocolate have become popular options as well. Regardless of whether you order it at the coffee bar, in a humble trattoria, or in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it will never disappoint.


8. Torta Caprese

Believed to have been born out of error, Torta Caprese is a flourless chocolate cake that has stolen the hearts and bellies of many. This dessert is a must-try while in Capri. Usually made with ground almonds and dark chocolate, it strikes the perfect balance between being decadent, yet light and airy. It’s now known as “one of history’s most fortunate mistakes” — a fact that no one would dare to dispute!


9. Amaretti Cookies

This quintessential cookie can be found in every Italian baker’s repertoire, whether it’s at a high-end pasticceria or at Nonna’s house. The cookies are known for their soft, chewy texture and distinct almond flavor. At the base of every recipe are ground almonds, almond extract, sugar, and egg whites. With every family having their own recipe and a conviction that theirs is the right one, there isn’t one specific recipe, but rather, many that result in the same delicious final product. This cookie is the perfect treat to dip in your morning cappuccino or with a late afternoon caffè!

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