The one dessert you have to try in each of Italy’s regions
Aosta Valley | Tegole
Italy’s smallest region still packs a punch when it comes to dining, with cuisine influenced by its French and Swiss neighbours. ‘Tegole’ biscuits are named after roof tiles due to their thin, round shape, and are flavoured with hazelnuts. Best enjoyed with a cup of the local coffee, which is flavoured with sugar, lemon, and a generous dash of brandy or grappa.
Abbruzzo | Pizzelle
These thin waffles were traditionally made with the family’s coat of arms stamped into them, and they feature at most special occasions in the region. Every family tends to have their own take on the dessert, crispy or chewy depending on taste, but what really makes them stand out is that they’re baked using olive oil.
Basilicata | Strazzate
These crumbly little biscuits combine chocolate and almond flavours with Strega, a herbal liqueur. A must-eat if you find yourself at the instep of Italy’s boot.
Calabria | Mostaccioli
There’s a kind of pasta with the same name, so be careful with your ordering, but once you taste mostaccioli biscuits you won’t regret it. They’re hard and crunchy, made with honey or wine from the region, and are some of the prettiest treats on this list: usually baked in shapes such as animals or fish and decorated with shiny coloured foil.
Campania | Sfogliatella
If you’re heading to the home of margherita, pizza has to be on the menu, but don’t forget to try out the local pastries. The sfogliatella recipe was supposedly first created by nuns many years ago, and the name means ‘small leaves’ in reference to the many thin layers of flaky pastry, traditionally filled with citrus-flavoured ricotta, but available in many variations such as almond paste and chocolate. They pair perfectly with your morning cappuccino.
Emilia Romagna | Zuppa Inglese
The literal translation, ‘English soup’, doesn’t sound too appetizing, but worry not — this dish is truly delicious. Its origins are uncertain, but it is thought to have come from the Dukes of Este in Ferrara, who were trying to recreate the trifle they had tried at English courts. To make it, sponge fingers are dipped in liqueur (the name probably comes from the verb ‘inzuppare’ or ‘to dunk’), and alternated with layers of thick egg custard. Often topped with strawberries, meringue, and chocolate, it looks pretty too.
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia | Presnitz
Presnitz is coiled up in a snake or coil shape, and filled with a tasty mixture usually featuring all kinds of nuts and dried fruit plus crumbled biscotti, honey, rum and spices. It’s traditionally eaten at Christmas, but you should be able to find it whenever you visit. You can also try the very similar gubana, similar to a strudel with apple and grappa filling.
Lazio | Maritozzi
If you like your desserts with whipped cream and lots of it, these buns are perfect for you. They’re made of a sweet dough, sliced in half and stuffed with cream as well as nuts and dried fruit. As for the name, it’s often said to come from the word ‘marito’ (husband) because young men would offer the cakes to young women and women would sell them in order to attract a partner. These days, just head to a Roman bakery at breakfast time — they’re especially popular around Easter but available all year round.
Liguria | Panera
Gelato might be a classic dessert wherever you find yourself in Italy, but in Liguria make sure to vary your routine by trying this cool local specialty. The texture is different to gelato, almost closer to a semifreddo or a mousse as it’s made with lots of whipped cream, which is mixed with coffee and sugar to create a delicious treat.
Lombardy | Panettone
Strongly associated with Christmas but often available year-round, panettone (or paneton in the local language) smells like the festive season. The simple dough is flavoured with dried fruit and baked in a dome shape to be served in slices. You can find lots of different twists on the classic recipe in shops and bakeries, such as chocolate or fruity variations.
Marche | Calcioni
These small pastries are great if you don’t have an excessively sweet tooth, or want a break after working your way through the rest of this list. They’re made with savoury cheese like pecorino or parmigiano, and sweetened with sugar and lemon.
Molise | Cauciuni
If you’ve never visited this underrated region, it’s likely you won’t have heard of this dessert, which often features at holidays. Ravioli is first stuffed with chickpeas, spices, liqueur and fruit, then fried and served with honey. A similar dish is cippillati, another kind of baked ravioli but this time stuffed with cherries.
Puglia | Pasticciotto
A typical breakfast food, Puglia’s ‘pasticciotti’ get their name from an Italian term for mistake (pasticcio), because the treats were supposedly an accidental invention made from leftovers. They’re made from pastry originally using lard, but nowadays more often with butter, filled with egg custard in the classic recipe and sometimes available with other fillings such as ricotta or chocolate cream. Best eaten warm.
Piedmont | Bonèt
This region is paradise for chocolate lovers, and you won’t go wrong whatever you order. But try to fit a bonèt into your food itinerary: it’s a rich, creamy, and exceptionally chocolatey dessert made with liqueur and amaretto biscuits.
Sardinia | Tilica
Tilicas are probably the prettiest pastries on this list. They’re made with almond paste and honey and formed into either simple swirls or elaborate artworks. Fillings vary but often sapa is used, a special Sardinian kind of slowly mulled wine.
Sicily | Cannoli
No question about it, cannoli are a must-eat when you’re exploring the southern island. If you haven’t experienced these cream-filled shells of pastry (the name literally means ‘small tube’) make it the first thing you do in Sicily. You’ll find a variety of sizes and fillings, and we recommend sampling plenty, but be sure to try the classic ricotta flavour first. Fans of the traditional filling should also sample Sicilian cassata, a sponge cake made with liqueur and ricotta and covered in a pretty pastel marzipan outer layer.
Trentino-South Tyrol | Strudel
Apple strudel is unquestionably the region’s star dessert. Trentino-South Tyrol is where many of Italy’s apples come from, and a good number of those end up baked into this delicious warm dish, together with optional extras such as raisins, spices, and nuts. To sample a variety and celebrate the strudel, head to the Strudel Week festival in Castelrotto in late summer.
Tuscany | Budino di riso
This is a simple dish traditionally made with just rice, milk, eggs and sugar, but the modern recipe often sees this rice pudding mixture baked inside a crumbly pastry case. They are eaten at all times of year, all times of day, with coffee or dessert wine, and are just as good at room temperature as they are fresh out of the oven.
Umbria | Ciaramicola
Ciaramicola is colourful and delicious, and most commonly associated with Easter time, when it’s a traditional gift to a lover as a symbol of affection. It’s a spicy lemon cake made with Alchermes liqueur, covered in meringue and hundreds and thousands. The best spot to try it is Perugia, where it was invented: the red and white hues are supposedly an homage to the city’s colours.
Veneto | Frittelle alla Veneziana
Tiramisu is of course a very popular dessert in northeastern Italy, but since it’s a sensitive subject as to which region invented the creamy coffee recipe, we’ve left it off our list. For a treat that’s definitely 100 percent Venetian, try frittelle, often said to be the oldest dessert in all of Italy. A traditional Carnival food, they’re a kind of fried dumpling, made of dough balls filled with raisins, pine nuts, and just a hint of citrus.
By Catherine Edwards (The Local)