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23 Most Underrated Italian Dishes

While Lasagna and Margherita Pizza are certainly nothing to sneeze at, why not expand your typical order at the Italian restaurant down the street? There are nearly as many secret family recipes as their are cousins in your family (if you've been to a Sicilian family gathering you'll understand), but here's a light sampling of some mealtime staples that nearly anyone can make.

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1. Ribollita

This Tuscan stew has humble peasant origins (using leftover bread and re-boiled Minestrone soup), but that shouldn't scare you away from indulging in its savory goodness. Traditionally made with stale bread crusts, white beans, and onions, this hearty meal is a distant relation of Pasta e Fagiole, but is no less satisfying.

2. Braciole

This is meat stuffed with more meat. I REPEAT. Thinly sliced flank steak rolled with a filling of salt pork, garlic, spinach, and anything else your "Turducken"-lovin' brain can conceive before braising it in wine and red sauce.

3. Fregola

This "Italian" version of couscous hails from the island of Sardinia (they don't consider themselves Italian) and is a pearl-shaped pasta that can be used in anything like soups and salads or substituted in more traditional dishes like Linguine with Clams for a bite-sized, toasty punch of flavor.

5. Porchetta

In keeping with Italy's penchant for stuffing meat with more meat, I present to you Porchetta: pork loin stuffed with a paste of salt pork, garlic, and fennel before slow roasting it. Try it thinly sliced in a Porchetta sandwich in Boston's North End for a truly out of body experience.

6. Struffoli

Why should the French get all the credit for fried dough?! These sticky, honey-covered balls of deep-fried goodness are the Italian equivalent of Beignet. Roughly the size of a marble, this treat from Napoli is a staple at any traditional Italian Christmas.

7. Pasta Dura

Like a strange hybrid between French Brioche and San Francisco Sourdough, this fermented bread dough yields a dense, high-protein loaf that is a staple with any Italian meal. Just don't confuse it for a rustic loaf if you know what's good for you...

8. Cappelletti

This pasta from Modena shares many similarities with the popular Tortellini, but these little mouthfuls of goodness resemble hats which is where their name is derived. Christmas dinner just wouldn't be the same without these pork and garlic-stuffed morsels floating around in a rich broth and topped with freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

9. Ossobuco

This is not a PETA-friendly meal from the fashion capital of Italy. Veal shanks are crosscut to the bone then braised with white wine and vegetables before serving this beefy goodness over a plate of risotto or polenta. Milan darling, Milan...

10. Antipasto

Now hold your arguments. This is definitely a well-known entree (it's not an appetizer, so watch your vocabulary around natives) both within Italy and pretty much anywhere, but have you really tried every cold cut? We're not just talking Genoa hard salami and Prosciutto di Parma which are both delicious, but also Soppressata, Bresaola, Culatello, Strolghino, Capicola (Sweet & Hot varieties), Mortadella (an authentic one will have pistachio pieces in it), 'Nduja (spicy pork sausage spread), and all manner of cheeses, peppers, and olives. Sometimes served as a salad, the antipasto always signifies the start of the meal.

11. Caponata

This roasted eggplant and vegetable stew mixed with vinegar, capers, and often various seafood is the Sicilian (never call them Italian or you'll be sleeping with the fish that didn't end up in the stew) take on Ratatouille. A similar version from Napoli called Cianfotta eliminates the seafood, but is no less magical.

12. Bucatini all'Amatriciana

This isn't your typical Arrabbiata sauce and pasta dish. Traditionally served with a hollow version of spaghetti called Bucatini, Amatriciana sauce gets its spicy kick from black pepper and dried chiles while Guanciale (salted pork jowl) provides a salty depth of flavor that can't even begin to compare to Pancetta, it's more well-regarded cousin. The cheek of a salted pig has a lot more to offer than you might think, so don't knock it till you try it...

13. Polpette

Now everybody loves meatballs, but imagine eating an entire plate of them. In Italy, meatballs were not traditionally served as a topping with pasta until the age of tourism, but rather as the main course and they definitely consist of more than ground beef and red sauce. While often served with a ragu in Sicily, most Italians will mix ground pork and beef with milk-soaked bread, egg, garlic, pecorino, and lots of black pepper to form a ball of meat that is substantially more flavorful and needs no spaghetti accompaniment...

14. Saltimbocca

Found in many countries surrounding the Alps, Italian Saltimbocca comprises of veal wrapped with Prosciutto di Parma and Sage before it's marinated in wine, then browned in butter and topped with the pan drippings and capers. It means "jump in the mouth" in Italian for a reason...

15. Acquacotta

This dish literally means "cooked water," but don't let that dissuade you from trying this richly-flavored porcini mushroom and celery soup. Like most Tuscan food, Acquacotta hails from a bygone era when shepherds subsisted on the bare minimum. Some Italians claim this pastoral dish was the inspiration for the short story "Stone Soup" and with its bare bones ingredients we can see why.

16. Agliata

Garlic fans looks no further. This sauce contains merely three simple ingredients: garlic, vinegar, and breadcrumbs. Endless varieties can complicate it somewhat, but throw this zesty goodness on a plate of Trofie (a version of Gnocchi made with bran), fried fish, or vegetables for an extremely filling meal. Just don't forget to brush your teeth after dinner...

18. Insalata di Arance

Flickr: smitten

This crisp, refreshing salad is typically Winter fare in Sicily and is served as a reminder of the warm Spring that is soon to come. Fennel, oranges (blood oranges are the best), and olives are tossed in a peppery, citrus vinaigrette.

19. Ginestrata

This sweet, buttery Tuscan stew is made with chicken, cinnamon, and Marsala and typically served to newlyweds the first day after their wedding night, but that shouldn't stop you from indulging at any other point in your life.

20. Cacciucco

You haven't really tried a fish stew (though French Bouillabaisse and Cioppino are obviously delicious) until you're tried Cacciucco. Another favorite from Tuscany, this seasonal dish traditionally has five varieties of seafood and vegetables in a spicy, licorice-esque broth. Served with lots and LOTS of bread...

21. Carciofi alla romana

These "Roman Artichokes" are anything but antiquated. Typically a Spring vegetable, they are hollowed out and stuffed with parsley, Mentuccia (a variety of buttery Italian mint), and garlic then pan seared and braised in white wine. Wine in my vegetables? Who honestly says no to that?

22. Pastiera

Similar to cheesecake, this Neopolitan pastry is traditionally served at Easter. It's baked with ricotta, cream, egg, and honey to create a crumbly, soft dessert that may not convert you to Christianity, but will certainly provide a religious experience.

23. Zabaglione

Gelato and Panna Cotta get all the credit when it comes to creamy Italian desserts, but Zabaglione is hard to beat. A custard of egg yolk, sweet wine, and sugar is whisked until light and fluffy then served with fresh fruit and meringue. If you like eggnog, this is a legit excuse to enjoy it in a classy dessert-form all year long

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