5 Regional Italian Comfort Foods

October 21, 2014

Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.

Today: The Italians have mastered the art of comfort food. Here are five favorites to carry you through fall.

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It might seem strange, but there is no word or phrase for "comfort food" in the Italian language. Perhaps that's because practically all Italian food is inherently comforting -- to Italians, these kinds of dishes are simply "food."

What exactly is comfort food? It's satisfying on a physical and emotional level; it's a dish whose aromas and flavors trigger waves of nostalgia. It's usually something that's warm and hearty, with lots of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates increase seratonin levels in the brain and produce an immediate calming feeling (hello, pasta!) -- it's "mood food." And don't forget something sweet, and possibly with chocolate!

Whether it's a one-pot meal that simmers on the stove for hours, a hearty, chunky ragù with spaghetti, or a classic tiramisu, the Italians have comfort food down pat. Here are my 5 favorites:

Maiale al Latte (Pork Cooked in Milk)
While it's not known for being pretty, this incredibly delicious, slow-cooked dish will win you over with its flavor. It's perfect for a homey night in -- and the leftovers are even better.


Lasagne alla Bolognese
A dish made to satisfy and comfort -- what's more inviting than lasagne? Make it like they do in Bologna, with lots of béchamel sauce and a beef and pork ragù.


Uova al Pomodoro (Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce)
Sometimes comfort means not spending too much time in the kitchen or at the grocery store. This simple dish is for those occasions; it's an adaptable one-pot meal made with a few pantry staples.


Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Classic Abruzzese Ragù
Handmade spaghetti calls for a proper, rich sauce, like the chunky, three-meat Abruzzese ragù that always dresses spaghetti alla chitarra. 


Classic Tiramisu
Nothing beats a creamy, slightly boozy, chocolate-laced dessert for a cozy night in -- and classic tiramisu is at the top of my list. You can even do it without a recipe.

Photos by Emiko Davies

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • An Italian in my kitchen
    An Italian in my kitchen
  • gpbondi
  • Alice Lewis
    Alice Lewis
  • Emiko
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


An I. November 11, 2014
I am a Canadian who is living in Rome Italy for 20+ years and I have to agree with the fact that a lot of Italian food is comfort food, although I do think that more and more Italians are aware of what comfort food means. Italians have a way of incorporating English words into their vocabulary such as spray, internet, social network, comfort food etc. I think the word that better describes in Italian "comfort food" is "casareccio" which means homemade and so food that's familiar and inviting that reminds people of home.

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Emiko November 11, 2014
Ah, you may have slightly misunderstood what I wrote, I didn't mean at all that Italians aren't aware of what comfort food is - they definitely know what it is! I was just suggesting (light-heartedly of course) that there's no need in the Italian language for the phrase because all their food is comforting! Hence the use of the English phrase ;) Casareccio is definitely much more about homemade, as you say, I don't think it conveys quite the same meaning as comfort food.
gpbondi November 10, 2014
I am italian/american and when I try to explain comfort food to my italian friends they kind of don't get it.... I guess because most italian food IS comfort food!!! However, one of my family's favorite passatelli al brodo. A fix-all for everything from the common cold to teen-age drama!!!!
Emiko November 11, 2014
Absolutely! My Tuscan husband would totally agree with the passatelli al brodo thing! In fact, I wrote about the recipe here:
Alice L. October 24, 2014
I had a most delicious cake in San Francisco for a child's birthday. The Pastry Chef called it Saint Honore' Cake. Have you eaten this and where would I find the recipe?
Emiko November 11, 2014
I haven't eaten that cake before, I believe it's a classic French cake!