pasta, italian food, artichokes, salad, garlic, cheese

5 Italian Side Dishes That Take Center Stage

Paesana takes a look at a menu of Italian side dishes that go beyond pasta and sauce.

By Paesana

Overhead view of garlic bread with garlic cloves surrounding

Chicken parmigiana so big it takes up the entire dinner plate. A whole roasted branzino bursting with the lush aromatics of lemon and thyme. A heaping bowl of perfectly al dente rigatoni with ladles of marinara and plump meatballs.

There are so many amazingly tantalizing main entrées in the Italian food cookbook that sometimes side dishes can get lost in the sauce. But any homecook worth their capers knows that an entrée is only as good as the side dishes that accompany it. Luckily, a culture that likes to eat as much as Italian Americans do have plenty of side dishes to choose from no matter the main course or the time of year.

Here’s five of our absolute favorite Italian side dishes that are sure to satisfy! Then, check out this list of our favorite Italian main dishes you can cook at home with Paesana!

Caprese Salad

Let’s start with a side that’s so incredibly simple, pure, crisp, and refreshing. Classic Caprese Salad consists of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and sweet basil, seasoned with salt, maybe a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper, definitely a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. A dish so simple demands top-quality ingredients. Look for firm, in-season tomatoes, the best buffalo mozzarella cheese you can find, pristine olive oil, and high-grade balsamic vinegar. 

Polenta with Parmesan Cheese

When you cook a fresh pot of polenta, you can’t help but feel as though you’re smack in the middle of the old country—you also can’t help to imagine how muscular some of those Italian grandmas must’ve been. Cooking polenta requires constant stirring in order to achieve the desired creamy texture. It’s cooking that’s also exercise where the end result is truly a work of art. You want to add the parmesan just after turning off the heat and give it one final vigorous stir before plating and finishing with finely chopped fresh parsley.

Roasted Artichoke 

These other-worldly vegetables were once traditionally charred over open flames until the leaves easily peel away, revealing the tender flesh. These days, oven roasting artichokes is a fine modern upgrade. Often stuffed with a simple mix of seasoned breadcrumbs and flavored with the always versatile olive oil, along with a mix of parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses, roasted artichokes are faintly reminiscent of asparagus. To eat, pull through your teeth to remove the pulpy portion of the pedal. Repeat this process until you reach the luscious, entirely edible heart—just don’t forget to remove the fuzzy center before cooking!


There are so many amazingly tantalizing main entrées in the Italian food cookbook that sometimes side dishes can get lost in the sauce.


Sweet Peas with Prosciutto

This classic Roman pairing might look like an afterthought, but the simple arrangement of ingredients hides a truly decadent flavor profile. Here in this comforting side dish, sweet peas are richly flavored with the rendered pork fat of the salty prosciutto. The resulting combination of salty and sweet makes this dish one of the more dynamic options to pair with any number of main courses. Feel free to substitute frozen peas for the fresh variety, but be sure not to overcook as frozen peas tend to get mushy more quickly than fresh peas.

Garlic Bread

Wait. Is garlic bread a side dish? Well, it is in our house—especially when the garlic bread is exceptionally crunchy, fragrant, and downright delicious. Fresh Italian bread (preferably, a good loaf of semolina), fresh minced garlic and parsley, and plenty of butter are all key components of the most amazing garlic bread you’ll ever eat. More than a means to mop up sauce, garlic bread is so pleasantly pungent, strikingly crisp, and deliciously buttery that it elevates any meal. Add some slices of fresh mozzarella cheese before toasting for an even more savory finish.

Subscribe to the Blog
Featured Articles