When we sat down to write a list of our favorite Italian comfort food, we were immediately struck with a conundrum: Isn’t all Italian food comfort food?
The answer is a resounding “yes!” We find as much comfort in a simple, quick penne and marinara sauce as we do in the impossibly complicated, all-day cooking affair that is Il Timpano (if you’ve never heard of Il Timpano, you’ve got to learn about this monumental achievement in old-school Italian greatness. Check out this recipe and video).
Italian food is comfort, from the ingredients to the preparation to the warm and cozy sensation that radiates from the inside out after finishing a meal. No matter the cook—amatuer or professional chef—the expressed purpose of an Italian meal is to make you feel like you’re at home, surrounded by people who want nothing more than for you to be full.
Since literally any Italian-American dish can find a spot on a list of the best Italian comfort foods, we decided to handpick five of our absolute favorites, and urge you to slow life down and understand that even trying times will pass. You can ease any tension with wonderfully satisfying food.
Eggs in Purgatory (Italian Shakshuka)
This deep red, one-pot meal features soft-cooked eggs simmered in a robust and spicy tomato sauce, thickened, and rustically flavored with garlic, herbs, and red pepper flakes. Eggs in Purgatory (Uova All’inferno or Uova in Purgatorio) is the Italian version of Shakshuka, a hearty meal with origins in North Africa. It’s easy to make, the ingredients are flexible, it’s comforting to the extreme, relatively healthy, and totally inexpensive. You can even use any of Paesana’s pasta sauces as your base. All you need is lots of bread, and a thick, heavy sauté pan. (We advise against cast iron, as acidic ingredients like tomatoes can actually absorb metallic flavors). Click here for our recipe for Eggs in Purgatory!
This Italian classic doesn’t require as much explaining as the previous entry. Lasagna hits all the comfort food pleasure points: Pasta, meaty tomato sauce, melty cheese, a crisp layer of cheese on top, all coming together in a rich mouthful that will send you right to the couch after eating. Typically prepared in Italian households for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, lasagna includes a preparation that amounts to an art project with food. Sheets of pasta are parcooked, then layered with tomato sauce and whatever other ingredients you wish to include. Quick tip: Make the sauce a day or two before preparing the lasagna, as sauce tends to build in flavor after a night in the fridge.
Italian food is comfort, from the ingredients to the preparation to the warm and cozy sensation that radiates from the inside out after finishing a meal.
Lo Sfincione (Original Sicilian-Style Pizza)
For many of us, the difference between regular pizza and a Sicilian pie boils down to the shape. If it’s round, it’s regular and if it’s rectangular, it’s Sicilian. However, the truest ancestor of what we call Sicilian pizza is known in actual Sicily as Lo Sfincione and is typically eaten during New Year’s and the Feast of San Giovanni. Sfincione is notable for its light, fluffy crust with a bottom that crisps up nicely from pan contact. Toppings usually include onions, tomatoes, anchovies, oregano, and a sprinkling of hard sheep’s milk cheese from Sicily, such as Pecorino Siciliano. Finally, it’s topped with a crisp layer of breadcrumbs. The result is a comfort pizza with a range of textures, built upon soul-nourishing bread.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
One of the four foundational Roman pasta dishes (the other three being Cacio e Pepe, Pasta alla Gricia, and Bucatini all'Amatriciana), Spaghetti alla Carbonara features a luscious “sauce” that comes together with egg, hard cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, cured pork, and black pepper. While the list of ingredients is short and simple, the flavor is memorable and long-lasting. The smooth and silky nature of carbonara weaves around your tastebuds, blanketing your mouth and senses in a warm aura of culinary magic. It’s an eating experience that would be indescribable if it weren’t so exclamatory.
Roast Chicken with Two Lemons
Of all our favorites, this one is probably the simplest, least complicated meal that’s ever comforted a hungry soul. It consists of one whole chicken, two lemons, and some salt and pepper—yup, that’s it. Officially recorded by famous Italian cook Marcella Hazan in her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Roast Chicken with Two Lemons requires no butter or oil, zero bouts of basting, no stuffing, and minimal slicing and seasoning. The only true action involves seasoning the chicken inside and out, puncturing lemons with a fork and stuffing the fruits inside the cavity of the chicken, then roasting the whole bird, flipping it once at the midpoint. The result is a chicken so remarkable that we’re convinced it can heal any emotional wound.