Turning Italian favourites vegan

November 1st celebrates World Vegan Day, which was established in 1994 by Louise Wallis, who was at that time the president and chair of The Vegan Society in the UK.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, or travel with one, then having special dietary requests can be something of a concern when traveling abroad or to a city that you are not familiar with. However, Italy has some wonderfully versatile dishes that can easily be altered to make them vegan or vegetarian. Here are some tips on what to ask for if you are a vegan (“vegano” in Italian) or vegetarian (“vegetariana” in Italian) travelling to Italy.

Pizza is one of the easiest dishes to enjoy in Italy if you are vegan or vegetarian and they are also a cost-effective option if you are on a budget as pizzerias are generally casual and inexpensive. If you are vegetarian then you will be sure to find a selection of vegetarian pizzas on the menu, such as the margherita. Also look out for pizzas with the word “vegetariana”, which means vegetarian in Italian. These will typically have a tomato and cheese base and will be topped with Mediterranean vegetables, such as courgettes and peppers. Also check for “funghi”, which means mushroom in Italian as these will usually simply be mushroom and cheese. One thing to look out for is parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Peggiano) – it is traditionally made with calf rennet and so is not vegetarian.

If you are vegan, you can still enjoy authentic pizza in Italy as the dough is not traditionally made with milk. You can make any of the vegetarian pizzas vegan by simply asking for it “senza formaggio”, which means without cheese. In our experience, you may have to clarify by saying “senza tutti i formaggi”, which means without any cheese, as vegan members of our team who have lived in Italy have found that mozzarella seems to escape the “no cheese” request! Many pizzerias in Tuscany and surrounding regions also serve “cecina” or “torta di ceci”, which is a sort of pancake made with chickpea flour and a nice alternative to a slice of pizza.

Another Italian favourite, pasta, is equally easy to make vegetarian or vegan and most restaurants will have a vegetarian/vegan pasta option on the menu. Vegan pasta dishes include “penne all’arrabbiata” (penne pasta in a spicy tomato sauce), “penne al pomodoro” (penne pasta in a tomato sauce) and “penne alla primavera” (penne pasta with fresh seasonal vegetables). Note that it is best to check that these dishes don’t include cheese or meat stock. If you’re vegetarian, you will also be likely to find a meat-free stuffed pasta option, such as tortellini, or a fragrant pasta and pesto option. (Sorry vegans: these nearly always include cheese!)

Depending on where you visit in Italy, you may also find vegan or vegetarian risotto options (rice dishes are more popular in the north of Italy) or a gnocchi dish. “Risotto allo zafferano” (risotto with saffron) is a typical vegetarian dish from Milan – it is traditionally made with butter and so may not be vegan and, as always, it is best to ask if it is made with a meat stock.

Sandwiches in Italy are widely available from cafés and bars, and they are often pre-prepared and on display at the counter. If you’re a vegetarian you will surely be able to find mozzarella and tomato sandwiches or focaccia, which often come with fresh basil or Italian herbs. If you’re vegan, the options can be a little more limited; however, you may find “vegano” sandwiches, which are usually packed with Mediterranean vegetables, such as grilled courgettes, peppers and aubergine. If you can’t see a vegan option but it looks like the sandwiches are prepared at the café, ask for one of the vegetarian sandwiches “senza formaggio” (without cheese) – you may end up with something simple, such as a tomato and basil sandwich with a drizzle of olive oil but the vegetables and herbs are so fresh in Italy that it will still taste delicious!

If you’re at a restaurant, look out for the bruschetta options, which are usually simple toasted bread starters served with tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs and olive oil.

Side dishes
The great thing about Italy’s food, in our opinion, is the freshness of the produce so, if you can’t find a vegan or vegetarian option on the menu that appeals to you, we very much recommend ordering something from the side dishes or “contorni”. You will often find mixed salads (“insalata mista”), greens fried with garlic or chilli, and grilled Mediterranean vegetables. Combining these side dishes with some freshly baked Italian bread can make for a satisfying evening meal or lunch!

Many of the quintessential Italian desserts are vegetarian, including tiramisu and “gelato” (ice cream). In Sicily, the “cannoli”, which are pastries stuffed with sweet ricotta, are also a decadent vegetarian option. However, watch out for set desserts and anything with a jelly, which will likely contain gelatin. This includes panna cotta.

If you’re vegan, the options are a little limited, but you may find fruit sorbets or fruit salads (“macedonia”) on the menu. If you opt for a sorbet, check that it doesn’t include egg whites. In Sicily, try a “granita siciliana”, which is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavourings.

Italy was a wonderfully diverse food culture, meaning that it can easily cater for those with special dietary requests. If you are interested in booking a holiday to Italy, contact a member of our friendly team on (UK) 01223 637331 or (US) 1-347-594-5500. Alternatively, click here to send us an enquiry online.

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