Cooking Italian Vocabulary: Learn How to Read and Follow a Recipe in Italian

You know, cooking is an important part of Italian culture and there are a lot of foreigners around the world who wants to recreate Italian recipes at home because Italian restaurants abroad are not always… really Italian… However, very often Italian recipes are only available in Italian, and this can become an obstacle, because even those people who have a fairly advance level of Italian do not always kwon all the verbs in the recipes. For this reason, between each step, they have to stop and look up the word in the dictionary in order to see which example best suit the context, etc. Today we’ll see the most common and important verbs that you will find in Italian recipes! Are you ready? Let’s get started right away and be careful: you may find your mouth watering!

Italian Cooking Verbs


First, let me answer a question that many foreigners have: what is the difference between the verbs CUOCERE e CUCINARE?

CUCINARE (to cook)- it refers to the different steps you need to follow to prepare a dish, which means not only the cooking itself, but also all the other actions that are necessary for the final result.

CUOCERE – it refers to the transformation of food from raw to cooked, through the process of heating it up with a flame or some other heat. And that’s it.

Another interesting fact is that the Italian language does not have a corresponding verb for the English verb “to bake. In fact, in Italian we say CUOCERE AL FORNO (to cook in the oven). So, if you want to say something such as “I like baking”, you should change the structure of the sentence and use something like “Mi piace preparare le torte”(I like preparing cakes), “Mi piace preparare dolci” (I like preparing desserts), “Mi piace preparare piatti al forno” (I like preparing food in the oven) and so on… Yes, I know, it’s not very nice… But what about your language? Do you have a corresponding verb for “to bake”? Let me know! Now… let’s go on!

The most frequently used verbs in Italian recipes

BOLLIRE (to boil) – to heat until steam bubbles form

SBOLLENTARE (to parboil) – to plunge a food for a few minutes in boiling water without fully cooking it

CUOCERE AL VAPORE (to cook with steam/to steam it) – cooking method that avoids direct contact between the water and the food

CUOCERE A BAGNOMARIA (to cook in bain marie/to cook in a double boiler) – cooking method that involves plunging one container with food into a larger one containing hot or boiling water

LESSARE (to simmer) – to cook food plunging it in boiling water or boiling broth

GRIGLIARE (to grill) – to cook on a grill (often with hot coals)

AFFUMICARE (to smoke) – to expose the food to smoke in order to keep it or give it a distinctive flavour

FRIGGERE (to fry) – cooking method that involves plunging a food into oil or other boiling and melted fats

SOFFRIGGERE (to fry lightly/to sauté) – to leave a food in oil or butter for a few minutes, until it becomes golden brown

PELARE (to peel) – to remove the rind of vegetables with a knife or a specific tool

AMALGAMARE (to mix) – to mix different ingredients together until obtaining a homogeneous mixture

AMMOLLARE (to soften) – to plunge and keep a food in water or other liquids in order to soften it

APPASSIRE (to dry out) – to soften vegetables by cooking them in a pan with oil or butter, on a very low heat and with a lid on, so that they do not lose their colour

ARROSTIRE (to roast) – to cook meat, fish, or other food in the oven, on a spit or on a grill, without adding water

BRASARE (to braise) – to cook food on a low heat in a hermetically sealed pot with little liquid

DORARE  -1) to cook food in condiment so that it reaches a golden-blonde colour -2) to brush the top of a pastry with egg yolk before baking it

IMBIONDIRE (to fry golden brown) – to leave chopped vegetables in oil or butter over high heat until they become light, golden (blonde)

ROSOLARE (to brown) – to brown food in oil or butter on a low heat

SCOTTARE (to sear/to lightly cook) – to lightly cook a food (especially meat or fish) on all sides on the well-heated surface of a pot, pan, grill or in boiling water, without it losing its internal juices

FRULLARE (to blend/to whip) – to chop and to grind different ingredients in a blender in order to obtain frothy and/or creamy mixtures

GRATINARE (to cook au gratine/to gratinate) – to cook in the oven food products that are covered with cheese or breadcrumbs so that a light crust forms on their surface

GUARNIRE (to garnish) – to decorate dishes with different elements that are used to to add flavour to the main ingredients

CONDIRE (to season) – to make food tastier and/or more nourishing by adding special ingredients, such as oil, vinegar and spices to it

IMBURRARE (to grease with butter) – to spread a light layer of butter on the containers before cooking the food

MESCOLARE (to blend/to stir) – to stir a bunch of ingredients (even if they have different textures, but mostly liquids) until they form a homogeneous mixture

METTERE A BAGNO (to soak) – to leave a solid food in cold water for a few hours, in order to make its cooking easier and faster (especially for legumes)

IMPANARE (to coat with breadcrumbs/to crumb) – before cooking the food, dip it into egg wash and then in breadcrumbs

INFARINARE (to dredge with flour) – to dip a food in flour before cooking it

INFORNARE (to bake, to put in the oven) – to put a baking pan in the oven in order to cook its contents

MARINARE (to marinate) – to keep a food dipped in a seasoning that is enriched with herbs and spices for a specific time before cooking it, in order to give it a particular flavour or to keep it longer

MACERARE (to macerate/to steep) – to keep a food dipped in a liquid (wine or vinegar for example) for a very long time, longer than the grinding

MACINARE (to grind/to mill) – to reduce food into pieces or into powder with a grinder or other tools

MANTECARE (to cream/to thicken) – to work on an almost ready dish for a long time, on a very low heat or off heat, while constantly stirring to make it softer and creamier. A little butter or cheese is often added to achieve this result

MONTARE  (to whip/to whisk/to beat) – to beat a mixture with a whisk or a blender in order to make it fluffier and frothier, increasing its volume

SALTARE (IN PADELLA) (to stir-fry) – to brown any food in seasoning, over high heat, to make it absorb sauce or other seasonings

SFILETTARE (to fillet) – when referring to fish: remove the skin, bones and head from the fish and cut the remaining pieces into fillets

STUFARE (to stew) – to cook certain foods on a low heat and with closed lid with butter and/or other strong-flavoured seasonings, such as onions, laurel, garlic, etc.

UNGERE (to grease/to oil) – to apply a thin layer of oil or fat to the sides of a mould or another container

TRITARE (to mince/to chop up) – to mince an ingredient into extremely small pieces

TAGLIARE A CUBETTI (to cut into cubes) – to cut an ingredient into small, cube-shaped pieces

AFFETTARE (to slice) – to cut a food into slices

SCIOGLIERE (to melt) – to turn a solid food into liquid by heating it or by putting it into another liquid and stirring it

FONDERE (to melt/to liquefy) – to melt a solid food by using heat

SETACCIARE (to sift) – using a powdered ingredient, separate the finer parts from the thicker parts using a special tool, the sieve

SBATTERE – STRAPAZZARE (to beat/to scramble) – to shake with energy a liquid food

COSPARGERE (CON) (to sprinkle) – to cover the surface of a food with an ingredient

SALARE (to salt) – to add salt to something

PEPARE – to season with pepper

SPREMERE (to squeeze) – to squash something hard, either by hand or with a special tool, to release the liquid it contains

IMPASTARE (to knead) – to mix different ingredients into a homogeneous dough using your hands

GRATTUGIARE (to grate) – to reduce food into very small fragments using a grater

SBUCCIARE (to peel) – to remove the skin (the outer part) of fruit or vegetables

VERSARE (liquido o solido) (to pour something liquid or solid) – to bring a liquid out of a container by tilting or tipping it in order to put it in another container

SPIANARE (to level/to roll out) – to level and even out a surface by removing the different unevenness

INZUPPARE(to soak/to dunk) – to put a food into a liquid so that it completely absorbs that liquid

SCOLARE (to strain) – to remove cooking or rinsing water from a particular food or vegetable

ASSAGGIARE (to taste/to try) – to try a dish and to eat it in small pieces to judge it

MORDERE / TIRARE UN MORSO (to bite) – to grasp a piece of food with the teeth

DILUIRE (to dilute) – to thin a liquid, usually by adding water to it

SPALMARE (to spread) – to spread a pasty or semi-liquid food on a flat surface

DECORARE (to decorate) – to make a dish more beautiful using decorative ingredients

IMPIATTARE – to arrange food on a plate, often with a certain elegance or with decorations, in order to make it look good

SMINUZZARE (to crumble) – to break a food into small bits with the help of your hands

INFIAMMARE (to flame) – to light a liquor that has been sprinkled on a dish while it is being served

FARE LA SCARPETTA (to mop your plate with bread) – to collect the remaining sauce on the plate with a piece of bread

Let me know in the comments which of these actions you do the most when preparing food! I would also like to remind you that, if you want to make sure you understand all the Italian recipes, you can complete the vocabulary from this lesson with the one dedicated to kitchen utensils!

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