Beyond Spaghetti Marinara: Lesser-Known Italian Pasta Dishes To Try

When you think of Italian food, pasta is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Indeed, there are lots of delicious and popular Italian pasta dishes, from spaghetti marinara to fettuccine alfredo. But this is not the extent of Italian pasta — not by a long shot! If you want to branch out a little more and try some less common Italian pasta dishes, here are a few key ones to look for.

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe in Italian means "pepper and cheese." Indeed, the sauce on this pasta is primarily made with cheese and flavored with black pepper. Different Italian restaurants may use different shapes of pasta for this dish. You'll see it a lot with spaghetti noodles, but it can be made with penne or linguine, too. The secret to the dish's creaminess is actually how it is made. As the noodles are being boiled, the chef starts by melting some butter in a skillet. Pepper is added, and then some of the pasta water. Grana Padano cheese is then added to the mixture. It emulsifies with the pasta water to form a silky smooth sauce. When the pasta is cooked, it is added to the pan and cooked briefly to coat it in the sauce. This dish is luxurious, delicious, but surprisingly simple.

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca is a good dish to try if you love tomato sauce but want something different from ordinary marinara. The sauce is made quickly in a skillet with plum tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and garlic. Some chefs may add some red pepper flakes for heat. The saltiness of the anchovies and capers really sets off the sauce. After the pasta is cooked, it is added to the skillet and topped with some fresh parsley, oregano, and basil for an herbal touch. This dish is often made with linguine noodles but can really be made with any long pasta.


Carbonara is an indulgent pasta dish perfect for a winter evening. The sauce is made from an emulsion of egg yolks, pasta water, Parmesan cheese, and pork fat. Traditionally, guanciale is used, but some versions are made with other fatty pork products. Black pepper adds a layer of spice to the sauce. You'll usually see carbonara made with spaghetti noodles, but some chefs get creative and use anything from farfalle to penne.

If you love pasta, consider branching out and trying some new Italian food options. Each one brings something different to the table.