Italian barbecue, distinct from its American counterpart, is an epicurean custom that has undergone centuries of evolution. This culinary practice ingeniously incorporates an array of vegetables, herbs, zesty citrus flavours, and ample quantities of olive oil, all of which are grilled over an open flame to create an outdoor summer feast. The Italian Peninsula, due to its location at the heart of the Mediterranean, is well-acquainted with balmy summer temperatures, refreshing coastal winds, and, of course, a distinct fashion of al fresco cooking customs.
In Italian, this particular custom is called grigliata – meaning cookout or barbecue – and centres around the art of grilling which emphasizes the importance of simple cooking and maximizes the flavour potential of each dish. In stark contrast to the heavy sauces, meat-centric mains, and abundant cheese of traditional Italian fare, grigliata dishes are lighter and seasoned with a blend of herbs, salt, and pepper, often complemented by aromatic marinades. Popular menu items include pasta salads, open-flame pizzas, and grilled fresh fruits.
What to serve at an Italian BBQ
Spiedini, an Italian essential
As any connoisseur of Italian cuisine can attest, spiedini, meaning ‘skewers’, represent a cherished outdoor grilling technique that spans the entire length of Italy, from its northernmost reaches to its southernmost shores. Morsels of fresh seafood, vegetables, and even cheeses are threaded onto a spiedo, or ‘stick’, and slowly roasted over an open flame, resulting in a mouthwatering assortment of grilled dishes. Meat spiedini represent the bulk of Italian barbecue cuisine, featuring cuts of chicken, pork, beef, sausage, or lamb diced into bite-sized pieces and meticulously arranged on skewers, normally alongside an assortment of seasonal ingredients. These can include cherry tomatoes, green peppers, piquant onions, bacon or pancetta, as well as fresh herbs like sage, bay leaves, or rosemary, among others. To unlock the full flavour potential of each spiedini, marinating the diced meats before grilling is highly recommended.
I contorni (side dishes)
Contorni is Italian for ‘sides’ or ‘accompaniments’. The word contorni literally derives from contorno – meaning ‘contour’ or ‘outline’. The term refers to how these sides add shape and definition to the main meal.
Contorni usually consist of a mixture of cooked vegetables and roast potatoes. That being said, if you’re looking for something lighter during the warmer months, serve some lightly-grilled vegetables like asparagus or courgette dressed in Italian extra virgin olive oil.
With Pasta Evangelists takeaway service, our favourite side dishes are now available to order in as little as 15 minutes. Think burrata, side salads, Nocellara olives, and a charcuterie board, all to share while waiting for the barbecue.
Pasta salads, the perfect accompaniment
As the warmer months approach, the availability of fresh, locally grown vegetables becomes plentiful, and our culinary cravings tend to shift towards side dishes like pasta salads to accompany barbecued specialties. Contrary to popular opinion, pasta in Italy is normally served as a small first course, (or primo) and, when combined with a seasonal greens, it is the perfect segway into the summer season.
One of the beauties of a pasta salad is its versatility – you can easily substitute in any vegetables that you happen to have on hand for a result that is both varied and full of flavour. Our head chef, Roberta, loves to serve either her grilled summer vegetable or fresh orzo pasta salad as an accompaniment to any al fresco dinner party. Combining the subtle sweetness of roasted vegetables with more earthy greens and a few judicious squeezes of lemon, we find that pasta salads epitomise the Mediterranean way of living and eating, using only a few ingredients of the highest quality to create a dish of the freshest taste.
The varied geography of Italy lends itself to diverse growing regions. In moving across the country, the Apennine Mountains give way to the flat plains of the Po River Valley before finally reaching the coastal plains in the area closest to the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean. Vineyard cultivation and winemaking have been present in these areas from the 7th century BCE when Etruscans arrived and their traditions of winemaking were continued by the Romans.
For an Italian barbecue, lighter whites are often more popular including classics such as Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Soave and Gavi. These wines have brighter, fruitier tasting notes that complement the smokiness and enhance the natural flavours used in grigliata cooking.
For expert advice on what wines to pair with your barbecue, follow our wine pairing guide for more information.