Eating Gluten-Free at Italian Restaurants Made Easy

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Whether you have celiac disease or voluntarily choose to follow a gluten-free diet, you know that eating out at restaurants can present challenges. Those challenges may seem even more difficult at an Italian restaurant, but Italian food is much more than just pasta. Here are five items to look for on the menu the next time you find yourself in the mood for Italian.


This versatile dish made from corn can be used in many ways. If you haven't had polenta before, it's similar to that perennial southern favorite, grits. Polenta is sometimes also cooked and then chilled so it solidifies. It can then be sliced and fried. Polenta, rather than pasta, is popular in the northern Alpine regions of Italy. Many Italian restaurants offer dishes such as shrimp and polenta, similar to shrimp and grits, or Italian sausage links simmered in marinara, served alongside a bed of polenta rather pasta. Fried polenta makes a great appetizer, or you may find it atop a salad.

Fish and Seafood

Italy is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. Fresh seafood is abundant and finds a frequent place on the table. Many Italian restaurants offer "pesce fresco," or a fresh fish catch of the day. Shrimp cacciatore, with a rich tomato and pepper sauce, is a common option. Mussels steamed in a white wine, garlic, and butter sauce is another tasty choice frequently found on Italian-restaurant menus. Marinated calamari is also a great pick. Additionally, see whether the restaurant uses flour in their fritto-misto batter, which is similar to a tempura batter used to deep-fry veggies, seafood, and fish. Some restaurants use only cornstarch for their batter.

Meat Entrées

A few steak preparations are usually on the menu, such as a "Bistecca Alla Siciliana," or Sicilian steak, which is typically a ribeye or New York strip that has been massaged with lots of fresh herbs and garlic. Veal Piccata, sautéed medallions of tender and succulent veal served with a pan sauce made of stock, lemon juice, and capers is a possibility, just be sure to ask them to skip dredging the medallions in flour before sautéing.  


This creamy rice dish comes in many different flavor combinations, such as with wild mushrooms, lemon and artichoke, saffron, and "Risotto del giorno," or the risotto of the day. It may be served as an entrée, perfect paired with a fresh salad, or it may be used as a side dish.


Dishes likes eggplant Parmigiana and eggplant rollatini, which is similar to a cheese-filled manicotti using eggplant rather than pasta are great choices, and of course there are usually several salads on the menu.