This is surely Rome's, if not Italy's, finest pasta dish: the rich, creamy, alchemical deliciousness of eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper and guanciale mixed with perfectly toothsome spaghetti or rigatoni. It's beautiful in the simplicity of its ingredients, and yet elegant in the complexity of its creation. A good Roman carbonara is a fine thing indeed. Try it at Da Cesare al Casaletto in Rome.
Is there any dish so evocative of a balmy summer evening as spaghetti alle vongole, the simple mix of pasta with fresh clams, garlic, parsley and white wine? This is everything that is great about an Italian coastal interlude: the briny sweetness of the clams and their juices, the zip of wine, the freshness of parsley. Perfection. Vongole is from Campania, in Italy's south – try it at Pizzeria e Trattoria Vigliena in Naples.
Tagliatelle alla bolognese. Photo: Alamy
Ragu alla Bolognese is Italy's most internationally popular and yet criminally misunderstood dish. Don't order this outside of the Emilia-Romagna region. Don't expect a bulky, tomato-rich sauce. And don't expect it to be served with spaghetti. In its home town of Bologna, ragu is served with tagliatelle, with far more pasta than meat, and it's braised in white wine and milk with few tomatoes. It's also delicious, especially at Trattoria Annamaria in Bologna.
This classic, umami-rich dish is assumed by many to have originated in the Lazio town of Amatrice, though as with many things in Italy, there's some conjecture. Evidence suggests tomatoes were actually first added to another classic pasta dish, "gricia" – pasta with guanciale and pecorino – in Rome. Whatever the history, there's no denying the outrageous tastiness of this trattoria staple. Order it at Salumeria Roscioli in the Italian capital.
CON LE SARDE
Here's another dish perfectly evocative of an Italian summer: pasta con le sarde, the Sicilian specialty. This is a sauce that tells of influence from Africa and the Middle East. Yes, the sardines and the anchovies are distinctly Mediterranean, and the fennel classic Italian, but what about the saffron, the pinenuts, the raisins? There's all sorts going on here, and it's the perfect pasta for a hot Sicilian evening. Try it at La Cambusa in Palermo.
Here's a classic dish you don't see much outside Italy: tortellini in brodo, another Emilia-Romagna specialty, one that requires hours of preparation (making pasta, stuffing pasta, folding pasta, making stock) for seconds of devouring. Perfect little tortellini are stuffed with pork loin, prosciutto, mortadella, parmigiano-reggiano and egg, and served floating in a rich broth. Give it a whirl at Bottega dei Portici in Bologna.
AL TARTUFO BIANCO
Though plenty of Italy's best dishes are modest and inexpensive, this one is neither. Tagliolini al tartufo bianco is long, flat egg pasta served with a butter and cheese sauce, topped with freshly shaved white truffle. It's a Piedmontese dish that is seriously decadent and it doesn't come cheap – white truffles from Alba can cost anywhere up to $10,000 a kilo. Savour it at Ristorante Larossa in Alba.
AI CIME DI RAPA
Back to basics: no truffles, no butter. Orecchiette ai cime di rapa is a traditional dish of the Puglia region, made simply of "little ears" of pasta with a light sauce of oil, garlic, anchovies and slightly bitter cime di rapa, or broccoli rabe. It's topped with fried breadcrumbs and dished up across southern Italy. Best place to try it is your local nonna's house, though Il Rifugio della Buona Stella in Lecce does a great version.
Here's another sauce that's beautiful in its simplicity. You'll find different styles of pesto across Italy, but the most famous is alla Genovese, the unctuous, umami-rich sauce from Genoa. Basil is the key ingredient, though there's also pinenuts, garlic, parmigiano-reggiano and olive oil. The pesto is blended and stirred through fat little curls of trofie pasta, or thin trenette. Eat it at Trattoria Cavour 21 in Genoa.
Here's a serious dish for a cold night. Pappardelle con ragu di cinghiale is a cherished Tuscan specialty, thick ribbons of fresh pasta served with hearty wild boar stew. The meat is marinated in red wine and herbs for up to a day before it's braised, slowly, for long enough to allow a thick, rich ragu to form. It's perfect draped over pappardelle and paired with Chianti. Try it at Florence's Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco.