When it comes to Italian cuisine, there’s a lot to love—especially when you consider how well it pairs with seafood. After all, Italy is a country surrounded by the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean Seas.
While almost any species of fish can be prepared using Italian techniques and flavors, Tilapia works particularly well because of it’s mild taste. In other words: it won’t steal the spotlight from the fresh herbs, spices or produce you cook with. For those concerned about maintaining a well-balanced diet, Tilapia is also a lean fish that can offset heartier dishes.
With that in mind, here are eight of our favorite Italian ingredients and some tips for pairing them with Tilapia.
1. Olives and Capers
Olives and capers are staples in Italian cuisine. You can find them in salads and pastas, on top of pizzas or even served on their own as a starter (or antipasto). These ingredients have a strong salty flavor because of the brines they’re preserved in, making them a perfect complement for a fish like Tilapia. Treat them as your seasoning and go easy on the salt when preparing a dish that uses a large quantity, such as puttanesca.
Try the recipe: Roasted Tilapia with Tomatoes and Olives from MyRecipes.com.
Polenta is a versatile ingredient that hails from Northern Italy. This coarsely ground cornmeal can be boiled and served as a hot, savory porridge or cooled and shaped into loaves—which can then be baked, fried or grilled depending on your preference. Tilapia tastes great with most starches and grains, and polenta is no exception. Plus, it’s great for soaking up the extra sauce on your plate.
Try the recipe: Tilapia with Creamy Polenta from The Healthy Fish.
3. Balsamic Vinegar
This dark, concentrated vinegar made from grape must (freshly crushed grape juice, complete with skins and stems) doesn’t like to share the stage when it comes to flavor profiles. It’s why a lean, mild fish like Tilapia works so well with it—just remember to keep the rest of the dish simple, too.
Try the recipe: Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce from Bon Appétit.
4. Arborio Rice
Speaking of grains, Tilapia also pairs well with arborio rice, the main ingredient in risotto. Getting a perfect, creamy consistency will require some patience as the rice has to be cooked by gradually adding broth and stirring a lot—but it’s well worth the effort. Top with your favorite seafood and you’ve got a hearty dish for the whole family.
Try the recipe: Tomato-Roasted Tilapia with Risotto from Regal Springs.
This is a classic ingredient in Southern Italian cooking. While it often takes center stage in a vegetarian parmigiana, breaded and fried eggplant baked in tomato sauce and cheese, it also works well as a side. Like Tilapia, this ingredient pairs well with a variety of flavors—it’s probably why they work so well together!
Try the recipe: One Skillet Tilapia Caponata from Delicious Meets Healthy.
Different varieties of lemons are grown all over Italy, but you’ll find them in abundance on the Amalfi Coast and in Sicily. With these regions being so close to the water, it’s no surprise that this ingredient pairs so well with Tilapia and other seafood. Whether you’re squeezing one over your dish as a finishing touch or making a citrus-based sauce, lemon should be your go-to when you want a fresh and tangy flavor profile.
Try the recipe: Pan-Seared Lemon-Thyme Tilapia Loins from The Healthy Fish.
We couldn’t talk about Italian cuisine without mentioning pasta. Whether you’re craving linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti, pappardelle, macaroni or tortellini, Tilapia can be served on top. You don’t have to worry about sauce either! Since this fish species is so mild, you can easily pair it with a pesto, tomato or cream-based sauce.
Try the recipe: Green Goddess Pasta with Pesto Tilapia from The Healthy Fish.
Along with oregano, thyme and rosemary, basil is an essential Italian herb—whatever Italian dish you can think of, you can add this versatile ingredient to it. The best part? Basil works well when cooked into a dish or when sprinkled on top for extra freshness, so try experimenting to see which way you like it most.
Try the recipe: Grilled Lemon Basil Tilapia with Caprese Skewers from The Healthy Fish.
By keeping these ingredients in your pantry and fridge, you’ll always be ready to prepare a delicious Italian meal. Just remember to keep things simple and let the flavors speak for themselves.
Need more dinner inspiration? Check out these Mexican-American and American South Tilapia recipes.
Photo Credits: Halfpoint / Shutterstock Inc., BarbaraGoreckaPhotography / Shutterstock Inc., Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock Inc., Ahanov Michael / Shutterstock Inc., Maceofoto / Shutterstock Inc.