While we all have our own tastes, family traditions and regional customs, is it possible to have set rules that can be applied for everyone?

The answer is yes, to an extent.

When it comes to condiments, there are a few general rules that apply in most parts of Italy.

While they don’t have any scientific basis, they do have the approval of the most important experts: nonne!

Firstly, the main difference comes down to taste: garlic has a strong flavour while onion is sweeter.


Garlic pairs well with fish and seafood.

It’s also great in bruschetta toppings, salsas and soups.

Garlic adds an element of freshness to these recipes and, combined with the other ingredients, creates a balanced dish.

When it comes to pasta, garlic is perfect with spaghetti and other simple ingredients, such as oil and chilli flakes, or in a tomato sauce like the classic penne all’arrabbiata.

Finally, garlic is traditionally used in dishes featuring mushrooms, eggplant, capsicum and legumes such as chickpeas and beans.


Onion is often used raw in salads to add texture and freshness.

It’s also often sautéed, but only over a low flame so that it doesn’t lose its sensory properties.

The sweetness of onion can be used to balance out acidic flavours.

Onion is the hero in risotto and in many pasta sauces, including the classic ragù.

It’s often paired with zucchini, especially when they’re cooked with some milk or cream.

When it comes to legumes, onion goes well with lentils and peas.

It also marries well with asparagus... but not with seafood.

Here are some rules:

  • Only garlic with: broccoli, chickpeas, artichokes, mushrooms, beans, fish, seafood, eggplant, capsicum, pasta all’arrabbiata and pasta with a tomato sauce
  • Only onion with: asparagus, lentils, radicchio, peas, pumpkin, ragù and risotto

What about together?

If you’re not sure whether to use onion or garlic, the question arises: can you use both?

It’s a divisive topic among foodies.

Tastes aside, the answer is yes, especially in sauces, soups or with fish.

You can also sauté them together to add extra flavour to a dish.