We went to Italy recently on vacation and it was wonderful. The sights and scenery were amazing, but so was the food. In fact, I can’t decide which was better…I guess the sights because they were calorie and fat-free!
Other than traditional Italian, there weren’t any other types of restaurants or ethnic foods that we could find. And, they always served everything “a-la-carte” which means, you need to order lots of food! But seriously, they expect you to order a salad or appetizer, then a “first plate” and “second plate” for the main course and then dessert. Once we realized this was WAY too much food, we began ordering one salad, one pasta dish and one pizza or meat dish and just sharing everything.
It was all fresh and delicious…my favorite was a pizza in the little village of Amalfi, with bacon, onions, potatoes and cheese. The crust was soft and tasted like focaccia. The toppings were unexpected, but tasted very good together.
Last night we had some friends from Portland over for dinner. I’ve been wanting to make an Italian Feast for some time now, but just hadn’t had the opportunity. With company coming, it was perfect. Our first course was “Ensalada Mista” which includes bibb lettuce, arugula, radicchio, shredded carrots and tomatoes (the authentic version). I also added green onions, radishes and avocado, just for fun. We served it just like the Italians do, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Next was Pizza Margareta, which includes homemade marinara sauce, fresh basil leaves, buffalo mozzarella (usually packed in water) and parmesan cheese. I made the pizza crust from a CPK (California Pizza Kitchen) recipe, which was good, but not quite like the crust in Italy. I used a pizza stone, which helped to crisp it nicely. However, I must say that pizza cooked in a brick oven is way better! Maybe I’ll have to get one of those. I am still in search of the perfect Italian pizza dough recipe and when I find it, you can be sure that I will post it on this blog! You can get pre-made dough at Trader Joes for only 99 cents which is a great price and convenient when you are in a hurry.
Finally I made a pasta dish that just kind of came together based on what I had on hand. It included homemade sun-dried tomatoes, roasted chicken, shallots, garlic, zucchini, yellow squash and of course, parmesan. Yum! Recipes are below…enjoy making your own Italian Feast!
- 1 pizza dough recipe or pre-made dough from Trader Joes
- Marinara sauce (recipe follows)
- 10-15 fresh basil leaves
- Mozzarella packed in water (super soft)
- Parmesan cheese
Roll out dough to desired size (about a 16″ circle). Allow to rise or rest if recipe specifies. Spread dough with marinara sauce. Place basil leaves and slices of mozzarella evenly around pizza. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place in oven and cook according to dough recipe instructions. Cut and serve-yum!
Quick Marinara Sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a sauce pan, sauté garlic and onion in the olive oil (but not on really high heat…see my post about cooking with oil). Once onions are slightly translucent, add the canned tomatoes. Begin squashing them with a potato masher as they cook. Simmer for about 1/2 hour. Add fresh basil and season to taste. For a smoother sauce, purée in a blender or use a Braun hand mixer.
Creamy Pasta with Chicken and Sun-dried Tomatoes
- 1 lb of any pasta type/shape you like
- shallot, chopped finely
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 yellow squash, chopped
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes*
- Roasted chicken pulled off the bone
- 1 pint of cream or 1 can of evaporated milk (for a lighter option)
- Parmesan cheese
Boil pasta according to package directions. In a frying pan, sauté the garlic and shallot in the olive oil on medium/low heat. Add zucchini, yellow squash and sun-dried tomatoes. Or use whatever veggies you like or that sound good to you! Sauté until squash is cooked. Add roasted chicken and milk or cream. Stir in pasta and some of the pasta water to desired consistency. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Yum!
*These can be rather expensive packed in oil from the store. I happened to have some tomatoes that needed eating up. I simply chopped them in small pieces and laid them out on a jelly roll pan lined with foil and sprayed with Pam. I sprinkled them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Then I baked them at 400 degrees for about 1/2 hour or until they were shriveled up and dried out, then added them right to the pasta.
Note: We made this dish using fettuccini noodles. It may be better with some bow-tie or smaller sized pasta so that the sauce and flavors aren’t lost.