Back in October, when the first chill hit the air, my family was excited by brisket, short ribs and roasted chicken. But by the time March rolled around, everyone was sick of the same old winter food.
Because the weather remains raw and cold, hearty dinners are still desirable. But longer, lighter days call for inspiration. I break up winter monotony by serving international menu themes. I’ve prepared Persian, Thai, Austrian and Chinese food. But Italian night is my family’s favorite.
A nice-sized chunk of Parmesan cheese is a prerequisite for Italian dining. For an appetizer, I break it into bite-sized pieces, which I serve with assorted olives and sliced tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and coarse salt.
A true Italian meal isn’t complete without a salad, pasta and plenty of garlic.
Dessert is easy. I finish off the meal with a fruit platter and biscotti. If I don’t have time to bake biscotti, I buy it in a bakery. Espresso or any dark coffee adds a nice touch.
“When are we having Italian night again?” my granddaughter asked.
“Soon,” I said. “What do you like best about it?”
“The ziti,” she said. “And the chocolate chips in biscotti.”
Italian Salad Dressing | Pareve
Yield: ¾ cup of salad dressing
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
- ½ teaspoon dried basil, crushed
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place all of the ingredients in a jar. Screw on the top, and shake the contents until the ingredients are well combined.
This can be served immediately or refrigerated until ready to serve. Bring it to room temperature, and shake again before serving.
Garlic Bread | Dairy
Approximately 15 slices of bread
- 1 loaf of Italian bread (the type that resembles a baguette)
- ¼ pound sweet (unsalted) butter at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Kosher salt to taste
- 2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley, tightly packed, chopped
- Aluminum foil for wrapping
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the bread on a board. With a sharp knife, partially cut the bread into ½-inch slices.
Cut each slice about three-quarters of the way through, leaving the bottom crust intact. Reserve.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients with a fork until well combined. Using a dinner knife, spread the butter mixture on both sides of each slice of bread. Tear off a length of aluminum foil a little longer than the loaf of bread. Wrap the bread in the foil, cinching the ends but keeping the top of the bread exposed.
Place the bread in the oven, and bake it for 15-20 minutes or until the butter is melted, the bread is warmed through and the top crust is a bit crunchy. Remove the foil, and place the bread on a narrow platter. Serve immediately.
Tuna and Tomatoes | Pareve
- 1 pound pasta, such as penne or ziti
- 2 medium-sized onions
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
- 4 thick tuna steaks (about ½ pound each)
- Kosher salt to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 8 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
- 2 teaspoons capers
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons Nicoise black olives
- 2 teaspoons parsley, chopped finely
Start the water for the pasta boiling, and follow the directions on the package for making it. While preparing the pasta, make the tuna.
Peel and slice the onions. In a large pot or wok, heat the oil on a medium-low flame. Place the onion slices in the pot. Sauté, stirring gently, until the onion slices break into rings and caramelize to golden in color.
Sprinkle the tops and bottoms of the tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Move them to the skillet, raise the flame to medium and sear the bottom of each steak. Then flip them over and sear the tops, too.
Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the pot. Spoon in the capers. Sauté until the vegetables wilt and the tomatoes give off some sauce. Add the garlic and olives. Stir until the garlic is fragrant. If the pasta isn’t ready, then remove the tuna pot from the flame.
When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander. Move it to a large pasta bowl. Arrange the tuna around the bowl on top of the pasta. Spoon the tomato sauce from the pot over the tuna and pasta. Sprinkle the parsley over the top, and serve immediately.
Sautéed Escarole | Pareve
- 1 head of escarole
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
- Kosher salt to taste
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
Cut off the remains of the escarole stem, and discard it. Break off the escarole leaves.
Rinse them under cold water. Drain the escarole in a salad spinner or on paper towels. Cut each leave in half horizontally.
In a large pot, heat the oil on a medium flame. In batches, add the escarole leaves to the pot. Sprinkle each batch with a little salt.
Once the escarole starts to wilt, sprinkle in the garlic. Stir until the garlic is well distributed.
When the escarole is wilted but not overcooked, serve immediately.
Linda Morel is a freelance food writer.