(Family Features) While activities and events seem to rule most people’s schedules, time spent sharing a home-cooked meal is an important way to keep up with loved ones.
Busy calendars may pull families in different directions during the day, but making time to come together over dinner can help keep everyone connected. Exploring cuisines from around the world can make for delicious mealtimes, but it can also be time-consuming. However, there still are ways to serve up quality, satisfying, Italian-inspired dishes made with wholesome ingredients without spending hours over a hot stove.
Whether you fancy yourself a wunderkind of all things Italian or are a novice in the kitchen, you can make your family meals memorable with these tips from Chef Stjepan Kadic of Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods.
Rely on fresh ingredients. Garden-fresh veggies are perfect for savory sauces and lighter dishes, too. The flavors of a classic Italian tomato sauce are created best with tomatoes fresh out of the garden. A sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes crushed with peels provides lycopene for added health benefits and pectin for natural thickening.
Pay attention to the pasta. Quality pasta is the foundation of many favorite Italian dishes. For example, Michael Angelo’s Three Cheese Baked Ziti relies on a simple two-ingredient pasta (grade A semolina and water). The special extrusion process through bronze inserts and a low and slow drying process create a one-of-a-kind, robust bronze-cut pasta with rough texture that, when cooked al dente, enables the pasta to stick to the sauce. The ziti pasta is smothered in a delicate cream sauce with a hint of garlic, Parmesan and white wine, topped with mozzarella and Romano.
Experiment with cheeses. Mozzarella and Parmesan are two of the more popular Italian cheeses, but there are plenty of other options to create classic Italian flavors and textures. One choice to consider is traditional Italian-style whole milk ricotta cheese. Typically, artisan-made with just three simple ingredients (milk, vinegar and salt), it has a creamy texture that’s just right for both savory meals and desserts. Lasagna is a popular dish featuring ricotta; a recipe like lasagna with meat sauce features layers of homestyle meat sauce and creamy ricotta cheese smothered between layers of pasta then topped with mozzarella cheese can be a fan-favorite for gatherings – small and large.
Grow your own herbs. A healthy garden is even better when you add herbs to pair with the bounty of veggies you have grown. Herbs are a natural way to infuse flavors and even layer different kinds of flavors in a single dish. When it comes to Italian cooking, basil is one of the basics. Adding fresh basil to a sauce and letting it seep in delivers a traditional elevated flavor commonly found in many favorite Italian dishes.
Elevate meals with good spirits. If you’re entertaining or simply want to step up your menu, make an easy upgrade by adding vodka. The alcohol evaporates when heated, leaving behind a hint of sharp flavor that complements the other ingredients. One popular preparation is a blend of tomato sauce, cream, Calabrese peppers and vodka over pasta, often penne rigate.
Introduce kids to new flavors. The familiar taste of Italian sauces and rich, creamy cheese can provide a non-threatening context for trying new dishes. A classic Italian dish like Michael Angelo’s Eggplant Parmigiana features freshly sliced eggplant that is lightly breaded then smothered in vine-ripened tomato sauce and three cheeses. The dish is available in family and large family portions so you can quickly prepare and serve a family meal with next to no preparation time.
If you’re looking to dish up an authentic Italian feast tonight, visit michaelangelos.com for more tips and a store locator.