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Italian food, made simple: Recipes for 4 Italian basics

Easy Italian food

Italian food is one of the most popular types of cuisine in the US. Here are four great recipes to help you make the Italian staples we all love: garlic bread, marinara sauce, pasta bake and meatballs.

Spaghetti and meatballs

Pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, lasagna -- what's not to like? But getting that authentic flavor can be a challenge for many home cooks. Too much oregano and that marinara sauce bypasses Italy and ends up in the garbage. Try these recipes -- and these 6 tips -- to make meals your family will adore.

1

No big hoopla

Great Italian food doesn't rely on a lot of hoopla to make a big impression. Part of why Italian food is so loved is the simple genius of each dish -- that's why buying the best ingredients is so important.

2

Helpful hints

Great Italian food starts with basic, high-quality ingredients. Fresh meats and imported cheese make for the best meal possible.

3

Fresh herbs are your friends

It might cost a little more to buy fresh basil instead of using dried, but the flavorful result is well worth the added cost.

4

Beware the canister cheese

Any cheese you buy on a shelf and not in your supermarket's deli or cheese shop does not deserve to share space with your wonderful Italian dishes.

5

Develop your green thumb

If you really want to get serious about cooking superb Italian food, there's no better way to go about it than to plant your own garden. Freshly-picked basil and tomatoes taste so good, you almost cry. Eggplant from the garden makes the world's best eggplant Parmesan.

6

Keep it simple, sister

The secret to superb Italian food is simplicity -- it's easy to make, and even easier to love. The following basic recipes are simple, fast, and maybe even better than your local Italian restaurant.

So, the next time you feel like eating Italian, don't go out -- stay in! With these recipes, you'll have your family shouting "Bravo!" by the end of the meal.

Mangia!


Garlic Bread

This garlic bread is sure to please everyone at the table.

Ingredients:
1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pepper to taste

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut bread in half, length- wise. Place bread on top rack of oven, crust-side down. Bake for five minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the garlic and olive oil, mashing the garlic with a spoon to release flavor. Add the remaining ingredients; mix well. Spread the mixture on each half of the bread. Put the loaf back together, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake for 7 minutes. Unwrap the garlic bread, and place each half, crust-side down, under the broiler. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bubbling. Let cool on a cutting board, slice, and enjoy. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Buying already-grated cheese and bottled minced garlic speed up the process and, in this case, don't sacrifice flavor.


Quick Marinara Sauce

An easy recipe to master. You can add different herbs and spices to personalize the flavor.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can ground peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Sugar to taste (optional)

Directions:
In large frying pan, combine olive oil and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for five minutes, or until oil starts to bubble around edges of garlic. Add whole tomatoes, and turn heat up to high. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tomatoes cook down and smell sweet. Add crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper; mix well. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes. Reduce sauce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. If sauce tastes too acidic, gradually add sugar, starting with 1/2 teaspoon. Makes 4 servings -- enough for 1 pound of pasta.

Variation: To make a spicy sauce that goes perfectly with Italian sausage, add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.


Pasta Bake

A perfect companion for garlic bread, this dish is a lot more interesting than plain spaghetti and meatballs.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound pasta (preferably ziti or penne)
Quick Marinara Sauce
1/2 cup Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese, divided

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. In large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Test pasta by biting a piece -- it should be almost fully cooked but not quite there (pasta will finish cooking in the oven). If pasta is still too hard, cook for another minute and test again. When pasta is ready, remove 3/4 cup of the pasta water, and add to the Quick Marinara Sauce.

Drain pasta, but do not rinse. Return pasta to the pot. Add about 1/4 cup of sauce to the pasta; mix well. Spoon some sauce into the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish. Add a layer of pasta, then more sauce. Sprinkle a layer of Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese, reserving 1 cup of Mozzarella for the top layer. Continue the layering process until all the ingredients are used. Sprinkle the second cup of Mozzarella cheese over the top of the casserole. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, or until top is melted and bubbling. Makes 4 servings.

Note: For a hearty change, add leftover chicken or crumbled sausage to the dish.


Meatballs

Basic, basic, basic. And so good. These are great plucked from the pan into your mouth. No pasta needed!

Ingredients:
4 slices white bread
1 cup milk
2 pounds ground beef
2 tablespoons onion, finely minced (about 1/2 small onion)
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs (preferably unseasoned)
Oil for greasing pan

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. In small bowl, soak bread in milk. In large bowl, add beef, onion, egg, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Combine with clean hands (you may want to take off your rings). With your hand, mash the milk-soaked bread in its bowl until bread breaks down and is soupy. Add milk and bread to meat; combine with hands. Add bread crumbs, and combine well. You're now ready to form the meatballs.

Make golf-ball-sized meatballs by rolling them in the palms of your hands. Arrange meatballs on a lightly-greased, rimmed baking sheet. You can crowd them if you want. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are browned and slightly crispy and centers are no longer pink. Makes about 3 dozen meatballs.


More Italian recipes

 

Postcards from Italy - see more features about Italy here!

>> Get our favorite Italian recipes, travel tips, decor, style & more!

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