Thanks to the talented home chefs I’ve known throughout my life–including my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and mother-in-law–I have an appreciation of food that allows me to enjoy familiar dishes, as well as be open to trying new ones. For example, while I enjoy eating dishes that are reflective of my own family and culture, I also like to eat dishes that are popular in, or that originated in, other cultures and countries.
If you’ve ever read my “About Me” page, you may remember that I’m a big fan of Mexican dishes. However, if you conduct a search on this site for food, you’ll notice that I like a wide variety of cuisines and dishes. And, my family had a chance to enjoy one of our favorite cuisines in the very country in which it originated when we visited Italy.
We dined at some wonderful Italian restaurants when we went to Rome in 2018, such as Tre Archi, a cozy restaurant that we walked to from our hotel near the Roma Termini train station. (It was a quite a walk, but well worth it.) We’ve also found a few restaurants in the Chicagoland area like The Village in downtown Chicago that we visit when we’re craving yummy Italian food. However, I like being able to make a variety of dishes at home in case family schedules, the family budget, the weather, or something else (such as a nationwide pandemic) ever makes dining out together challenging. And, I encourage you to do the same thing.
Need help developing your collection of easy Italian recipes? If so, check out the below recipe suggestions. Hopefully, you’ll discover at least one you’d like to make soon for your family. (Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which will allow me to earn income from qualifying purchases that will help support this site.)
The first suggestion is a simple, but delicious, pasta dish containing spaghetti and mushrooms that I enjoyed during our trip to Italy. So, what would you need to make it for a family of four to six people? For starters, you’d need about a pound of spaghetti. If that sounds like a lot for your family, that’s okay. You can eat the leftover pasta the next day.
If you or someone in your family has a gluten sensitivity, try Ancient Harvest’s gluten-free spaghetti. None of us have a diagnosed sensitivity; we buy it because we like the way it tastes. We’ve also bought Whole Foods’ organic spaghetti. So, if gluten isn’t problematic for anyone, consider buying that one. After the pasta is cooked in a deep pot, you should take about two cups of your favorite mushrooms and slice them. Then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and add the sliced mushrooms along with 3 tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley leaves.
While the mushrooms are heating up, drain and plate the pasta. Once the mushrooms are ready, spoon a generous amount of them on top of each plate of pasta. Have on hand approximately 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese, as well as salt and pepper, for anyone who wants to add even more flavor to this comforting dish. And, that’s it!
If someone in your family can’t eat mushrooms, a classic spaghetti and meatball dish could be made instead. For my version of this popular dish, about 12 ounces of spaghetti should be enough since you’ll also add to it a bag of frozen turkey or beef meatballs.
If you’re in the habit of sneaking vegetables into your family’s meals, consider using a chunky red pasta sauce with vegetables for added nutrients. You’ll need one or two 24-ounce jars of sauce, depending upon how much sauce you tend to use in pasta dishes. And, if you like fresh herbs, buy a small package of basil leaves.
To make this pasta dish, you should boil the pasta in a large, deep pot first. While it is cooking, microwave the meatballs according to the package’s directions. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and transfer it to a deep skillet. Add the meatballs to the skillet and cover the pasta and meatballs with the sauce and cook over medium heat until the sauce is heated through. Chop a few basil leaves and sprinkle them on top of the pasta just before it is plated to add even more flavor and color. You can also add a bit of salt to taste if you want to.
Spaghetti served with a plain marinara sauce can also be quite filling and satisfying. I actually use a plain sauce quite a bit and the sauce that I’ve used the most this year is Rao’s Homemade Sensitive Sauce since my youngest daughter has been avoiding eating onions and garlic and this sauce doesn’t contain either ingredient. By the way, to add a little more flavor or texture to a pasta dish made with a plain sauce, you can top it with a few spoonfuls of shredded mozzarella. And, if anyone in your family is allergic to cow’s cheese, look for Violife’s Just Like Mozzarella Shreds, a soy-free vegan cheese that we use in different recipes.
The final pasta dish I’d like to highlight is cacio e pepe which simply means cheese and pepper in Italian. Traditionally made with black peppercorns, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and spaghetti or another long, thin pasta, it is one of my husband’s favorite dishes. And, it was the anchor of one of his favorite meals during our time in Rome. While the dish that he ordered in Rome contained a couple of additional ingredients, more traditional versions reportedly only contain the three that I mentioned above. So, that’s all you’ll need for it.
I haven’t actually tried to make this dish at home yet since we’ve found it at one of the restaurants we like and have ordered it for pick up a couple of times. However, one of my culinary goals for the new year is to add this dish to my recipe repertoire. And, when I’m ready to make it, I’ll probably follow the tips provided by the creator of Another Cooking Show. His cacio e pepe recipe is simple and seems to be very authentic. Consider checking it out if you decide to make this popular pasta dish, too.
While we ate a lot of pasta while we were in Rome, we also ate pizza a few times. And, I think my favorite one during that trip was the pizza in the below slideshow that has cheese, olives and capers on it. My oldest daughter also ordered a cheese pizza at that same meal. But, she chose to have mushrooms added to hers. (Tap or swipe to see hers.) Both were delicious and were simple enough they could be duplicated at home.
All you’d need is enough pizza crust for everyone who’ll be eating that meal. You could either use personal size crusts or buy larger crusts for pizzas that will be shared by a few people. Lately, my daughters have been using Cappello’s Grain Free Naked Pizza Crust when they make pizzas for our family. It’s a gluten-free paleo-certified crust made with almond flour that serves as the perfect base for our pizza creations.
However, instead of using a traditional pizza sauce, they like to use the Rao’s Homemade Sensitive Sauce that I mentioned above since, as with the pasta sauces, pizza sauces typically have onion or garlic or both. If you don’t have a sensitivity to either of those ingredients, consider buying a traditional pizza sauce like Enrico’s Pizza Sauce. We’ve used it many times in the past and it’s flavor is delicious. The Violife’s Just Like Mozzarella Shreds that I mentioned above also taste great on pizzas. The girls spread out the sauce on the pizza crusts and then sprinkle on the cheese. They typically use half a bag of that cheese on one Capello’s pizza crust and the whole bag if they’re making two pizzas. They bake their pizzas at 425 degrees for about 18 to 20 minutes, depending upon the toppings that they use.
Speaking of toppings, since we tend to like different ones, we’ll sometimes have pizzas that have one ingredient on the left side and a different one on the right side. Some of our favorite toppings are Miyoko’s fresh vegan mozzarella cheese (crumbled), Trader Joe’s sweet Italian style chicken sausage (sliced), and fresh spinach. You could also use such ingredients as leftover chicken cut into bite-sized pieces, sliced or chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, olives or capers, among others. Homemade pizza night is also a perfect time to use the dried oregano or Italian seasoning that’s in your seasoning collection.
So, the next time you’re making your family’s grocery list, be sure to include ingredients for one or more of the above dishes. Since all of them require only a few ingredients, the dishes may become go-to recipes for you as you prepare to cook for your family this season and long after the next one has begun.