Italian Recipes for Cooking Light, Everyday Foods

Try these simple Italian recipes for cooking light, everyday foods including white lasagna, a delicious eggplant sandwich, tomato and mozzarella salad and a unique connoli recipe.

| February/March 1998

I keep having this wonderful dream in which I've been transported to Italy, roaming the countryside and eating to my heart's content. Then I awake to a reality breakfast of oatmeal and tea. I remember when my husband and I really were transported to Florence, Rome, and beyond to eat, sight-see, and eat once again. Not only were the surroundings beautiful but the food was the best I've ever tasted. I loved the homemade mozzarella balls in our salads, handmade pasta, a zillion flavors of gelato, and eggplant sandwiches. It seemed that every espresso stand or fast food counter had eggplant sandwiches — Italy's answer to our bagels. It usually consisted of two slices of sauteed eggplant on some delicious Italian bread, sometimes with a slice of mozzarella or tomato. I loved this vegetarian snack so, needless to say, I ate quite a few. After the eggplant sandwiches and gelato sampling, I had little room left for a two or three course dinner. I was forced to quit after the pasta course while my husband moved on to the veal.

Americans are usually too busy for several courses, so when it comes to Italian food, it's either pasta or meat. In Italy, the meat dish was almost secondary in comparison to the rest of the meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture "Food Pyramid" and the "Mediterranean Diet" illustrate that we should go easy on the meat and dairy and emphasize instead grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables. Many of us grew up believing that Italian food should be smothered with cheese and sauce when in fact, Italian cooking varies depending on the region. Italian cooking need be neither heavy nor labor intensive. Don't worry, there's no need to throw out your favorite lasagna recipe; use less cheese and more vegetables. "Mangia!"

Here's an easy chicken recipe that can be on the table in 30 minutes or prepared ahead and reheated. Serve over pasta, orzo, or risotto.

Chicken With Tomatoes and Artichokes Recipe

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 to 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 3 ounces each
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 eight-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted (I used Bird's eye)
1 fourteen-and-a-half or fifteen ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped. liquid saved
1/4 cup each: chicken broth, tomato liquid, fresh squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces spaghettini*
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste 

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium- high heat.
2. Saute the chicken breasts for about three minutes per side until browned, reducing heat if they start to bum.
3. Stir in the onions and garlic; saute until wilted.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients except the spaghettini, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the chicken is done in the center.
5. Boil the water for the pasta. Boil the pasta for about 4 minutes until just tender (al dente).
6. Drain thoroughly and toss in a large bowl with the oil, parsley, and seasonings.
7. Put pasta onto plates, then spoon the chicken and sauce over the top.
Serves 4. 

*Spaghettini: thinner than spaghetti but not as thin as angel hair or capellini.

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