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Easy-to-make Italian meals

  • Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Family Features – In an effort to squeeze in valuable time together, more families are zooming past the drive-thru and heading home to the table for simpler, satisfying and more wholesome dinners.

Busy schedules can make dinnertime a challenge for many families. With sports practices, dance rehearsals and after-school activities galore, many parents are doing well by just getting their little ones to the right place at the right time. These days, with so much time spent outside of the home, the time spent around the dinner table is priceless.

Bring everyone together with an Italian feast

With its savory blend of cheeses, sweet garlic and rich sauces, it’s hard to deny the delicious flavors of Italian cuisine. By combining a few simple, scrumptious elements, you’ll find it’s quite easy to bring the taste of Italy into your own home. Gather the family together with the many flavorful options available at your local grocery store, such as Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods, which offers prepared Italian meals boasting homemade flavor without the fuss.

Here are a few authentic Italian meal ideas to incorporate into your next weeknight routine, so you can deliver a dinner that satisfies every family member.

Serve up a salad

A crispy, crunchy salad is the perfect starter for an Italian meal and can be tossed together in a matter of minutes. For a simple take on salad, just combine fresh greens – such as chopped romaine hearts – thinly sliced red onions and croutons. To add more flavor and texture, throw in fresh mozzarella, chopped radicchio, cherry tomatoes and pepperoncini. Don’t forget to finish with a generous splash of savory Italian dressing.

Fuss-free entrees

There’s nothing more comforting than a warm dish of flavorful pasta at the end of a long day. When such flavorful dishes can be created with the touch of a button, everyone wins. Serve up the delicious combination of vine-ripened tomatoes, sautéed onions, 100 percent semolina lasagna pasta, ground beef and premium cheeses in Michael Angelo’s Meat Lasagna. Or, try their Eggplant Parmesan, made with farm-fresh eggplant, imported olive oil, Italian spices and a blend of imported Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses.

Warm, garlic goodness

A plate of hearty, wholesome Italian food would not be complete without a side of fragrant, warm garlic bread. Heat up an easy, pre-made variety in the oven, or make your own by simply topping your favorite variety of sliced bread with butter, garlic, Parmesan cheese and oregano.

Fill your kitchen with ingredients and products that allow you to fix easy meals that bring the whole family together. They’re the perfect dinnertime solution for busy parents who want to serve a wholesome, better-for-you meal to their family, but don’t always have the time or skills to cook from scratch.

For more information and meal ideas, visit www.michaelangelos.com.

Creating flavor memories

Flavor is a universal language. It’s the common thread in family celebrations, friendly get-togethers and cultural gatherings around the world. It connects us across generations and geography and has the power to unite and define us.

Growing up in an Italian household, Chef Donatella Arpaia can attest to the power of flavor. For her, flavor memories stem from her Italian family’s traditional Sunday dinners.

“One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching my mom in her robe with a wooden spoon getting ready to make her meatballs and Sunday ragu. What I learned at a young age is that in order to develop flavor, you can’t take short cuts; you have to be patient,” said Donatella, now an acclaimed chef and judge on “Iron Chef America.” “Sunday dinners are a tradition that I can’t wait to pass down to my son – to teach him not just the recipe for slow-braised ragu and meatballs, but the recipe for bringing the family together.”

Donatella’s passion for flavor is part of the reason she’s partnering with McCormick to celebrate their 125th anniversary. The company’s Flavor of Together program seeks to ignite a global conversation asking people across the world to share their flavor story. For every story shared on McCormick’s brand websites or social channels, McCormick will donate $1, up to $1.25 million, to United Way to help feed those in need.

“As one of McCormick’s 125 culinary ambassadors I’m excited to be sharing my family memories for a good cause,” said Arpaia. “We all have a unique story to share. Through Flavor of Together, people will have the opportunity to combine their love for food and flavor with giving back to those in need while inspiring a global conversation.”

Get a taste of Donatella’s mouthwatering slow-braised ragu and meatballs by trying it out for yourself with the recipe below. To read Donatella’s full flavor story and share your own, visit FlavorofTogether.com.

Slow-Braised Ragu and Meatballs

Makes 8 – 10 servings

Ragu ingredients

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

McCormick salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ lbs (6-8) meaty, bone-in-pork spareribs, rinsed

1 ½ lbs (6-8) sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, pierced all over with a fork

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 cup red wine

3 (35 oz.) cans tomato puree

1 handful fresh basil leaves

Ragu instructions

Warm olive oil in a large, heavy-bottom pan over medium heat.

Add celery and onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, partially covered about 5 minutes until golden and soft.

Add meats and raise the heat to medium-high. Sauté, turning occasionally until browned all over.

Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, 5 minutes.

Add tomato puree, basil, salt and pepper. Partially cover, bring to a boil, and reduce heat. Let it simmer 1 ½-2 hours.

For an extra kick of added flavor, sprinkle McCormick’s Italian Seasoning into the sauce.

Meatball Ingredients

1 small loaf stale Italian bread (about 8 thick slices) torn into 2 1/2” chunks

2 lbs. 80% lean ground beef chuck, broken up

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

McCormick salt & freshly ground black pepper

canola oil for frying

Meatball instructions:

Put bread in a bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Let stand for 5 minutes, turning to moisten evenly. Gently squeeze out excess water.

Add beef, garlic, parsley, egg and ¾ cup of Parmigiano to the bread and combine. Season with Salt and pepper. Knead the mixture for at least 5 minutes with your hands, until uniformly combined and smooth.

Pinch a tablespoon of meat into your palms and shape into a ball. Place on a baking sheet and continue with the rest of the mixture.

Fill a 10” skillet halfway with canola oil and heat over high heat. When strands form along the bottom, lower 8-10 meatballs at a time into the oil. Do not overcrowd. They should be 3/4 of the way submerged in oil. Reduce the heat to medium and fry for 6-7 minutes each side, turning only once.

Remove the meatballs from the oil and turn the heat back up to high before starting the second batch.

20 minutes before serving, add the meatballs to the simmering ragu.

Chef tip: The best bread for this is the super market Italian bread that comes in a white paper bag. Choose a regular (not semolina) unseeded loaf. If the bread is very fresh, remove the crust and dry for 30 minutes in a 200°F oven.

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