Meatless Italian Dinner

A meatless Italian dinner with bread, salad and pasta.

Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons, Bread with Herb Butter and Spaghetti Pomodoro comprise a hearty but meatless weeknight dinner.

As the weather warms up, sometimes you want filling, lighter fare served without a meat entrée. This quick, simple dinner pairs an authentic red sauce with pasta, soft flavorful bread and an easy salad with homemade croutons. Of course, if your family is comprised of die-hard carnivores, you can always add ground Italian sausage, ground beef or poultry to your pasta sauce for additional protein.

Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons

The secret to a cold, crisp salad is found in the preparation of your greens. Wash the lettuce in a water bath, drain and repeat until water is clear. Then spin dry the lettuce leaves in a salad spinner (like the ones made by Oxo and IKEA) or lay them on a clean towel, then layered with a paper towel and another layer of lettuce. Roll and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

PREP: 15 minutes or more
COOK: 3 minutes

INGREDIENTS
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 cups fresh bread cubes, cut 3/4-inch square
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce, blemished or wilted out leaves removed, cleaned and prepare as instructed above, then cut into 1-inch strips (about 6 cups)
  • 2 large eggs, soft-cooked for 3 minutes in boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Anchovies (optional)
DIRECTIONS
  1. Infuse 1/2 cup of the olive oil with the garlic by placing both in a small bowl. Set aside for a minimum of 15 minutes. (For best flavor, do this the night before.)
  2. When ready to cook, heat the garlic oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and cook, stirring, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towel and toss with 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and cracked pepper.
  3. Place cold lettuce in a salad bowl. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over the lettuce. Add the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and toss well. The soft-cooked eggs will break apart and combine with the lemon juice to coat the salad with creamy dressing. Add Parmesan cheese and toasted croutons, toss again, and top with pepper. Top with anchovies, if desired, and serve immediately.

YIELDS: 4 – 6 servings

Bread with Herb Butter

The great thing about this recipe is that it creates enough bread for two meals. I assemble both loaves simultaneously, put one in the oven for dinner and put the second loaf in the freezer for another night. If you have leftover herb butter, seal it in an airtight plastic container in the refrigerator where it may be kept for up to three days, or wrap it in waxed paper and freeze it for up to three months.

PREP: 5 minutes
BAKE: 15 to 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • A few tablespoons fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • A few tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 baguette
DIRECTIONS
  1. Combine butter, parsley and oregano to make the herb butter. Make a slit in the baguette 3/4 of the way through, making sure not to cut all the way through.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Wrap the baguette in aluminum foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

YIELDS: 6 servings

Spaghetti Pomodoro

This recipe has become our family’s go-to sauce. It is simple and quick to prepare and has marvelous flavor. It may be served with pasta, pizza or your favorite bread sticks.

PREP: 5 minutes
COOK: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, lightly pulsed in a blender
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Small pinch of sugar
  • 1 spring fresh basil
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Place the olive oil and garlic in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat the garlic with oil and heat until garlic sizzles but doesn’t brown, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and stir. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper and sugar and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Cook for 25 minutes. Add the basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove basil before serving.
  3. Meanwhile, 10 minutes before the sauce is done, generously salt the boiling water. Add the pasta and cook until tender but slightly firm. Set the timer for 2 minutes less than package instructions. Taste for doneness. Pasta should be slightly al dente (firm, but not too hard). Drain the pasta. Place 1/2 cup of sauce in bottom of a serving bowl, then top with pasta. Using tongs, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat. Add additional sauce to each serving as desired, then top with Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper.

YIELDS: 4 to 6 servings

© 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment.

Hoppin’ John

Growing up in the South, I frequently discovered marvelous one-pot dinners made with easy-to-find ingredients. For many families, both money and groceries are oftentimes in short supply, and out of necessity cooks learned to make due with what they had on hand. Dishes like gumbo, etouffee and dirty rice utilize simple items including rice, legumes, vegetables and bits of meat or fish. Many of these dishes remain favorites to this day. With Hoppin’ John, the earthy flavor of black-eyed peas combined with bits of salted pork and a dash of spice create a mouth-watering treat that satisfy the biggest appetites with minimal cost.

Hoppin' John

Pork and black-eyed peas come together to create Hoppin' John, a spicy Southern staple.

PREP: 10 minutes
COOK: 48 minutes
STAND: 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS
1-1/3 cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups water
1 pound diced ham
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup instant rice, uncooked
3 scallions, chopped

  1. In a large Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon. Set aside.
  2. Add onion to drippings; cook 5 minutes or until tender.
  3. Stir in black-eyed peas, bacon, water, ham, cayenne and black pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 35 minutes.
  4. Return to boiling. Stir in rice and remove from heat. Let mixture stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in scallions before serving.

TIP: Although this dish can be served alone, the meal can be rounded out with hot skillet cornbread and a mess ‘o greens.

YIELDS: 8 servings.

© 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment.