Italian food often gives your family a sense of homeyness and comfort with its warm pastas, rich sauces and steaming vegetables. The variety of Italian foods also means you can usually find something even picky eaters will try. Choose whole-grain pastas as the base for your Italian meals to add nutrients to your cooking.
Always wait for the water to boil before adding pasta to the pot. This helps prevent overcooking, and stops noodles from getting sticky or developing a mushy texture if added to the water too soon. Use a small amount of olive oil to your pasta water. Boil dried pasta for six to eight minutes, then drain it immediately. If you use fresh pasta that hasn't yet dried, cook only three to five minutes before draining. For stuffed pastas, a general guideline is to cook until they float, but very fresh ravioli and tortellini may float instantly, so use the same guidelines as for other pasta.
Lightly saute fresh vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes and leafy greens in olive oil with a small amount of salt. For a classic countryside Italian meal, serve these veggies over pasta with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese and no sauce at all. For protein, add pine nuts or crushed almonds, which are popular in some Sicilian dishes. You can also combine these vegetables with any Italian sauce.
Red tomato sauces tend to be the most popular with kids. You can use jarred sauces or make your own -- or create a mix by using a prepared sauce as a base and adding your own spices. In general, oregano, basil and parsley are the primary seasonings to use for red sauces. If you want to make sauce from scratch with canned tomato paste, add a spoonful of brown sugar to cut the natural acidity of the tomatoes. Add ground meat such as lean beef, turkey or chicken to your red sauce to create a hearty Bolognese-style sauce.
If your family doesn't balk at the sight of green foods, making your own pesto sauces can create tasty, colorful meals. Basic pesto is a blend of olive oil, basil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. There’s no need to cook; just blend the ingredients in a food processor and adjust to your taste. Substitute other greens for part of the basil, for example arugula or spinach, for a thick, hearty, flavorful pesto with a slightly different flavor. Pesto isn't just for pastas. You can add Italian flair to sandwiches or salads by using pesto as a spread or dressing.
The classic ingredients in Italian meals include tomatoes, basil, onion, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, with pasta or some other form of starch. Other traditional ingredients include garbanzo beans, lemon juice, salami or other cured meats, and fresh vegetables like spinach, asparagus and summer squash. If you start with a combination of these as your base, you can create meals with the flavors of Italy, whether you want salads, pastas, soups or other dishes. Italian cooking also uses wine extensively, but you can eliminate it or substitute water or juice if you are not comfortable serving your family dishes that contain residual alcohol.
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