Easy, Fresh, Italian! 3 great recipes for spring…

When Americans envision Italian cooking, it is heavy with the tomato sauce we have all grown to love. But this is not a truly accurate picture, for the tomato is a relatively new addition to Italian cuisine. In fact, the tomato didn’t come on the Italian scene until the late 1500’s and up until the late 1600’s was thought to be poisonous and not used in food. This diversity gives us some wonderful dishes of Italy to use in our warm weather, spring and summer meal planning.

The first thing you will notice in these recipes is the emphasis on fresh produce. In Italy, the majority of the cooking is done by the women of the household. What turns up on the menu is commonly influenced by what is available and freshest at the local daily market. This is influenced by the region of the country the shopper is located in – much like the regional differences we see in American cooking.

Classic Minestrone
Many of the foods we enjoy today come from old recipes that were made by the working class to poor people. One commonly loved recipe is  for Minestrone soup. It is a very humble dish and was intended for everyday consumption, being filling and cheap. A few “American shortcuts” are included for your convenience.

4 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
¼ c chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cans (14½ ounces each) beef broth
3 c V-8â„¢ juice
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans , drained
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
½ c uncooked elbow macaroni
1 Tbsp fresh basil or teaspoon dried basil
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

In a Dutch oven, cook the carrots, zucchini, onion and garlic in oil, until onion is tender. Add the broth, V8 juice, kidney and garbanzo beans, tomatoes, macaroni and basil. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in parsley. Simmer 5 minutes longer or until macaroni is tender.
Serves 6 – 8

Spaghetti Carbonara
This is a recipe from the Northern section of Italy. You can see the French influence in the ingredients used. Silky with egg and melted cheese, freshened with parsley, and spiked with black pepper, spaghetti carbonara brings intense flavors into balance. This pasta dish is also loved for its short cooking time, making it the ultimate weeknight supper solution.

3 eggs*
¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ c Romano cheese, grated
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
1 lb pancetta (bacon may be used)
1 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb spaghetti

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. While that is cooking, cut the pancetta into cubes and brown in skillet. Add garlic and turn off the heat; garlic will finish cooking from remaining pan heat.
Blend together eggs, Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley and set aside. Drain spaghetti and toss back into cooking pan over very low heat. Drizzle hot pasta with egg mixture while stirring constantly. Toss in pancetta and garlic. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Sprinkle with more grated cheese if desired. Serves 6-8
*NOTE: If you are concerned about eggs, use ½ c. pasteurized egg substitute.

Orange Granita
Most Italian desserts that are enjoyed in the home are simple and fruit based. This is a simple, fun, fresh dessert. The children will love helping flake the ice into its crystal consistency. Top with some fresh berries for an additional flavor explosion.

3 c orange juice (lime, lemon, other fruit juices can be used)
½ c sugar
1 c water
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. Stir in the orange juice and lemon juice and pour into a chilled 9×13 glass baking dish. Place in the freezer and freeze, scraping and stirring with a fork every 30 minutes until the mixture is firm. Serves 4

Enjoy the fresh flavors of Italy this spring!

About Dori Fritzinger

I live and work with my multi-generational family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. We have a farm of cows and calves, wool sheep, dairy goats, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, honey bees, a horse and a donkey. We have a goat's milk soap and bath products line available on our farm web site. I enjoy reading, quilting and doing embroidery.