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Menu Inspiration: Easy Weeknight Italian

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Growing up in New Jersey, Italian food was a big part of my life. It seems like no matter where you go in the state, you can throw a stone and hit a pizzeria. In fact, a quick search on Yelp for “pizza” in Newark, NJ, the largest city in the state with a population of 285,154 in 2017 (Wikipedia) brought up over 620 search results for me. By contrast, a search of Flemington, NJ (Wikipedia says it had a population of 4,621 in 2017), the town where I went to high school and location of the famous Lindbergh “Trial of the Century”, still brought up 28 results. I even worked at a few of those pizza places… three, actually, while I was in high school.

To say that I’ve eaten quite a few plates of baked pasta, eggplant rollatini, and other Italian-American pasta classics from many a local pizza joint in my time would be an understatement. And on my mom’s side of the family, home-cooked Italian-American food was in no short supply at our dinner table whenever a larger group of us got together, either. My grandma was famous for her lasagna… but more on that another time.

With my busy work schedule, the time to make some of my favorite Italian dishes at home seems nothing more than a luxury, and not to mention the fact that takeout can get expensive. This menu plan for quick and easy Italian makes things nice and easy during the work week as far as food goes.

Drinks

Since this is supposed to be an easy weeknight meal, keep it simple and choose your favorite wine to drink. I generally prefer to choose to drink what I like rather than conforming to a pairing for what I’m eating—don’t get me wrong, pairings are nice but I generally reserve the effort for special meals. I prefer white wines, and Butter Chardonnay ($14-17 at liquor stores near me) is a favorite of mine.

Appetizer

Bitter Greens Salad with Easy Italian Dressing: supermarkets are starting to carry much better choices of mixed greens salads aside from the typical ones with romaine, spring lettuce, and Iceberg that have been around for years. Shredded broccoli salad with carrots, shredded brussels sprouts with radicchio, and others have been popping up on store shelves as far as I’ve seen. Maybe you’ve seen these, too?

I like to start with the brussels sprouts shredded salad with radicchio for something a little different and mix with some chopped romaine. I add sliced cucumbers and halved grape tomatoes, and sometimes cheese, either Parmesan for a sharp and salty bite or mozzarella for something creamy, before topping with an Italian-style dressing.

Cheesy Garlic Bread: depending on how much time you have, I either go down the route of a “buy it and doctor it up option”, which comes together in 10 minutes or less, or a “make it” option, which is just as easy but takes about a half hour to 40 minutes from start to finish because of the addition of delicious, sweet roasted garlic.

For the “buy it and doctor it up” option, buy garlic Texas Toast and sprinkle each slice with 2 tablespoons shredded Italian cheese blend (I like to use a blend that has Parmesan, Romano, Provolone, and Mozzarella cheese in it), 1/4 teaspoon Italian dried herb seasoning, and black pepper. Broil for a few minutes in an oven or a toaster oven until golden brown and serve.

For the “make it” option, get the recipe for Easy Cheesy Roasted Garlic Bread.

Main Course

Baked Spinach Rotini Alfredo: it’s really, really hard to beat a plate of something that has a metric ton of cheese in it. Ok, maybe not a metric ton… half ton. 😉

This creamy baked pasta with garlic, spinach and—of course—cheese is what I like to call a “pantry raid” recipe, something that, with a well-stocked pantry, any person with basic cooking skills should be able to make in about an hour or under. I also like to add sun dried tomatoes or fresh, halved cherry or grape tomatoes from time to time, too.

Dessert

Easy espresso affogato: I always find that a hot cup of coffee is a nice way to end a meal that’s on the heavier or richer side. In the spirit of keeping it simple on a weeknight, make an affogato with just a few ingredients.

Add a scoop or two of your favorite flavor gelato (Talenti vanilla bean, chocolate hazlenut, or coffee would all be good choices for this) to a sizeable-enough coffee mug or dessert bowl. Pour over one or two shots of hot brewed espresso. Add a dollop of whipped cream (or a squirt from the can—no shame in that as far as I’m concerned), a sprinkle of cocoa powder and a few chocolate covered espresso beans (totally optional but I like them a lot, I know some people who don’t).