March 5, 2018
While almost every culture has some kind of regional or cultural version of pasta, usually an unleavened and boiled dough, Italy can lay claim to starting the trend.
Simple Ingredients, Great Potential
At its heart, pasta is very simple; it’s flour, water and eggs, but when pulled into angel hair noodles, pushed into penne, or rolled into lasagna sheets and dressed in a variety of sauces and toppings, pasta takes on a life of it’s own.
Pasta has been around a long time, and its origins are difficult to trace. Some versions of history have the Italians being inspired by early Chinese noodles, while others suggest Venetian adventurer and bon vivant Marco Polo brought noodles directly from the east to Italy.
Either way, Italians refined their version of noodles, preferring durham wheat’s high gluten content when crafting pasta dough. Durham wheat pasta also dries particularly well, a fact we take advantage of to this day when we pick up a package of dried pasta from a grocery store shelf.
Italy… Meet the Tomato
What’s pasta without tomato sauce? Turns out tomatoes are anything but Italian. These ruby fruits were brought to Italy from the new world in about 1500 after being discovered in Peru and brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadores. Italian chefs quickly realized these sweet and rich fruits produced a thick and flavourful sauce that was ideal on pasta.
Today, pasta is a staple of Canadian diets, and everyone has their favourites. Whether it’s macaroni covered in a rich and creamy cheese sauce, or spaghetti with tomato and meatballs, most households enjoy pasta night.
Eat Like an Italian
A typical Italian dinner is more than just pasta. Italians like to start with an appetizer or antipasti. Think olives, cured meats and cheeses, or even a simple preparation of salad, like Caprese.
After that, there’s a first course served. That’s often a pasta, risotto, or gnocchi. A second course of meat or fish is followed by a dolce or sweet dessert course.
For a fun take on your next at-home pasta night, plan a traditional four course Italian meal. Instead of serving a big plate of pasta, plan several smaller courses.
Pick up a variety of mixed olives from the Co-op olive bar, then select a variety of sliced salami and Italian-style ham from the deli counter. Round out your antipasto course with some Italian cheeses like provolone, gorgonzola and pecorino.
Another traditional and delicious starter is a simple salad of Roma tomatoes, bocconcini or buffalo mozzarella cheese and fresh shredded basil with a light dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Caprese salad is easy to prep in advance and dress when your guests sit down.
Another way to serve it is to use small grape tomatoes, slices of bocconcini, and basil leaves and create small Caprese skewers on toothpicks that guests can eat standing up, all in one bite. It’s a tasty and healthy starter.
Plan Your Primo
While your guests nibble at their antipasto, prep a small pasta course. Linguine and clams is a light way to start the meal, or go for a simple carbonara with fresh eggs and cheese. Keep this serving size to about half a cup so your guests have room for the secondi, or second course.
Gluten-free/Gluten-friendly Options: Rice or Gnocchi
Of course, if you have gluten-sensitive family members or friends, you can also mix up a creamy rice risotto or fluffy potato gnocchi. Little gnocchi pillows can be handmade or you can pick up a package of ready-made ones at Co-op.
Serve Your Secondi
Traditionally, second courses in Italy consider of a cooked meat or fish. Roast chicken with lemon and garlic is a light meat option, as is sliced veal, and both are easy to find in the Co-op meat counter.
If you want to make things easy, Spolumbo’s now offers ready made Italian meatballs in the meat department, which you can bake and serve with a rustic tomato sauce.
Don’t Forget the Bread!
No Italian dinner is complete without fresh bread to sop up all that delicious sauce, and Co-op carries a variety of styles of bread, from Pane Bianco to fluffy, soft ciabatta. Take a look at what’s fresh from the oven in the bakery department.
La Dolce Vita!
Round out your Taste of Italy dinner with a sweet treat. Making a traditional tiramisu is actually quite easy. One of the key ingredients is robust Italian coffee, and Co-op has strong Lavazza coffee which you can use to soak your ladyfinger biscuits. If you want something much lighter, take on a panna cotta, which is a custard-like dessert.
Serve fresh hot coffee after the meal and you’ll have created your own festive Italian celebration.
Co-op is offering you an authentic Taste of Italy this month, along with savings on many Italian staples and favourites from sauces to pastas and other foods. Are a look at what’s in store and viva la dolce vita!
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