Written By: Kim A. Fuqua

The preparation and enjoyment of fresh and flavorful meals consumes a generous part of the day. How do they find the time? Italians eat only two meals a day, typically skipping breakfast in favor of a nice cup of cappuccino. If you’ve ever spent time dining in Italy you know the Italians do not rush through those two meals. Rather, they slowly savor each course over a bottle or two of wine and good conversation. The pacing of a meal is purposefully leisurely so that one can fully enjoy and digest the wonderful food.

The typical Italian five-course meal allows for a good balance of flavors, textures, and colors: fresh tomatoes and basil, homemade pasta with a deeply flavored sauce, oven-roasted vegetables, a savory meat dish, and a beautiful dessert. Don’t forget the crusty bread with olive oil, a staple of every Italian meal. You may choose to make your own bread from scratch using the recipe provided or, if short on time, pick up a freshly made loaf at the market. The dishes chosen for a meal are typically dependent upon what’s fresh in the garden and at the market on a given day.

Wine is also a must; the Italians drink wine much like we do water, and in fact many sip it from small water glasses. Keep in mind that the family table wines consumed in Italy tend to be lower in alcohol than a lot of what we drink in North America. Wine pairings have been suggested for each course to enhance your Italian dining experience. Start with a bubbly white, move on to some more robust reds, and finish with a sweet dessert wine.

For this five-course Italian meal, the dishes chosen showcase a variety of flavors, textures, and colors following the simple rules of an Italian meal. You’ll find the recipes surprisingly simple, as the freshness of the ingredients is the key to all the wonderful flavors of this meal. Two ingredients you’ll be utilizing quite a bit in preparing this menu are extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Best not to compromise on quality for either of these items!

Buon appetito!

Crusty Italian Bread

Serve with small dipping bowls of extra virgin olive oil. Feel free to add your favorite herbs and spices to the oil, such as crushed red pepper and oregano.

Prep Time: 5 1/2 hours; Cook Time: 40 minutes; Servings: 2 loaves

2 1/2        cups warm water
2               tablespoons active dry yeast
8               cups all-purpose flour
1               tablespoon salt
                 yellow cornmeal
1               tablespoon water
1               egg white

Pour warm water into a warm mixing bowl; sprinkle with the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in about 2 cups of the flour. Beat well; add salt and gradually beat in all but about 2 cups of the flour. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and cover with a clean dish towel; let rest 10 minutes. Knead by hand for 20 minutes or until dough is very elastic, kneading in as much of the remaining flour as necessary for smooth dough. Place dough in a lightly buttered bowl, turning to grease the entire dough surface.

Cover bowl with foil then cover with a dish cloth and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down and let rise to double again, about 1 hour longer. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half and from each portion into a ball. Cover with a dish cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each half of dough into a 15-by-8-inch rectangle about 1/2-inch think. Roll up tightly, starting with the short side, sealing as you roll. Taper ends by rolling out with hands until loaf is 10 to 11 inches long.

Place loaves seam side down on buttered baking dishes that have been sprinkled with yellow cornmeal. Add 1 tablespoon water to egg white in a bowl and beat lightly; brush over and along sides of loaves. Cover the loaves with a damp cloth without touching dough by placing glasses or cups around loaves and placing the cloth on the glasses. Place pans in a warm place to rise until doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.

Place a shallow pan on bottom rack of oven; fill with boiling water. Bake loaves in center of preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Brush with egg white mixture again and continue baking for 20 minutes longer, or until well-browned and done.

Insalata Caprese

This light salad of tomato, basil, and mozzarella is the perfect start to a multicourse Italian meal. Known in Italy as Insalata Caprese, the name literally means “sald of Capri,” which is where it originated. Use the best sea salt you can find to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Serves: 4

4           large, ripe tomatoes
1           pound fresh cow’s milk mozzarella cheese
1          cup fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
            sea salt, to taste
            freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2         tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Wash and slice tomatoes into 1/4-inch-think slices. Slice fresh mozzarella into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place on tomato slice on a serving plate. Top with a few basil leaves and slice of fresh mozzarella. Repeat layers and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Repeat on three additional plates with remaining tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, and olive oil. Serve immediately.

Mozzarella Twist: Feel free to use buffalo mozzarella instead of cow’s milk mozzarella if you prefer.

Wine Pairing: Prosecco di Conegliano. Kick off your meal with this crisp, clean Italian sparkler, similar to Champagne; it pairs wonderfully with salads and other light meal startes.

Linguini Puttanesca

The chopped anchovies in the sauce practically dissolve into the oil when sauteing them, so you don’t have to worry about tasting anchovies of you have an aversion to them. But please do not leave them out or you will miss the depth of flavor they bring to this sauce from the Campania region.

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 30 minutes; Serves: 4

2            tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1            clove garlic, chopped
6           anchovy fillets, chopped
1            35-ounce can imported Italian plum tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
1            tablespoon capers
12         Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2       teaspoon dried oregano
1/2       teaspoon crushed red pepper
             freshly ground black peppers, to taste
1/2      cup water
1           pound linguini

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and anchovies and cook until garlic is lightly browned. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce to a simmer. Add capers, olives, oregano, red pepper, black pepper, and 1/2 cup water. Simmer for 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the linguini and cook uncovered over high heat until al dente. Drain pasta, toss with sauce, and serve garnished with a sprinkle of oregano.

Wine Pairing: Barbaresco. The robust intensity of this wine holds up well to the strong flavors of the puttanesca sauce.

Veal Piccata with Artichokes

Who doesn’t love artichoke hearts? The flavors of the hearts, capers, and lemon meld beautifully with the veal.

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 30 minutes; Serves: 4

1 1/2        pounds veal cutlets, pounded to about 1/8-inch think
1/2          cup flour
                sea salt to taste
                freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2             tablespoons olive oil
1/2         cup dry white wine
1             cup chicken stock or broth
               juice of 1 lemon
2            tablespoons capers
1/2        cup artichoke hearts
1             lemon, cut into thin slices

Chef’s Hint: Pound the cutlets by placing them between two sheets of plastic wrap and pounding them with a mallet or the back of a large spoon. Pound them until they are about 1/8-inch think.

In a wide bowl or pan, mix the flour with some salt and pepper. Dip the cutlets into the flour and coat them thoroughly. Pat off the excess flour.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Place the cutlets into the pan (in batches if necessary; do not overcrowd the pan) and brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Pour off the excess fat, leaving just a thin film and the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon until the browned bits come of the bottom and begin to dissolve. Add chicken stock and continue cooking and stirring until reduced by half (you only want a couple of tablespoons of sauce per serving).

Add lemon juice, capers, artichoke hearts, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all the ingredients are heated through. dd the cutlets to coat with the sauce.

Garnish each portion with a couple of lemon slices and serve.

Wine Pairing: Brunello di Montalcino. The persistent bouquet of this ruby-red wine nicely complements the flavors of the tangy Piccata sauce.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus

The asparagus gets a slightly nutty flavor from roasting, which makes this easy and elegant dish even more appealing.

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 15 minutes; Serves: 4

1           pound asparagus
1 1/2    tablespoons olive oil
1/2       teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut off the woody bottom part of the asparagus spears and discard. To prevent the asparagus from being stringy, use a vegetable peeler to peel off the skin on the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the spears.

Place asparagus on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roll asparagus around until they are evenly coated with oil and salt. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your stalks and how tender you like them. They should be tender when pierced with the tip of a knife and the tips should be browned.


Literally translated, Tiramisu means “pick me up,” which probably refers to the jolt you get after eating espresso- and alcohol-laced ladyfingers! This is a great make-in-advance dessert recipe, as it can be frozen for up to 2 weeks; just let it thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.

Prep Time: 45 minutes; Chill Time: overnight; Serves: 4

6           egg yolks
1/2       cup granulated sugar
1/3       cup brandy
1/3       cup Marsala
1           pound mascarpone
1 1/2    cups whipping cream
3/4      cup strong coffee
24        giant Italian ladyfingers
4          ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until light, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/4 cup each brandy and Marsala. Transfer to double boiler over gently simmering water; whisk for about 7 minutes or until thickened. Let cool.

Beat mascarpone until smooth; fold in egg mixture. Whip cream; stir 1/4 of it into cheese mixture. Fold in remaining cream. Combine coffee and remaining brandy and Marsala.

Arrange half the ladyfingers in an 11-by-7-inch glass baking dish; brush with half the coffee mixture. Spread with half the cream mixture. Repeat layers. Top with chocolate.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Wine Pairing: Malvasia. This sweet white dessert wine pairs wonderfully with the Tiramisu.