Create A Gourmet Italian Dinner on A Shoestring!

vsanders Apr 25, 2008 Food
Italian food is one of the most popular and widely enjoyed types of cuisine~if you want to go farther with Italian cooking than spaghetti and wow your family friends with your kitchen prowess try this idea for a full Italian dinner that will please the whole family.

The only thing better than sitting down to an evening meal of warm and aromatic Italian food might be the sense of pride that you will feel having prepared it. Preparing Italian cuisine is not only a fun and creative experience, it is also easy once you have a few basic guidelines down. Here is an entire meal that can be prepared inexpensively and with less than an hour total prep time, but guarantees that your family (or dinner date) will be sufficiently impressed!

One of the most outstanding Italian dishes to prepare is a cheesey manicotti. The best thing about manicotti is that you can make all kinds of substitutions according to your particular tastes and still come out with an amazing dish, if you follow the basic preparation rules. Here is the basic recipe~ but feel free to make your own additions.

Ingredients list:

1 Box Of Manicotti Noodles

1 15oz Container of Ricotta Cheese

1 cup of Mozarella or Italian Blend grated Cheese (divided)

1 Half cup of Parmesan Cheese

One Egg beaten

Two Tablespoons Dried Parsley Flakes

A dash of Salt, pepper, and ground garlic 

1 Can or Jar of your Favorite Pasta Sauce


1/4 cup crumbled bacon or prosciutto

1/4 cup mushrooms

2 TBS chopped onion

1/8 Cup of finely grated carrots

Start by putting on water to boil in a very roomy pot. Add a pinch of salt to the water if desired~ but adding oil will make the shell more slippery and prevent the sauce from adhering to it properly. Cook shell to manufacturer's directions for al dente. DO NOT OVERCOOK, or they will split easily. It is better to have them firm to even slightly underdone as they will finish during the baking process.

In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, one half of the mozarella or Italian blend, the beaten egg, and all remaining dry ingredients. Set the remaining half of the Mozarella/Italian blend aside for topping. Blend in any optional ingredients that you wish to use at this time.

Once everything is blended together pack the entire mixture into a large plastic bag, such as a freezer bag or pastry bag, and snip off one corner. When the manicotti shells are done, rinse with cool water and arrange in a single layer on a baking dish. Using the plastic bag, squeeze just enough of the mixture into each shell to fill it from one end to the other, without packing it in tightly. This will be a bit messy and annoying at first , but with practice it gets to be quite easy.

Pour your pasta sauce over the filled shells and top that off with the mozarella/cheese blend that you set back earlier. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake until the top lightly browns and the cheese is bubbly (usually another 15 minutes).

For garnish use parsley on top of the cheese. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes after you remove it from the oven to thicken and cool then serve.

The above mixture can also be used to fill smaller pasta shells, or wrapped in lasagna sheets and layered with prosciutto for a change of pace.

Side dishes that would go along well with this and add to the Italian flair of the meal would be a salad of greens with oil, and a garlic bread. To add flair to the salad use greens with different colors and textures, and/ or garnish with a sprinkle of Feta cheese. Add a side of restaurant style garlic bread to the menu, by melting 1/4 cup margarine or butter over low heat and adding a tsp of finely chopped onion, a tsp of italian season and a tsp of garlic powder to the mixture and allowing to simmer lightly until aromatic. Brush this mixture over freshly sliced Italian bread, and watch your family come back for more!

For the grownups who wish to have wine with dinner, consider going a bit off the beaten path and using a dry table wine such as Riesling rather than the traditional Chianti to complete the meal.  


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  • Last Updated : Apr 25, 2008