Restaurant quality Italian from the comforts of home

Published 7:39 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

As most of you know, I love Italian food.

Chicken Marsala, Lasagna, Fettuccine Alfredo, and so on. One of my favorite things about going to the better Italian restaurants is the bread, dipping oils and soup.

I usually can make a meal out of just that. Inspired by those great restaurants, I give you two fairly easy recipes you can whip up on any night of the week and enjoy that same experience at home. You can even make yourself a great little Italian salad to start it off.

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Herb Focaccia Bread

all-purpose flour for dusting

1 loaf (1 lb) frozen bread dough, thawed

cornmeal, for dusting

2 tbs minced garlic (more or less according to taste)

2 tbs good extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Italian seasoning

fresh ground pepper and extra virgin olive oil for dipping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a clean flour dusted surface, roll dough into a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Transfer dough to a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. With a sharp knife, make random small cuts over the top of the bread.

Rub minced garlic evenly over the top, brush with oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

Let rise in a warm place just until dough begins to puff a little (about 20 minutes). Bake about 20 minutes or until golden.

After your soup is done, serve the bread to the side of the bowl with a small plate of olive oil with fresh ground pepper sprinkled over the top. The bread is divine, dipped in the olive oil. Add I do suggest you use the best extra virgin olive oil you can find. It does make a deference!

Chicken Minestrone Soup

3 large chicken breast cut into small cubes

1 quart good chicken broth

1 tsp chicken base

1 (16 oz.) package frozen garlic pasta with vegetables

1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can diced Italian seasoned tomatoes

one-fourth cup tomato paste

shredded Parmesan cheese for serving

In a large pot, bring broth and chicken base to a boil and add chicken.

Boil for 8 minutes, then stir in pasta with vegetables. Add beans, tomatoes and tomato paste and stir and return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Ladle up your soup and serve with cheese on top and Focaccia bread on the side. Make some fresh raspberry lemon-aid and you’ve got a great little Italian meal.

You can also make this soup without the chicken if you want something lighter, or as a side to a larger meal.

Until next time, have fun in the kitchen, experiment and indulge your cravings.

Laura Clements is a food writer for the Demopolis Times