Rustic Italian Meals

Fall is the perfect time of year to sit down to a rustic Italian meal. With a chill in the air, Italian cuisine makes for the ultimate in comfort food. Hearty, warm, delicious and filling, there are many dishes to choose from when that Italian craving strikes.

Many in Italy shop the markets every day for fresh ingredients. You can do the same by browsing at your local farmers market for seasonal delights. Ingredients for rustic meals don’t have to be expensive – think beans, vegetables and grains, too.

Consider some of the following dishes to bring a rustic, Italian influence to dinner:

Polenta is a common comfort food in Italy that has long been associated as “food for the poor” as it’s inexpensive and filling. It is a dish best made from medium- or coarsely-ground cornmeal. You may have seen it at the store in a variety of forms – sometimes it is sold in tubes, ready to slice and prepare. It can be baked or served soft with a variety of ingredients added to it.

This recipe for Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola from Real Simple is sure to satisfy anyone gathered for dinner. It’s creamy, hearty and filling.

Focaccia is a flat, oven-baked bread topped with olive oil, salt, herbs and any number of ingredients you have on hand. Serve it as an appetizer or alongside another dish. Try this recipe from You Can Do It at Home for Focaccia with Rosemary and Tarragon Herb Oil.

White beans are popular across Italy for their flavor and nutritional value and have an essential role in Italian cooking. Pasta fagioli, or pasta and beans, is a popular meatless Italian dish. This dish also has humble origins and was known as a “peasant dish” due to being inexpensive to make, nutritious and hearty. Try this vegetarian option for Pasta e Fagioli from Tree Hugger. The recipe below is another great recipe that incorporates white beans as a filling ingredient.

Escarole and White Bean Soup

(Makes 6 servings)

This recipe comes from Eating Well. It makes a filling, healthy part of your meal served alongside a salad and crunchy bread (Foccacia perhaps!). If you can’t fine escarole, feel free to substitute spinach.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh basil and oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 1/2 cups of vegetable broth, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups of cannellini beans, soaked
  • 1 head escarole, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded hard Italian cheese, such as Parmesan, Romano or Asiago

Method

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, tomatoes, celery, carrot, garlic, Italian seasoning and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are beginning to soften and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Stir in beans and escarole and cook, stirring often, until the escarole is just tender, about 5 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of cheese.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish that has a creamy texture to it and can be made with a wide variety of ingredients. Use round short- or medium-grained rice when preparing risotto to quickly absorb the liquid and make it stickier. It’s generally cooked with a stock added to it. Some people are hesitant to make risotto, thinking it is difficult to make… but it isn’t. Really.

Health magazine offers several risotto recipes, but this one is a seasonal pick now that beets are readily available. Plus, the beets turn the risotto a lovely shade of crimson. Try their Risotto with Greens (beets), Goat Cheese and Walnuts.

image: Lo-key