7 Recipes for Elegant Italian Dinners

Italian food, and Italian-American, food is steeped in tradition. Recipes are handed down from generation to generation, and the cuisine can be the perfect way to create a memorable dinner. The next time you want to put a special touch on your evening meal, take a page from the Italian cookbook. You don’t need to be 100 percent authentic to take time out of your hectic week to prepare and share a dinner with friends and family. Pick and choose from the following 7 recipes the next time you want to savor a meal with others.

Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese Source: iStock

1. Risotto alla Milanese

The rich golden color of Risotto alla Milanese, a saffron-infused version of the creamy rice dish, is matched in flavor and texture in Saveur‘s recipe. Serve with a the meat dish of your choosing. The risotto yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon saffron threads
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 small yellow onions, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 ounces raw bone marrow (optional)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions: Heat stock and saffron in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat; keep warm. Heat butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add rice; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add wine; cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup warm stock; cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue adding stock, ½ cup at a time, and cooking until absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender and creamy, about 16 minutes total. Stir in marrow, if using, and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.

Recommended wine pairings: With lighter risottos, a classic Italian Pinot Grigio does wonders. Unsurprisingly, it also works well here, with the wine’s dryness pairing perfectly with the sweetness found in this layered dish. Try a 2012 Montefresco Pinot Grigio, or go red with a 2010 Salient Cabernet Sauvignon, which will pair well with a red meat addition to this risotto.

Roman-Style Chicken

Roman-Style Chicken Source: iStock

2. Roman-Style Chicken

Giada de Laurentiis’ top rated Food Network recipe for Roman-style chicken will be a hit around the dinner table any day of the week. Plus, it only uses one pan for all of the preparation, making clean up even easier. It yields 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 skinless chicken breast halves, with ribs
  • 2 skinless chicken thighs, with bones
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions: Season the chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and prosciutto and cook until the peppers have browned and the prosciutto is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.

If serving immediately, add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve. If making ahead of time, transfer the chicken and sauce to a storage container, cool, and refrigerate. The next day, reheat the chicken to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the capers and the parsley and serve.

Recommended wine pairings: Chicken is one of the most versatile meats, and can be added seamlessly into almost any dish—thus the reason for its popularity. For the deep, hearty flavors found in this dish, pair it with an unoaked Chardonnay like a 2013 Akoya.

Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka Source: iStock

3. Penne alla Vodka

Wine isn’t the only alcohol used in Italian cooking or sauces. Mario Batali demonstrated on ABC how to make a delectable penne alla vodka. Crispy bacon is the perfect texture to add to the creamy pasta dish, which will serve 6.

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 pound penne
  • 1 piece Parmigiano Reggiano (for grating)

Directions: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne 1 minute short of the package instructions. Drain, reserving some pasta water for sauce. In a large saute pan, cook bacon over medium heat to render out fat. Cook for about 10 minutes until cooked but not too crispy. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook until garlic is fragrant and tomato paste darkens.

Stir in the vodka and cook for a few minutes to meld the flavors. Add cream and season with nutmeg and salt to taste. Adjust thickness of sauce with pasta water as needed. Add cooked penne and toss to coat. Serve with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Recommended wine pairings: For this fragrant, creamy dish, look to a rich Cabernet Sauvignon. One of our favorites is a 2013 Patria Cabernet Sauvignon, whose spice and warming finish make it a delectable match for the cheese and cream in this pasta dish. If you’re looking for a white wine, look no further than a fruity Sauvignon Blanc.

Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant Rollatini Source: iStock

4. Eggplant Rollatini

When making Bon Appétit‘s eggplant rollatini, you can start one day in advance. After rolling, and placing the eggplant seam-side down, you can store the dish covered in the fridge, proceeding with the following steps the next day.

Ingredients:

  • nonstick olive oil spray
  • all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 3½ cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
  • 2⅔ cups grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces)
  • 18 (¼- to ⅓-inch-thick lengthwise) eggplant slices (from 2 medium)
  • 3 cups (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
  • 1¼ cups ricotta cheese (preferably whole-milk)
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cups purchased marinara sauce

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 3 baking sheets and one 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Place flour in 1 wide shallow bowl, eggs in second bowl, and breadcrumbs mixed with 1 cup Parmesan cheese in another. Sprinkle each eggplant slice with salt and pepper. Coat each slice with flour, then beaten egg, and finally breadcrumb mixture. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Bake eggplant in batches until coating is golden, turning after 15 minutes, about 30 minutes total. Cool on sheets.

Mix mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, basil, and 1 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Season filling with salt and pepper. Divide filling among eggplant slices (about 3 tablespoons per slice); spread evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, in prepared baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spoon marinara sauce over rolls; sprinkle with remaining ⅔ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered until rollatini are heated through and mozzarella cheese melts, about 30 minutes.

Recommended wine pairings: Lots of cheese, lots of eggplant, and lots of tomato sauce—what could be better? To answer that question, try pairing the dish with a Merlot or a Pinot Noir. Hint: one of our favorite matches is a 2012 Porter and Plot Pinot Noir.

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese Source: iStock

5. Pasta Bolognese

Food & Wine went for a traditional bolognese in this recipe, using ground beef, veal, and pork. It is definitely a dish worthy of a special occasion, with no corners cut when it comes to making the meat-based sauce. It will be worth the effort though; it yields 8 to 10 servings.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 medium celery rib, finely diced
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, finely diced
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground veal
  • ¼ pound ground pork
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can peeled Italian tomatoes—seeded and finely chopped, juices reserved
  • 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 pounds penne rigate
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Directions: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan until shimmering. Add the onion, carrot, celery and pancetta and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Scrape the vegetable mixture into a large bowl.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the saucepan and heat until just shimmering. Add the beef, veal and pork and cook over moderately high heat until just barely pink, about 5 minutes.

Return the vegetable mixture to the saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost evaporated, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, the chicken stock, thyme and bay leaf. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat for 1 hour. Discard the bay leaf. Stir in the heavy cream and cook the sauce just until heated through.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well, return to the pot and toss with the sauce. Serve the pasta in deep bowls and pass the Parmesan at the table.

Recommended wine pairings: This hearty tomato and meat sauce can be accompanied by a number of wines, but a certain few will help it shine. For a dry red, we look to a Syrah or Shiraz, with one strong pairing being a 2007 Miller Wine Works Syrah. Other options include a Sangiovese, Chianti, or Zinfandel, which typically pairs well with tomato-based pasta sauces.

Panzanella

Panzanella Source: iStock

6. Panzanella

Pick up a loaf of Italian bread a few days before you plan on serving panzanella and store it at room temperature. That way, by the time you go to make Eating Well‘s recipe, the bread will be slightly stale–exactly the state you want it in for this salad that serves 6. Use the freshest, seasonal tomatoes you can find for maximum flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons finely slivered fresh basil
  • 4 cups torn bit-size pieces stale crusty white bread
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions: Cut larger tomatoes into wedges or chunks; cut any cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters. Combine in a large bowl with onion, parsley and basil. Add bread. Whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour it over the salad and gently toss to coat the bread well. Let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

Recommended wine pairings: This delicious, filling salad can easily become a summer staple, and what better pairing than a chilled white wine? Try a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—some of our specific favorites for this pairing are a 2010 Dandy Chardonnay and a 2012 Antawara Sauvignon Blanc.

Tuscan Pasta With Tomato-Basil Cream

Tuscan Pasta With Tomato-Basil Cream Source: iStock

7. Tuscan Pasta With Tomato-Basil Cream

Going for the elegant touch doesn’t mean you have to slave away in the kitchen. When you want a high-quality dinner, but are running short on time try Southern Living‘s tuscan pasta. It yields between 4 and 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (20-ounce) package refrigerated ravioli (3 or 4 cheese, preferably)
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar sun-dried tomato Alfredo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 medium-size fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil strips, garnish

Directions:  Prepare pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, pour Alfredo sauce into a medium saucepan. Pour wine into sauce jar; cover tightly, and shake well. Stir wine mixture into saucepan. Stir in chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup chopped basil, and cook over medium-low heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Toss with pasta, and top evenly with 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Garnish, if desired.

Recommended wine pairings: To offset the heaviness of the cream, a lighter Chardonnay is always in favor. However, we also recommend a Barbera—which can be an interesting contrast—and a Pinot Noir, which will help complement the robustness of the tomatoes and basil.

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