Italian Vegetarian Recipes
Sneaky Vegetarian Food
When I first started experimenting with vegetarian recipes, Italian vegetarian recipes were the easiest to work into my family's weekly meals without screaming "vegetarian!" My family had suffered through previous vegetarian cooking phases; the tofu, undercooked bean phase, the hard-as-a-rock whole wheat bread phase, and the unmentionable vegetable puree and strange grain phase. They didn't want to see a single meal on the table with "Vegetarian" in the recipe title.
But a funny thing happened. I realized that in every week, I planned at least one Italian recipe that could easily become an Italian vegetarian recipe. All I had to do was get clever with the seasonings or in some cases just not even mention that the meal was vegetarian. And so I was able to work in several meals a week...all meatless and without tofu products (which I can't eat because they don't agree with me, and I don't quite agree that soy is all that healthy for you.)
Italian Vegetarian Cooking or Sneaky Meatless Meals
My first step to transition to vegetarian meals was to find easy ways to transform the usual dinners into vegetarian dinners. Italian meals naturally seem to lend themselves to this. The rich tomato sauce that accompanies a good pasta dish, for example, can be dressed up with added vegetables. If you don't mind a sprinkling of cheese in your vegetarian diet, it can fool even a seasoned carnivore into thinking he's eating a meat-based dish.
Here are the meals I easily transformed from meat-based to healthy vegetarian cooking:
- Pizza: Okay, so pizza isn't the healthiest thing in the world...but if you make it yourself, you cut down a lot on the oils and fats. I buy a crust kit or make the crust from scratch and use either a good tomato sauce or a pizza sauce. I add sliced mozzarella cheese and fresh olives, onions or peppers. When the pizza is done, we each sprinkle extra crushed red pepper flakes and garlic powder on top to taste.
- Polenta: Polenta is cooked ground corn. It's sort of like the southern dish, grits, but with a firmer texture. I make polenta by boiling 3 cups of water, then adding one cup of coarsely ground corn and whisking it over very low heat. I take it off the heat when it's still sort of liquidy and let it just sit and cook on the hot plate. I serve it with a mushroom-infused sauce and it's very filling!
- Spaghetti: Spaghetti can also be served like the polenta. Just add extra garlic, tomatoes or vegetables to the sauce.
Italian Recipes Side Dishes
I found that many Italian side dish recipes were already vegetarian. One of my favorite is for broccoli rabe. If you've never had broccoli rabe, you're in for a treat. Although the name includes the word "broccoli", it's actually a type of leafy green vegetable. It grows in spring and fall, depending on where you live. You harvest the stems, leaves and tiny florets that look a bit like broccoli. The easiest way to enjoy it is to sautee it with a little olive oil or butter and garlic. Some people think it tastes bitter, but I like the punch.
Swiss Chard is another Italian favorite. Chard can be shredded by hand and sauteed with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle a bit of hot pepper flakes on it before serving - Lydia, the Italian chef of Lydia's Italian Cooking show on PBS recommends a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes on Chard and Broccoli Rabe.
If you want to include more healthy vegetarian meals into your family's weekly menu, try an Italian recipe. When you get more adventurous, try vegetarian slow cooker recipes; chilis, soups and stews make a whole meal in and of themselves. They're usually well received by even the fussiest eaters, and you can sneakily disguise the fact that there's no meat just through the sheer joy of all the flavors. Mangia!
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