International Spotlight: Italy

As promised, this week's international spotlight is the food-famous Italy. Known for their use of fresh produce and utter simplicity, the Italians have been satisfying our bellies for over 2,000 years. With that said, let's toss in some garlic and get started!

Tomato-Artichoke Bruschetta

Ah, bruschetta, the preferred appetizer known for its flavor and simplicity is actually pronounced with a "k" sound, and in Italian means "to roast over coals." The lil' toasted morsel originated in central Italy and dates all the way back to the 15th century. Contrary to how we know it today, it consisted only of toasted bread, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper and was a way to salvage bread that was going stale, and for oil producers to taste their delectable products.

Since then, there have been many variations, including marinated red peppers, vegetables, beans, assorted meats, and/or cheeses. However, when we think of bruschetta, we think of marinated basil, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Really, it's wonderful no matter how you serve it up!

"Homemade" Pizza

The classic of all classics - pizza - has been tossing its way into our homes for centuries. Though we credit the Italians for their wonderful creation the dish actually started in Greece, where people used to bake large, round, flat breads dabbed with oil, herbs, spices, and dates. It wasn't until the 18th century that the flatbread made its way to Italy but was still served similar to that of the Greeks. We have the Neapolitans and Queen Margherita to thank for adding tomatoes and for making pizza as we know it today.

Buying pre-made dough is great and a huge time-saver. However, if you feel the urge to make it yourself, know that it doesn't have to take all day. Mix and knead all your ingredients in the morning, put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic, and toss into the fridge until you come home from work and are ready to bake.

Also, if you have leftovers (yeah right!), you can reheat your pizza in the oven at 400 F for 5 minutes, or use a skillet or toaster oven. Microwaving can make your pizza and all your hard work soft and soggy so don't cave in!

Eggplant Parmesan

A southern Italian dish consisting of layering thinly sliced eggplant fried in olive oil with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmigiana cheese, and basil. There are many theories on how this dish came to be, but whatever the case may be, we are thankful--even meat lovers can be satisfied by this heavenly vegetarian dish.

If are you going to make eggplant parmesan, be sure that you use eggplants within a day or two after purchasing to avoid browning and bitterness. Other than that, you can bake, grill, or broil - the choice is yours.

This is a great dish to prepare in advance. Let your eggplant parmesan cool (about two hours), package in an airtight container, and freeze for up to four months. When you are ready for it, let it thaw completely and pop it into the oven.

Grazie, or thank you, and see you next time when we spotlight the fabulous flavors of Thailand!

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