Years ago, Italians often took three hour lunch breaks and ate mutli-course meals. As times have changed, it is more rare for Italian families to gather at the table during lunch and have a full home-made meal. Italy’s economical situation is such that many mothers have had to take on full-time jobs, children are in school until mid-afternoon and most people do not have time to go home during lunch time. Typically, people working in offices have a 1-hour break and eat lunch at a bar or pasticceria, that offers foods to go, such as fresh made sandwiches, prepared salads, or square slices of pizza or stuffed focaccia. Italian sandwiches aren’t multi-layered, American style sandwiches but, usually, just simple focaccia bread with a few lean slices of prosciutto, some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella or pecorino cheese. Italian pizzas are very thin. have limited toppings and are usually vegetarian. Bread without butter and salads are also very common at lunch. Pastas are also popular and usually full of vegetables. One exception is on Sundays, many families will have a large, 2-3 hour lunch and often eat this meal out in a restaurant.
As a child growing up in an Italian-American home, I remember Sundays were pretty much reserved for family. My father would take us to visit our grandparents or other relatives while my mother prepared the Sunday meal. Sunday lunch was really dinner but held early in the afternoon. After my grandmother died, when I was quite young, my grandfather would often join us for Sunday dinner. As my children were growing up. I tried to make meals an important time to be together and we kept some of the traditions built around meals. Lunch, however, was lunch – a quick meal. Through the years I have gravitated toward lighter and healthy selections for lunch.
My favorite food for lunch is soup, so I keep a number of containers in the freezer to pull out when I feel like soup for lunch. Salads or typical items found on an antipasto tray are also a favorite.
Below are two soup recipes that are substantial enough for lunch and two salad recipes that I hope you will enjoy.
Tortellini Soup with Escarole
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-32 oz. cartons low sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
- 1 bunch escarole (or 8 cups spinach) washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1-9 oz. pkg. fresh tortellini
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan Cheese
In soup pot, heat oil and saute shallots for two minutes.
Add both containers of chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Add tortellini, return to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer about 5 minutes.
Add the escarole and simmer until the greens are wilted.
Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with shaved Parmesan cheese strips.
- 1 lb. dried brown lentils ( about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1 large potato, diced
- 1/2 cup medium pearl barley
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1-16 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cover the lentils with water in a large bowl. Let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Heat oil in a large soup pot and add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and potato.
Cook, stirring several times, for 10 minutes.
Add water, chicken broth, lentils and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Check the lentils and barley, to see if they are tender, after 45 minutes.
Add tomatoes, oregano salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
My favorite salad is made of fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Alternate fresh mozzarella slices with sliced tomatoes, overlapping, in a circular design on a serving plate. (See photo)
Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Just before serving, drizzle with top-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1/4 cup slivered red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1- 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
- 8 ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk olive oil and lemon in a salad bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Chill.
Serve over tender lettuce leaves (such as, Bibb).
I like to top this salad with leftover shrimp or grilled tuna. Roasted red peppers are also a good addition