From chicken parm to spaghetti and meatballs, plan an Italian feast with these recipes

Want crispier chicken? More flavorful meatballs? The best pesto you've ever had? Read on

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published November 5, 2021 7:00PM (EDT)

Friends eating meal together outdoors, raising a toast with drinks (Getty Images/Eugenio Marongiu)
Friends eating meal together outdoors, raising a toast with drinks (Getty Images/Eugenio Marongiu)

It's been one of those weeks where, by Tuesday, I looked at my boyfriend and said solemnly, "At least it's almost the weekend." When he had to inform me that, in fact, it was not, I wanted to just crawl into bed and sleep for a few days straight. 

Or, alternatively, I wanted to slowly make my way to the kitchen and cook some Italian comfort food. 

Michael La Corte, one of our regular writers here at Salon, leans on his heritage and culinary expertise to put together recipes and culinary shortcuts for better, easier Italian food. I always learn something from his recipes — whether it's how to avoid soggy breaded chicken or the surefire method for more flavorful meatballs. 

Here are five of Michael's best recipes for Italian dishes that are both weeknight-friendly and impressive. 

Make the best Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs dinner

Michael is not a proponent of using stale bread soaked in milk, sometimes called a panade, in his meatballs. 

"I don't find anything appetizing about that," he wrote. "To that end, I've actually never been a fan of especially tender meatballs. I find a 'mushad,' soft meatball rather unappealing. I know that's probably bizarre for many to hear, but I'm more committed to the deeply crisped, incredibly browned exterior — and a properly seasoned inside." 

To achieve the perfect meatballs, Michael doesn't recommend baking them or tossing them raw into a cauldron of bubbling sauce. Instead, he prefers to saute them. 

Put together an A+ antipasto platter

As we're heading into entertaining during the holiday season, check out Michael's breakdown of the ideal antipasto platter, from picking the perfect cheese to special add-ons. 

"Be sure to sprinkle some flaky sea salt on the majority of the components, just adding a final note to really amp up the flavors, and maybe a light drizzle of high quality olive oil," he wrote. "There should be distinction and diversity within the color, temperature, texture and flavor profiles of the ingredients presented." 

Upgrade weeknight chicken by making pollo al marsala

Chicken Marsala was originally created in 1800s Sicily. The primary ingredient is, unsurprisingly, marsala wine. Michael's recipe calls for butter, mushrooms, thyme and a bright flash of parsley. The sauce reduces until it becomes "rich, glossy and luminous" and is then used to cover crispy, pan-sauteed chicken. 

Use this foolproof recipe for perfect pesto

According to Michael, standard, classic pesto includes: Fresh basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pine nuts, garlic, salt, freshly cracked black pepper and a generally high-quality EVOO. However, using his "pesto matrix," you can substitute in a variety of cheeses, nuts, oil and greens, including broccoli rabe, escarole, spinach or even cilantro. 

Want impossibly crisp chicken parmesan? Try this simple sheet pan layering trick

Why take the time to render a perfectly crispy piece of pan-fried or deep-fried chicken, just to then slather it with an explicit amount of sauce and cheese, rendering it soggy and devaluing all of the work you put in to ensure its crispness? 

"In order to counteract this, you just need to change up your typical technique a little bit," Michael writes. "Instead of topping the crispy cutlets with sauce and cheese before going into the oven, instead layer the sheet tray with sauce and cheese and place the chicken atop it." 


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Chicken Parmesan Food Italian List Michael La Corte