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Nonna’s Menu: how to cook the best Italian food

Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother, and everyone has their favorites from Nonna’s menu. Italy has many delicious foods to try. As a child I remember going to Aunt Mary and Uncle John’s and taking home a doggie bag of delicious almond flavored cookies and eating delicious pignolata, tiny dough balls dripping with honey. Then as I was older we would have big Sunday dinners at Aunt Margie’s when my parents would visit me at college. The first time we went we were served salad, garlic bread, and pasta with braciole, meatballs, and sausage. My dad has a weird sense of humor so I thought he was joking when he said this was only the appetizer. Therefore, I was surprised when we were served chicken, pork, potatoes, and vegetables afterward.

I learned Italians take their food very seriously and that the long meal was more than food but a social activity. As a result I developed an interest in Italian cooking and have experimented with numerous recipes over the years. I even wrote about a virtual class my husband and I took on how to make Limoncello. You can take this great class on line with Rosa on the Amalfi Coast through Airbnb.

I since have become a “Nonna” myself and these are some of the creations from this Nonna’s menu. Of course if you want to turn it into more of a date experience you can include some Italian cocktails to compliment your meal.

Nonna’s Menu: Pesto Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

on Nonna's menu tonight, cherry tomatoes halved and stuffed with basil walnut pesto on a serving platter
Pesto Cherry Tomatoes

Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts which can be expensive. As a result I use walnuts. They give the same effect and are economical. This is a light appetizer, great with home grown tomatoes.


  • cup packed fresh basil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 tbsp. walnuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 tbsp parmesan cheese

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until it makes a fairly smooth paste. After that cut cherry tomatoes in half and scoop out the insides. Then fill with pesto.

This is the food processor I use with additional affiliate links for my spiralizer and a pasta maker I want to try:

Nonna’s Menu: White Bean Soup

On Nonna's menu tonight, white bean soup in a bowl garnished with green onions and parmesan cheese
Tuscan Bean Soup

Of course this hearty soup is great on a winter’s day or during Lent when you don’t want to eat meat.


  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • stalk of celery finely chopped
  • 1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • salt to taste
  • parmesan cheese to garnish


  1. Heat oil in a pot and cook the onion until tender. When the onion is soft add the carrots and celery.
  2. Meanwhile drain and rinse beans.
  3. Once vegetables are slightly cooled, process vegetables and one can of beans in a food processor.
  4. After that, return mixture to pan, adding the tomatoes, garlic, seasonings and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Then add remaining beans and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking for 10 more minutes.
  5. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Nonna’s Menu: Pasta with Clam Sauce

Nonna's menu of Pasta with clam sauce served with grated parmesan cheese
Pasta with Clam Sauce

Pasta is not used as a main course in an Italian meal, but instead as an additional appetizer. I use canned clams for this recipe which is much easier than in traditional Nonna’s menu where you have to wash and cook actual clams before making the sauce. My family also likes the extra flavor the fire roasted tomatoes and cayenne pepper give this dish.


  • 18 oz. of canned clams
  • 14oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. pasta


chickpea turmeric pasta in a strainer for Pasta with clam sauce, Nonna's menu for dinner
Chick Pea Turmeric Pasta
clam sauce cooking in a pot for Nonna's menu of pasta with clam sauce
Clam Sauce
pasta with clam sauce in a pot straight from Nonna's menu
Dig in!
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook pasta according to directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over medium high and add a tablespoon of olive oil. After that add the canned tomatoes with their juices, crushed garlic and the liquid from the canned clams. Let the liquid cook down while pasta is cooking.
  3. When pasta is done, drain it, and return it to the pot.
  4. Then add clams, parsley, salt and pepper to the saucepan and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.
  5. After that, add the sauce to the pasta. Mix well and serve with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Further, I have included some sponsored links for kitchen tools that I use to make dishes from Nonna’s menu:

Nonna’s Menu: Chicken with Peppers

Nonna's Menu: chicken with peppers and onions in a pan.
Chicken with Peppers


  • 3 lbs chicken legs or thighs
  • 3 bell peppers sliced
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Begin by sprinkling chicken with salt and pepper. Then brown the chicken in 2 tablespoons of olive oil on all sides, about 6 minutes. Once browned remove to a plate.
  2. After that, cook onions and peppers in remaining oil.
  3. Then return chicken to pan and add the wine, garlic, and tomatoes. Cover with a lid and cook on medium low for about 25 minutes.
  4. When chicken is done sprinkle with parsley to serve.

On the other hand, when I am going to get home late, I take a shortcut and throw everything in a crockpot for about 8 hours on low.

Nonna’s Menu: Focaccia Bread

Nonna's menu shows focaccia bread with sundried tomatoes and rosemary.
Focaccia with Rosemary & Sundried Tomatoes
squares of focaccia bread
Focaccia Broken into Squares

This is like a pizza with no sauce or cheese and can accompany a meal. It can also be served as an appetizer dipped in olive oil with Italian seasoning.


  • 2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 cup lukewarm water (I microwave mine for 30 seconds)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3-3 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1Tbsp dried rosemary or 2 sprigs of fresh
  • 6-10 slices of sun dried tomato in oil
  • olive oil
  • coarse Himalayan sea salt


pizza dough rising in a bowl
Risen Dough
Focaccia dough spread in a pizza pan
Dough Spread in Pan
on Nonna's menu, focaccia bread with rosemary and sundried tomatoes ready for the oven
Ready for Baking
  1. Using a whisk, mix together water, sugar, and yeast. Then let it sit for 5 minutes.
  2. After that mix in 1 cup of flour and salt. Add another cup of flour and mix until the dough pulls away from the bowl.
  3. Then place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead, continuing to add enough remaining flour to create a soft dough.
  4. Continue kneading dough for about 5 minutes. When the dough is soft and smooth, spray a bowl with cooking spray. Then place the dough in the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set in a warm area to rise for about an hour.
  5. When dough has doubled its size, punch down and place on a baking pan lightly brushed with olive oil. Then use your hands to press dough into pan. After that, cover the pan with a damp cloth to rise in a warm area for 30 minutes.
  6. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. When waiting for the oven to heat, use your fingers to make small indentations in the dough. Sprinkle with rosemary and press sundried tomatoes lightly into the dough. Then brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cut into squares to serve.

Nonna’s Menu: Amaretti

Dessert from Nonna's menu tonight, almond cookies

Nonna’s menu of traditional Amaretti is a lot of work. After boiling almonds, you would then have to peel off the skins. Then you would have to bake them in the oven to dry them out. After that they would need to be finely ground in a food processor. Believe it or not, I actually did all that until recently. Finally, I realized that these ground almonds were the same thing as almond flour which can be found now in most grocery stores. Good thing too since my family loves these somewhat healthy cookies.


  • 2 cups almond flour
  • Cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract


shows beaten egg whites with sugar to make Amaretti for Nonna's Menu for dessert
step 2
amaretti cookie dough being mixed in a bowl
Step 3
amaretti on a cookie sheet ready for baking
Cookies ready for baking
  1. Begin by using an electric mixer to beat the egg whites into soft peaks.
  2. Then sprinkle in 1/4 cup of the sugar and continue beating to form stiff peaks.
  3. When the egg mixture forms stiff peaks fold in remaining sugar, almond extract, and almond flour.
  4. Then drop small spoonfuls onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet that has been sprinkled lightly with flour.
  5. Let amaretti sit 2 hours before baking.
  6. Near the end of the 2 hours preheat the oven to 350F. When oven is hot bake amaretti for 15 minutes until golden brown

I hope you enjoy these recipes and that they become some of your favorites.

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Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

2 thoughts on “Nonna’s Menu: how to cook the best Italian food”

  1. These all look so delicious! I wish I could cook (it has never been my strong point!). Some of these look simple enough though, I will have to try them! I have saved this for future cooking!

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