You may think this odd, but I never really liked Italian food other than pizza. It was always just OK in my book. But I must not have eaten in the right places. That all changed last year when I started cooking the take-home meals for the Piazza Italian Market in Easton. I began studying authentic Italian food cookbooks and using quality ingredients and— wow, what a difference! Suddenly, Italian food was delicious and bursting with flavor.

What I found so remarkable was how simple the food was to prepare. Just using the right ingredients— in this case, a sweet basil sauce— made the ubiquitous meatball something extraordinary, and the typical stuffed shell a melt-in-your-mouth treat. I made a minestrone soup full of vegetables and orzo that was good enough to be gobbled up by my kids, who came back for seconds. And my lasagna, layered with Bolognese sauce and ricotta, always has company asking for more.

Everyone has most likely tasted these dishes before— they are part of the standard canon of Italian-American food— but I entreat you to get back to the basics with these recipes, and redefine how good they can taste.

Meatballs with Sweet Basil Tomato Sauce

Stuffed Shells with Ricotta and Italian Herbs

Minestrone Soup

Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce and Fresh Ricotta

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