An Authentic Italian Meal Twenty Years In The Making

Aug 28, 2020 | Food and Culture, Pasta, Recipes

Twenty years ago, I sat down at a table in suburban Toronto and ate a meal that would forever change my perspective on Italian food. Up until that point, all I knew of Italian cuisine was the heavy meat sauce and garlic bread my mother would make once every couple of weeks, and, of course, pizza. I know now that my mom’s sauce was about as Italian as a Hawaiian Pizza. It was delicious (unlike Hawaiian Pizza), but it wasn’t Italian. I left that meal, all those years ago, stuffed beyond belief, and with an understanding of the rustic simplicity that is authentically Italian.

Looking back on that moment now, and reflecting on my career, I can see with absolute clarity that the shadow of that meal still affects how I cook and view food to this day. I’d like to share that meal with you. If it affects you in even the smallest way that it has affected me, it may just change your entire perspective on food and cooking. If that isn’t worth five minutes of your time, nothing is.

The Meal

It was August in Ontario. Hot, humid, unbearable. I had come to Ontario from rural Nova Scotia to spend the summer with my sister and brother-in-law. I was working my first job doing prep and cooking in a Chinese Restaurant and, I was having the time of my life. My sister and her husband had a friend who lived just outside Toronto and needed help moving. As an able bodied fifteen-year I was pulled in to help carry boxes and furniture. After the move, in return for my help, I was taken to a meal at the family home of the Maria, the person we were helping move.

There was food growing everywhere.

Maria’s family home was like nothing I’d ever seen. Their backyard was mostly garden. Shading their back deck were grapevines brought to Canada from Italy and used to make the family wine. There was food growing everywhere. In this small suburban backyard, the family grew a large percentage of their food. It was beautiful and a stark contrast to the manicured lawns and concrete beyond the backyard fence, an oasis in the middle of a desert of asphalt. As taken as I was with the garden, it was the preparation of the food that really caught my attention.

the table was covered with more food than I had ever seen in one place.

I stood back quietly and watched as the family worked together to prepare enough food for three times the number of people that would be at dinner. The brother, Dino, was grilling bell peppers and sausages from the local Italian butcher. The father picked fresh vegetables from the garden and took them into the kitchen where Maria and her mother were making pasta and salads. When the family finished cooking, they put the platters of tortellini, spaghetti in pesto, bell peppers, salads, and grilled sausages on their old wooden dining table that creaked under the weight of it all. It was more food than I had ever seen in one place. It was all fresh, light, and simply prepared. Colourful and vibrant. It was immediately apparent that what I knew of Italian food was wrong.

…a chorus of “Mangiare!” would encourage me to eat more…

I dug into my first authentic Italian meal with the hunger and ferocity that only a fifteen-year-old boy who has been lifting boxes and furniture all day can. I ate everything that was put in front of me. When I thought I was done, a chorus of “Mangiare!” would encourage me to eat more, and more. I ate until I couldn’t possibly fit another bite of food in my body, and then I ate some more. By the time I had actually finished eating, I thought I was going to die, but I was going to die happy.

this was the first time I saw people eating for pleasure.

On the surface, it may seem like I ate a good meal, and that’s about it. It was a delicious meal, but it was more than that. I grew up eating, heavy, meat and potato dishes. We always ate well, and my mom took pride in her cooking, and she was good at it, but despite that, food was fuel. Its purpose was to keep us going until the next meal. We got it in us as quickly as we could then went about our day. This Italian meal was something much different. It went on for hours. It was as much about fueling the soul as it was the body. The family talked and joked, enjoyed each other’s company. Thinking about it now, I think what struck me most was that this was the first time I saw people eating for pleasure. These people loved food. Their whole way of life was dedicated to it. There was no rush to eat so that they could go do something else. Eating, laughing and drinking was what they wanted to be doing. That had such an impact on me that twenty years later, I think about that meal at least a few times a week.

An Authentic Italian Meal Twenty Years Later

The meal I am about to share with you is not the exact meal I ate all those years ago. I honestly can’t remember everything that was on that table. But, this is as an authentic Italian meal as you’re going to find just about anywhere. What you will notice is that there are very few ingredients in each dish. The flavours are fairly mild, and the meal is relatively light. There is nothing fancy about it, and there is no pretense. It is good food, prepared simply to create a fantastic meal. That’s it.

Peppers and Onions

The first dish is peppers and onions. Remove the seeds and stems from two bell peppers (the colour doesn’t matter). Slice the peppers about 1 cm thick. Peel an onion (white, red, or yellow) and slice it the same width as the peppers. Slice two cloves of garlic as thin as you can.

Heat a medium-sized pan over medium heat, add in 2 tbsp of good olive oil. Put the garlic in the pan and cook for about 45 seconds, then add in the peppers and onion. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Cook the peppers, stirring every minute or so for 7 to 8 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. That’s it. That’s the whole dish.

Roasted Vegetables

Earlier in the week, I made roasted vegetable paninis. I had leftover roasted vegetables, so I served those with my meal as well. I just took them out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature while I prepared the rest of the meal. You can find the full recipe for the roasted vegetables on the Roasted Vegetable Panini post from Wednesday right here.

The Pesto

I also made a quick pasta dish of fettuccini noodles tossed with homemade pesto. To make this, cook the pasta, drain it, then toss it with a few tablespoons of pesto. Top it with a little salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. You can find the pesto recipe below.

Pesto Sauce

A simple, classic and delicious pesto sauce.
Total Time: 5 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Pasta Sauce, Simple Sauce
Servings: 1 cup
Author: Chef’s Notes


  • 1 cup Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Pinenuts
  • 1 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Grated Parmesan
  • Salt to taste


  • Put all the ingredients into a blender and purée.
  • Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Italian Sausages

The final piece of my authentic Italian meal is a few sausages. Where I live, there are no Italian butchers, and I didn’t have time to make the sausages myself so, I bought some mild Italian sausages from the grocery store. Cook them on the grill over medium-high heat if you can. If not, roast them in the oven on 400°f for 20 minutes or until they are fully cooked.

What I find works really well is to cook the sausages over direct heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, then turn the center burners of the grill to low, put the pan of peppers on the grill and put the sausages on the warming rack above the peppers. Put the lid down and let the sausages cook for another 7 to 8 minutes. Crank the heat back up and finish the sausages over high heat. You don’t have to go through this whole process but you’ll be happy you did.


My authentic Italian meal isn’t nearly as big as the meal I ate all those years ago. But, it definitely brought me back to that time. What’s really crazy is that this meal didn’t take long to make. If you already have the pesto made and the vegetables roasted, as I did, this meal will take you less than 30 minutes to put together. What’s more, is that you are going to feel like a king or queen eating it.

Is there one meal that stands out from your life? If so, I’d love to hear all about it. Tell me in the comments below or on Facebook.

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