No, no my friends are not Italian, but they are vegetarian and I chose to cook an Italian inspired meal. Mostly, I needed an excuse to try my hand at Tiramisu and enough mouths to help me eat it! (Both the Tiramisu and the Pesto Pea Spinach Salad are inspired by Ina Garten in Barefoot Contessa Family Style and her most recent book, Barefoot Contessa at Home, respectively).
Sometimes when I cook for vegetarian friends, I make a simple pasta dish and add sausages on the side for the carnivores at the table. In this case, the macaroni and cheese—a gourmet version made from scratch—is substantial enough on its own. Instead of needing a meat like accompaniment, all it needs is a pile of oven roasted tomatoes to refresh the palate and cut through all that rich flavor.
I love this macaroni and cheese dish—it can be frozen, heats up nicely for lunch and keeps for days in the fridge.
As for the olives: I sometimes buy them fresh from my local deli or favorite shop. In a pinch I use a jar of pitted kalamata olives (I keep a stash in my pantry), drain them and mix in 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of Italian herbs (fresh or dried) and a big pinch of kosher/course salt.
The pesto salad is a pile of spinach, lightly toasted pine nuts, a fistful of Parmesan cheese, another fistful of peas and 2-4 T of my pesto mixed with 1-2 T of olive oil (depending on how much dressing you like and how many people you are serving).
And if you are like me, please feel free to add in some Chianti or other lovely red wine, and perhaps some port, grappa or sambuca/ouzo to go with dessert. I love that idea: a toast to start the meal and a toast to end it: Salute!
(Click on the red highlighted menu items to find a given recipe).