A taste of Italy at the Home and Garden Show

Sometimes making dinner is a real drag.

Everyone’s hungry and wants something on the table, fast. But you’re tired after working all day and not necessarily eager to spend another hour or so in the kitchen.

That’s probably one of the reasons you’re at the 2013 Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, right? To find out about all the latest appliances and tools that make your cooking life easier, faster and more fun.

I’ll can’t help you with the technical details. But I can offer a few ideas for meals that will make the question “What’s for dinner?” something you’re happy to answer.

Below are a few favorite (and easy) Italian recipes that you may see me cooking during the home show. They’re all fast, without compromising taste, health or interest.

Spring Onion Frittelle

Frittelle, or fried Italian doughnuts, are the ultimate finger food, often served as a snack with wine. Using seltzer instead of regular water makes these savory fritters less dense. The onions will make your house smell amazing!

Serve as a starter while the kids are finishing up their homework, or pair with a tossed green salad for a light supper.

– Gretchen McKay

4 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 cup seltzer water

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 bunches spring onions or scallions, whites and 2 inches of green sliced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium-size bowl, combine eggs, flour, baking powder, seltzer water, cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk well to combine. Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Remove batter from the fridge, and stir in spring onions.

In a 12- to 14-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Drop tablespoons of batter into the hot skillet to make 2-inch pancakes. Cook until golden brown on the first side, then flip to brown on the other side. As they are cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer the frittelle to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish.

Wilted arugula with pine nuts and lemon

Bright and peppery, arugula – also known as rocket or rucola – is a staple in Italian cooking. Often tossed into salads, the leafy green also makes a terrific side dish when sauteed in olive oil. This recipe is as easy as it is fresh and fast – just be sure to rinse the leaves thoroughly, as they tend to hang onto a lot of grit. Stir any leftovers into cooked pasta or scrambled eggs.

– Gretchen McKay

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pine nuts

Zest of 4 lemons, grated

2 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced

10 ounces baby arugula, trimmed

2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino

Heat oil in a 14-inch skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add lemon zest and jalapenos, and cook for 1 minute. Add arugula and stir until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and toss with grated cheese. Place on a warmed platter and serve.

Makes 8 to 10 side servings.

Swiss chard and Swiss

frittata with tomatoes

Frittatas – a type of Italian omelet – make for a great midweek meal because they’re fast, inexpensive and relatively easy. Not to mention versatile: The egg dish lends itself to whatever veggies, meats and cheese you happen to have on hand, which means you won’t have to stop at the grocery store on your way home from work.

To make this vegetarian version, I paired a bunch of red Swiss chard with Swiss cheese and sweet onion. Then, I topped it with sliced kumata tomatoes.

If you don’t have (or like) Swiss chard, substitute another green such as spinach or arugula. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

– Gretchen McKay

4 eggs

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 quarter sweet onion, diced (about 1?4 cup) or 1 large shallot, diced

1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and stems removed, and chopped (I used red-ribbed chard)

1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or your favorite variety)

1 medium or 2 small tomatoes, sliced

Good balsamic vinegar, for serving

Set oven rack 5 inches from heat source. Flip on the broiler.

Whisk eggs, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Swirl oil along bottom and up sides of a 91?2-inch cast-iron or ovenproof nonstick skillet. Set skillet over medium-low heat, add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add Swiss chard, a little bit at a time, turning with tongs so it wilts. Crank heat and saute for about 5 minutes, until greens weep and any moisture evaporates, tossing a few times. Lower the heat again.

Add egg mixture, then top with cheese and tomatoes. Cook until the frittata is three-quarters set, about 5 minutes, tilting the skillet now and again so the runny eggs slide toward the edges.

Broil until puffy and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from oven, making sure to use an oven mitt or pot holder so you don’t burn your hands. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve wedges warm or at room temperature, with balsamic vinegar for dribbling.

Serves 2 to 4.