HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Italian main dish that holds well

My Italian class is having a potluck luncheon at an adult ed place where we'll have class first and then eat. I've volunteered to bring a main course. My fall back will be lasagna w/ home made noodles and bechamel but I'd love to do something else. I have a thermal container for a 9x13 pyrex container w/ heatable gel pack so I can keep it somewhat warm but most dishes I'm thinking of don't hold well. I also have a crockpot. I would love to do sweet potato gnocchi w/ pancetta in a brown butter sage sauce but think that'll get gummy over a couple of hours (at least). I've read that pizza rustica is good served room temperature but have only had it hot. Anyone have ideas? I like to cook/bake but it's so busy this time of year that the most time I'd want to spend is about the time it takes to make lasagna from scratch, if that helps.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Chowser, I'd go for the pizza rustica. It holds flavor well (better, even) at room temp. I always worry about anything other lasagna as a pasta option, re: the textural issue.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mamachef

      Yeah, I think pasta, other than lasagna is definitely out. I'm leaning towards Pizza Rustica. Making the dough the night before, baking morning of and letting it come somewhat to room temp but it might be warm.

    2. Vitello Tonnato or Seafood Salad ?

      4 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        Thanks--great suggestions but someone else grabbed the seafood option and I don't like to use veal.

        1. re: chowser

          You could easily substitute a thin sliced pork loin....or pounded pork tenderloins.....in place of the veal.

            1. re: fourunder

              Oddly enough, someone claimed pork loin. It's going to be an interesting potluck.

        2. I have some suggestions below. The sausage recipes would work well w your crockpot, the Eggplant Parm in your Pyrex carry case and the others could be served at room temperature and would make a lovely main course w a salad. I wish I could come to your party!!! Enjoy

          Lidia Bastianich’s Sausage & Peppers (serve alone or, w crostini)


          or something similar by Mario Batalli:


          Midway down this page, you’ll find a beautiful Eggplant Parmesan from Marcella Hazan:


          Or this Soft Chickpea Focaccia from Marcella Hazan


          Or another great one by Marcella, Artichoke Pie (great at room temp) – scroll down when you get to this website:


          Or, another favorite, this beautiful and tasty Rainbow Chard Torte by Marcella. Also great at room temp:


          1 Reply
          1. re: Breadcrumbs

            Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll have to make them for dinners. That rainbow chard looks great--definitely a keeper recipe. I love eggplant parm but someone did it at the last gathering with eggplants and tomatoes he grew in his own garden so anything I'd do now would pale in comparison. People have already taken similar dishes. Next time I'm sticking with pane and dolce because those are what I like best!

          2. In my house, Pizza Rustica is only ever served room temperature. I don't think I have ever eaten it hot, but I have to say that I've eaten it straight out of the refrigerator. However, it is a dish more associated with Easter than Christmas. Why don't you make something like struffoli, which is a dessert that you can eat as long as a week after making it!

            1. "Italian main dish that holds well"

              A decade or so ago I would have immediately said Fabio.

              But now I find a good lasagna with homemade ethereal noodles far more appealing. I think you might want to reconsider that lasagna - but with spinach, roasted butternut squash and mushrooms (and your bechamel) I made it a while back over a course of a few days and it was quite good (I got the recipe from a recipe in "The Flexitarian Table" - which you could scoop up from the library. It holds very well, is really really nice to have in the season of meat and is so pretty. You can even make it ahead then reheat it with no ill effect.

              Have a lovely time at the party.

              1. An alternative to a lasagna is stuffed shells and a salad.

                1 Reply
                1. re: wineos

                  When I get asked to bring a dish such as my Chicken Marsala .I either make it boneless with both dark and white pieces or bone in..When I'm asked to bring pasta its never ,never ZITI or any other cut that gets soggy ,mushy etc .I instead use Gemelli ,or Fusilli cooked adente. Sometimes when I get to the host I'll cook the macaroni there . GRATED CHEESE on the side

                2. I'm surprised nobody suggested meatballs. They hold up excellently in some delicious sauce, and they can be as complex and frou-frou or as simple and homey as you like. And aside from vegetarians, I don't know anyone who doesn't like a hearty meatball! (or five)

                  1. Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone. I think I'll go w/ the pizza rustica but since I love the meatball idea I think I'll make some small ones this weekend and put them in the pizza rustica--the best of both worlds.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: chowser

                      Torta Rustica (I've never heard it called Pizza Rustica, but you learn something new every day) would be my first choice. A spin on that - though typically served during Easter - would be Torta Pasqualina (also goes by a ton of other names), which is basically a Torta Rustica, but that is much more protein centered, often featuring several meats and whole hard-boiled eggs.

                      Here's a good recipe for it (but like most Italian dishes, there are as many dish variations as there are Italian cheeses): http://theitaliandishblog.com/importe...

                      Second choice would be polenta cakes with a bolognese sauce. You could make the bolognese a couple days before, as well as a basic polenta recipe. Cool the polenta overnight, either spread on a cookie sheet or rolled as a log in saran wrap, and cut and then grill. Pop the polenta cakes into your warmer - should be enough heat to warm the polenta through - and put the bolgnese in your crock pot. That should get the bolognese nice and hot, which when spooned over the polenta cakes will heat the polenta cakes further. A little more involved than a Torta Rustica, but it's a good dish that travels well. And for what it's worth, very few people (from my experience) have had polenta, so it's a good opportunity to introduce folks that is a staple food in many northern Italian regions.

                      Last choice - and this might sound odd, but hear me out - is to make a seafood stew. There's a lovely stew that uses white wine, seafood stock, and fennel as its mains, along with some red pepper flakes for a little heat. The stock re-warms very nicely. Make that ahead of time, and cut the fish into 1/2 cubes, bring that with you and keep chilled. If you have a new crockpot, setting it on high will get the stew base very hot. 10 minutes before serving, pop the fish chunks in. Ten minutes of cooking is plenty of time to get 1/2 pieces of a firm white-fish, like cod, cooked, and this keeps really nicely for several hours. It's very loosely a Shabu-Shabu style of dish. I know you said someone already claimed seafood, but this is an interesting way of being able to serve a hot seafood dish at a potluck, without the issue of seafood overcooking.

                      1. re: foreverhungry

                        No, you're right--as I was typing pizza rustica, I knew it was wrong and couldn't get my middle aged brain uncluttered enough to think of the right word. I knew CHers would know what I was talking about. Thanks for the link--that looks perfect. I have made more variations of torta rustica than I can count. I've never known what type of crust works best (have seen recipes for every type from yeast ones like pizza to pie/tart crusts), though they all taste good. How can you go wrong w/ ricotta, great fillings and a good crust? I actually might just go with the recipe you posted, as is. I love the vegetable combination. Have you made it? Ten thin disks of dough? It looks challenging. I've also never made crust with olive oil. I'm wondering if I could get away w/ using phyllo dough.

                        Polenta cakes and bolognese crossed my mind, too. I actually think it would be easier than the torta Pasqualina and I do have all the ingredients. Maybe I'll see how much time I have to do both. The seafood stew sounds great but I don't have access to great seafood, easily, and it would cost more than I'd want to use. But, it would be a great dinner for my family. Thanks for the ideas.

                        1. re: chowser

                          You can use phyllo, but you'll be changing the nature of the dish very dramatically. I also didn't notice that you referenced a crock-pot earlier; with that being the case you could easily do some sort of Italian-esque chicken dish; maybe a cacciatore or Tuscan chicken of some kind?

                          1. re: mamachef

                            I have my heart set on the torta now but I might use another crust recipe instead. I don't know if I have the time to roll out 10 thin crusts this time of year, given I've never done it before. I can see myself elbow deep in flour and cursing at myself.

                          2. re: chowser

                            I've actually never made the one in the link - but I'm hoping to try it soon. Other Pasqualina recipes I've seen are more meat heavy, including different incarnations of sausages and pork products.

                            I've made the standard Rustica using a piza-ish dough, red peppers, ricotta, spinach, ham, and provolone. I've been involved in making an eggplant based one too. That's the nice thing about torta rustica's, you can really vary them to fit budget, season, ingredients on hand, what you're yearning for, etc.

                            If you make that Pasqualina recipe, let us know how it turns out. It is beautiful looking....

                        2. re: chowser

                          please explain - altho I know and probably will go google it - but what is Pizza Rustica that so many of you are referring to?! Surprised I don't know of it! I did look at the link - and the picture looked pretty - altho I am not one to enjoy hardboiled eggs in anything - but if you could describe more in detail an explanation or recipe (minus the egg?!) I would greatly appreciate it!

                          1. re: smilingal

                            It's really just a deep dish pizza w/ a ricotta base and sometimes a top crust, sometimes not. That's what I find confusing is that there are so many versions of it--from pizza type dough to pie/tart dough to the version foreverhungry posted with layers of thin olive oil crust. I've never made it w/ hard boiled egg and am leaning towards putting meatballs into the version above. I generally use whatever I have around the house if I'm just making it for the family.

                            1. re: chowser

                              thanks for the explanations - it sounds like something I would love - especially with the roasted red peppers, sausage, spinach, ricotta, maybe mozz thrown in for some meltingness?, but I think it feels intimidating figuring out the crusts. Maybe I will investigate further - does anyone else have a recipe they could share?

                            2. re: smilingal

                              I refer to it as Torta Rustica, but it's essentially a dough - top and bottom - baked in a springform pan, with savory ingredients in the middle. Vaguely (very vaguely) along the lines of a stuffed pizza, but much more refined.

                              The typical Torta Rustica (well, typical for me, anyway), using a pizza-like dough, ricotta mixed with spinach, egg, and parmesan, locatelli, or asiago, and layers in roasted red pepper, ham, provolone (not necessarily in that order). Final layer is dough on the top, with some slits cut into it. It's baked for about an hour, and then typically eaten at room temperature.

                              The Torta Pasqualina is a special version of it, that tends to be much richer, and is made specially for Easter. It's a much more protein heavy version, using different types of meat layered in, including cased sausages so when you cut through it, you get a beautiful pattern. For a traditional Torta Pasqualina, folks puts in it which hard cook through, since eggs are associated with Easter.

                              There are many variation for both a Torta Rustica and Pasqualina. The beauty of them is that you can add whatever you wish - within some limits, of course. It's a great dish for a potluck, because it transports well and is usually served room temp. Excellent picnic fare too, or to bring for lunch - kinda like a sandwich. Only not.

                              There's a ton of different recipes out there - all variations on the same theme.

                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                Your Pasqualina sounds like Pizzagaina my friends make at Easter

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  Yes, I think it's the same thing, different name, though I might be wrong. I use torta pasqualina and torta gaina interchangeably, though someone that knows better might point out the differences.

                          2. How about pork butt braised in milk. Very Italian. Incredibly simple and delicious and you can shove it in a crock pot to keep it warm.

                            1. Thanks for your help on this everyone. I did go with the torta rustica which was perfect at room temperature. I wasn't up for rolling 10 disks of thin dough so I made the pizza dough from the Torta Rustica from KA's:


                              And, I combined parts of that recipe with the Torta Pasqualina below. It was a big hit so thanks for all of your help!