These incredibly delicious Italian-inspired dishes are going to be a hit at your next summer dinner party. Not only are they perfect to feed a hungry crowd, but they can all be made in advance and served at room temperature. That means less time for you in the kitchen, and more time to party with your guests, dipping the night away!

“Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought.” – Tamar Adler

Grilled Bread

A few weeks ago I started rereading Tamar Adler’s book, “An Everlasting Meal”. I remember it being a life changing text when I read it the first time many many years ago, but ingesting her words again, now that I am a vegan who’s trying to eat more consciously and conscientiously, the whole book is just speaking to me in a whole new way. No, the book is not about being vegan, or how to eat plant-based, but it is about using what you’ve got in a mindful way, and about treating yourself well through preparing simple and elegant meals with humble ingredients. 

There is a whole chapter in the book called “How to Have Balance”, which in my estimation is all about bread, and the brilliance of bread and the theory that if you have bread on the table, regardless of what else there is, you’ve got a meal. 

I took this idea to heart, and decided to center this entire meal around bread. Sourdough is my favorite, and it just so happens that I’ve actually been receiving great gifts of large sourdough loaves from my friend John who brings them to me from the restaurant he works at. 

Ripping large chunks off of the loaf, and devouring them over the sink is my preferred way of enjoying good bread, but when serving bread with other dishes, especially those that leave a nice puddles of seasoned olive oil at the bottom of the plate, it’s nice to have a bit more texture and structure.

Take a grill pan, or if you can, fire up your outdoor grill. Get it nice and hot, and then throw your sliced bread onto it. When there are charred lines running across one side, flip them, and allow the other sides to get painted by the heat. 

As soon as you remove the bread from heat, take a whole clove of garlic, sliced in half, and rib it all over the crispy sides of the bread. Place the bread – which, thechnicall,  is now “bruschetta” – into a large serving bowl lined with a flour sack towel, so it can patiently wait for the rest of the meal to arrive.

Garlic Caper Oil (Vegan Bagna Càuda)

In addition to good bread, it’s important to have good extra virgin olive oil. I personally love the brand California Olive Ranch because it’s not only delicious, but it’s – although not inexpensive – a better deal than a lot of similar quality imported olive oils.

Although one is not supposed to cook with good olive oil, I do make an exception here, and that’s only so I can elevate the oil by infusing it with other flavors. 

Garlic is an assumed ingredient in any seasoned olive oil. However, what may not be obvious, are capers and miso. 

As a vegan, and especially a vegan who cooks Italian and Mediteranean food, I’m constantly trying to find alternatives to anchovies and parmesan cheese. These two ingredients are added into many dishes to add depth and umami, but they are not on the menu when cooking plant-based meals. 

Miso, being fermented, adds a really nice salty and funky flavor that isn’t that dissimilar from the umami found in parmesan. I”m not claiming that miso tastes like parmesan, but I am saying that when added into the base of dishes, it does add a certain something that is reminiscent of the treasured cheese. 

Capers as well add a certain briney saltiness that to me is reminiscent of anchovies. Again, capers do not taste like anchovies, but when added to the party, they add a certain something that is difficult to put your finger on, which is exactly what anchovies do to a dish.

5 from 1 vote
Garlic Caper Oil (Vegan Bagna Càuda)
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
 

The most beautifully funky-fragrant oil you've ever had. Perfect for dressing salads, or just dipping bread.

Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • 1 tablespoon brined capers, drained
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low, and stir periodically as the oil heats up. Allow the oil to heat just until it starts to bubble, and continue to cook until the garlic starts to soften, but does not brown. Remove the oil from the heat, and transfer the mixture to a jar. Serve warm, or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Vegetables + Garlic Caper Oil

Once you have your Garlic Caper Oil – if there is any left after dipping your grilled bread int it – you can use it to make a variety of salads or side dishes by simply drizzling it on top of grilled or lightly charred  vegetables.  

These three recipes are merely ideas of where you can take this oil. Swap the greens in the Charred Kale Salad with spinach or arugula. Replace the cauliflower in the Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with root vegetables or other cruciferous veggies. In addition to grilled zucchini, you could cook up any other types of summer squash, or even roasted winter varieties as well.

Charred Kale Salad with Garlic Caper Oil

5 from 1 vote
Charred Kale Salad with Garlic Caper Oil
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
 

Served warm or room temp, this salad gives a whole new spin on the boring kale salad.

Course: Appetizer, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch curly kale or Tuscan kale, stems removed
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Caper Oil (recipe below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat a large cast iron or stainless steel pan to medium-high heat. Rip the kale into bite-sized pieces before adding it to the heated pan. Cook, tossing with tongs, until the kale starts to wilt, and starts to char in places. The kale should be tender, but not limp, and it should be slightly chatted, but not burnt and bitter. Toss with vinegar and taste for seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish, and drizzle on a tablespoon or two of Garlic Caper Oil, making sure to get the garlic and caper bits as well. Serve warm or at room temp.

Grilled zucchini Salad with Garlic Caper Oil

5 from 1 vote
Grilled zucchini Salad with Garlic Caper Oil
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
 

A perfect summer salad featuring grilled zucchini, and an umami-rich Garlic Caper Oil.

Course: Appetizer, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 2 large zucchini squash
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Garlic Caper Oil (recipe below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat an outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Using a mandoline, thinly sliced the zucchini lengthwise. Grill the zucchini slices on each side just until they have dark grill marks. Drizzle the cooked zucchini with vinegar, add a pinch of salt, and toss. Transfer to a serving dish, and drizzle on a tablespoon or two of Garlic Caper Oil, making sure to get the garlic and caper bits as well. Serve warm or at room temp.

Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Garlic Caper Oil

5 from 1 vote
Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Garlic Caper Oil
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
 

A umami-rich salad that's perfect for a party or a cozy night in.

Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 medium-sized head of cauliflower
  • 1 cup cooked and drained chickpeas or white beans
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Garlic Caper Oil (recipe below)
  • fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ lemon
Instructions
  1. Heat oven or air fryer to 400 F. Cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Place the cauliflower onto a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing halfway, until the cauliflower is tender, and lightly browned. Add chickpeas to the baking sheet for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Transfer the cooked cauliflower and chickpeas to a serving plate, or serve it right out of the baking dish. Drizzle on a few tablespoons of Garlic Caper Oil, making sure to get the garlic and caper bits as well. Serve warm or room temperature with lemon on the side for juicing.

Whatever You’ve Got Pesto (Whatever, You’ve Got Pesto!)

Admittedly, I am not a recipe follower. I rarely ever have the exact ingredients I need to make a dish that I’m craving, and although I look to recipes for inspirations and basic ratios, I try not to get bogged down with specifics, but instead try to make a meal work with what I have on hand.

Enter “Whatever You’ve Got Pesto”. I wrote this “recipe” as a basic guide to making your own pesto using whatever greens, nuts, or seeds you have on hand. 

The ratios work for pretty much whatever greens you have in your fridge, whether they be sturdy greens like kale, lighter greens like arugula or spinach, or fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Literally, use whatever you’ve got, and you’ve got pesto!

5 from 1 vote
Whatever You’ve Got Vegan Pesto
Prep Time
5 mins
 

Turn whatever greens you've got into the best vegan pesto of all time!

Course: Appetizer, Sauce, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon miso
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 cups packed kale, arugula, or greens of choice
  • ¼ cup walnuts, or nuts and seeds of choice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or more to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place garlic in the food processor, and pulse a few times to break it up. Add the remaining ingredients except for oil. Pulse until uniformly minced, scraping down the sides as needed. Add oil. Pulse just until the pesto comes together, but with discernable bits of greens and nuts remaining. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Garlic Roasted Tomatoes

No two ingredients change more when roasted than tomatoes and garlic. Tomatoes concentrate their flavor and become something rich with umami. Garlic gets soft and caramelized and takes on a soft sweetness where the sharp spicy edges used to be. 

Roasting them together, with a bit of olive oil to marry the two, is a life changing experience. 

I prefer to use small, grape or cherry tomatoes because those are the varieties that seem to already have the sweetness. You could use large tomatoes, but they will take a bit longer to reduce and get jammy.

5 from 1 vote
Garlic Roasted Tomatoes
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
 

Roasted tomato umami-bombs perfect for eating with crusty bread, or tossed with fresh pasta.

Course: Appetizer, Sauce, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 15 to 20 ounces “Cherub”, grape, or cherry tomatoes
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange them cut-side-up on the baking sheet. Place smashed garlic cloves (broken but still mostly whole) amongst the sliced tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt. Bake at 400 F for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are very wilted, and starting to caramelize. Taste for seasoning, and top with fresh basil. Serve warm or at room temperature with grilled bread, or tossed with cooked pasta.