Like many Italian-Americans, food was a huge part of my childhood. From Nonna’s famous meatballs to Mamma’s pepperoni bread, food always brought our family together.

Between the heated arguments that my uncles had when the Yankees played the Red Sox, my cousins and I getting rowdy as we played ping-pong in Papa’s basement, and my aunties fighting over who cheated in their card game, family gatherings were always a loud, crazy affair. But once Nonna put her famous meatballs on the table, everyone came together, united in a brief moment of calm. Her meals were the one thing that everyone could agree on.

When I went vegan, I was afraid that I would lose those special moments with my family—but I quickly found a solution! I veganized my family’s classic recipes, including Nonna’s famous meatballs, and started taking them to family gatherings. Not only did my vegan dishes have my macho uncles coming back for seconds, they also made mealtime more special, because no animals had to be killed in order to produce them. They are the same recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation but without the cruelty and with an extra dose of compassion.

Here are six vegan classic Italian meals to take to your next family gathering: 

Mamma’s Pepperoni Bread

2 pkgs. vegan crescent rolls

1 pkg. vegan pepperoni

4 slices vegan provolone cheese

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Roll out one sheet of crescent roll dough on a cookie sheet and top with the vegan pepperoni and vegan cheese.
  • Cover with the other sheet of crescent roll dough and press the edges together to seal.
  • Cook for 11 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings

Caesar Salad

1 sourdough baguette, cubed

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. water

1 clove garlic, finely diced

1/4 cup almonds, finely diced

1 Tbsp. spicy mustard

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 bunch romaine lettuce, chopped

 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Add the baguette cubes to a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until crisp.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, water, garlic, almonds, mustard, and vinegar. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Place the romaine lettuce in a large bowl and top with the croutons and dressing.
  • Eat up!

Makes 6 servings

Nonna’s Meatballs 

1 24-oz. jar marinara sauce

1 11-oz. pkg. vegan beefy crumbles

10 vegan crackers, crushed

Egg replacer equivalent of 4 eggs (try flax eggs or Follow Your Heart’s VeganEgg)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup parsley

Garlic salt, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

  • Place the marinara sauce in a large pot and simmer over low heat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and mix until well combined, then roll into balls.
  • Warm a large greased skillet over medium heat. Add the “meatballs,” fry until golden brown, and transfer to the pot of marinara sauce. Simmer for 2 hours.
  • Enjoy the “meatballs” on their own or with spaghetti.

Makes 6 servings

Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts

1 pkg. frozen Brussels sprouts, thawed and halved

2–3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 cups sundried tomatoes

1 1/2 cups walnuts

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 pkg. spaghetti, cooked

1 cup fresh basil leaves

 

  • Warm a large greased skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and garlic.
  • Sauté until the Brussels sprouts are evenly browned, then add the sundried tomatoes, walnuts, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper and mix well.
  • Add the spaghetti and cook for 2 minutes, or until heated through, then remove from the heat and add the basil leaves.
  • Serve with garlic bread or a salad.

Makes 6 servings

Mexitalian Pasta al Forno

1 24-oz. jar marinara sauce

1 pkg. pasta shells, cooked al dente

1 pkg. vegan chorizo

1/2 pkg. vegan cheddar-style shreds

1/2 pkg. vegan mozzarella-style shreds

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce to a large glass baking pan and spread evenly across the bottom.
  • Add a layer of the pasta shells, followed by a layer of the vegan chorizo, another layer of marinara sauce, and a layer of vegan cheese. Repeat until you run out of ingredients.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until the vegan cheese is melted.
  • Serve with a salad and enjoy.

Makes 6 servings

Pineapple Granita

4 cups chopped pineapple (or fruit of your choice)

1 cup coconut water

 

  • Add the pineapple and coconut water to a blender and blend until smooth.
  • Cover and place in the freezer overnight.
  • Scrape the frozen mixture into a bowl or cup.
  • Enjoy your tasty frozen treat.

Makes 4 servings

Billions of animals are killed for food every year, but we can help prevent this suffering by going vegan. Luckily, balancing compassion for animals and family traditions is super-easy. It’s also pretty fun to introduce skeptical family members to delicious vegan dishes. I love that I get to pass kindness to animals down to the next generation with my veganized version of Nonna’s classic meatballs. J

Try veganizing your family’s recipes! Not vegan yet? Get started by checking out our Guide to Going Vegan.