Tag Archives: Italian

Party planning

I need to take a break from work, so here’s some info on a party I’m planning right now. We’re having 25-30 people over on Friday night for apps, sweets and booze. I’m in the middle of a crazy week, so I’m looking to make it pretty easy on myself…but still amazing.  A few tips to that end:

  • I think a spread looks more impressive as a whole if it follows something of a theme (e.g. Italian, Mexican, Comfort food).
  • When the whole looks impressive, you have a little more wiggle room on the individual items. Meaning that you can buy more dishes ready-made or ready-to-assemble.
  • Always plan several items that can be wholly or partially cooked 1-2 days in advance.
  • For a cocktail party, I shoot for 3 savory dishes (1 veggie, 1 vegetarian or seafood, and 1 meat), 2 sweets and 1 signature drink.
  • Try to avoid dished that need utensils or more than 2 bites.

With those rules in mind, I came up with the following 3 menus:

Mexican

  1. Guacamole topped with chipotle puree and toasted almonds, served with chips (vegetarian): Easy-peasy. You have to make the guac the day of, but easy to puree the chipotle in adobo and toast the almonds in advance
  2. Cilantro dip  with crudite (veggies): The dip is store-bought and I’d cheat and buy a lot of veggies already prepped
  3. Oregano-crusted pork tenderloin sliders with pickled red onion and lime aioli (meat): Cheap, delicious and easy. I can make the pork and red onions in advance, the rolls come from the freezer section and the “lime aioli”is just mayo with lime zest and sauteed garlic.
  4. Subtly spicy Mexican chocolate pudding with cinnamon cream, served in little shot glasses (sweet #1): You literally make this dish in a blender. It is so good and easy…and vegan (minus the whipped cream)
  5. Key lime bars (sweet #2): The hardest thing on the menu, so I might think about a substitute.
  6. Margaritas (signature cocktail): Always easy, always delicious. Pre-mix everything and just have it out for people to serve themselves

Comfort food

  1. Michael’s curry dip with crudite (veggie): Easy to make in advance because it tastes better after a day or two…and I can outsource it to my husband
  2. Little crawfish pies (seafood): Store-bought pie shells filled with crawfish etouffee and cooked with parm on top. YUM. The etouffee isn’t “easy” but I’ll end up with more than half of it in my freezer for a rainy day, so I don’t mind the effort
  3. Pigs in a blanket (meat): Come on, people. They are delicious and everyone loves them. Literally just store-bought little sausages rolled in crescent roll dough and baked. Sprinkle some poppy seeds on some before baking, mix up some honey mustard (yellow mustard, honey and a bit of mayo) and Schriracha ketchup, and people with think you’re Christ come again.
  4. Brown-butter rice krispie treats (sweet #1): Just increase the butter a bit and let it get nice and brown before you mix it up. Sprinkle a bit of course salt on top while it’s still warm in the pan.
  5. Peanut butter, chocolate chunk cookies (sweet#2): My earliest signature dish and still a winner. Stay great for days, so you can make in advance.
  6. Bourbon slushes (signature cocktail): Mix it two days ahead and  pop it in the freezer. Then you just separate the ice with a fork and leave it out for people to serve themselves.

Italian/Mediterranean

  1. Rebecca F’s delicious prosciutto wrapped goat cheese (meat): So easy, plentiful and yummy. They do need to be assembled the day of the party, but it’s an easy job for a hubby or child (hah)
  2. Puff pastry tartlets with pesto, fresh mozzerella and sun dried tomatoes (vegetarian):  Another day-of job, but easy and great at room temp.
  3. Mediterranean platter (veggies): Store-bought grape leaves, hummus + crudite, olives, and Marcona almonds
  4. Nutella and banana tea sandwiches (sweet #1): Seriously. Nutella and bananas in perfectly square, little white-bread, crustless  sandwiches
  5. Meringue cookies with lemon curd (sweet #2): Store-bought meringues with store-bought lemon curd. Add a blueberry or raspberry on top and we’re in business
  6. Blood orange Sangria (signature cocktail): Add “blood orange” to the title and people will think it was harder. 🙂 Better if you make it a day in advance

So, 3 menus that are all easy, delicious and well-balanced. My honey picked the last one for the party. What do you think?

Either way, I’ll start linking back to some of these recipes. Fun, fun!

Mediocre pictures, delicious food

Look… I have tried and tried to capture this dish in pictures. But,  I just have my dinky little Coolpix and I can’t do it justice. I’ve finally decided that I need to just post the bastard and hope that you’ll trust me vs. your eyes.

I found some version of this recipe about 5 years ago in a Mario Batali cookbook, but the dish I make today is only a very distant cousin of that dish. For starters, I’ve cut every corner possible. If I’m going to invest an impressive amount of time and energy into a dish, it is going to be something a lot more impressive than eggplant rotini. Second, I like to bulk it up a bit with spinach and more filler. You can skip the greens if you want/are a Communist.  Anywho, here goes..

Serves 6-8  as a side and 4 as a main dish

  • 2  Large eggplant
  • 1  Package chopped frozen spinach- thawed and strained
  • 1  Cup ricotta- full-fat or low-fat is preferable to fat free
  • 1  Egg, beaten
  • ¼ Cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1   Teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2    Cups marinara sauce
  • 3   Tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1   Cup grated Italian cheese, such as Asiago, Mozzarella, etc.

1.    Eggplant: Peel eggplant and slice very thinly (1/4 inch or less) lengthwise with a knife of mandolin.  You should have long, thin strips of eggplant. At this point, eggplant can be grilled or broiled.

Grilled: Clean and oil grill. Spray or brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Lay on hot grill for ~1 minute on each side. Eggplant should be very slightly charred with some darker spots

b.      Broiled: Preheat broiler and move rack to bottom middle position. Spray or brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Place eggplant on 2 cookie sheets and broil 2 minutes on each side

Set aside eggplant for later use. Preheat or decrease oven heat to 400 degrees

2.    Filling: Combine spinach, egg, nutmeg and parmesan cheese in small bowl until combined. Stir in ricotta cheese and set aside

3.   Assemble: Pour marinara into large pyrex or other oven-safe casserole dish and stir in chopped basil.  Place approx 1 tablespoon of spinach filling at “fat” end of prepared eggplant.  Carefully roll filled end towards thinner end until you have a stuffed tube. Place seam-side down in prepared dish.  Fill dish compactly with rolled eggplant, sprinkle with grated cheese and cook until cheese is melted and spotty, approx 10 minutes.

Note:  Dish can be prepared up to 1 day in advance, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature prior to heating and heat additional 3-5 minutes.

Homemade pasta

This is going to be a long post. Long like luscious strands of tagliatelle, as opposed to long like a self-indulgent rambling. Hopefully.

I got a pasta machine last year for Christmas and have absolutely loved it. It’s so insanely delicious and fun, and nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be. I know you can do it without a pasta machine, but I have no idea how. Assuming you have one of these suckers, here’s how it works….

First you make the pasta. I use this recipe:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

On a clean surface make a well with the flour. In a measuring cup mix the eggs, water and oil and salt. Pour the wet mixture slowly into the flour and mix with a fork (or your fingers) until all of the wet is incorporated. Do not force the dough to take all of the flour. Form the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for an hour.

At this point, you’ll start kneading the dough with the pasta machine.

  1. Set up your pasta machine, clamping it to a table or countertop, and turning the dial to the widest setting (usually setting number 1 on the dial). Initially, I divide the pasta dough into two pieces. Working with the first piece (keep remaining piece covered with plastic wrap), flatten it into a rectangle shape. Starting with one of the shorter sides of the rectangle, feed it through the rollers at the fattest setting.
  2. Once passed through, Fold one side of the piece of dough into the middle, then fold the other side over that to form 3 layers (like a letter) pressing lightly on the top of the piece of dough to seal it. Pass this new pasta letter through the fattest setting (#1) again.  Repeat this step 2 times
  3. Now, keep passing the pasta through the machine, at successively skinnier settings until you reach the desired thickness. At this point, it’s best to work with a helper, so one person can turn the crank and the other person can guide the dough into the machine with one hand and catch it with the other hand, being careful not to stretch or tear the sheet. You may also want to cut it half a few times if it gets too long or fat. It benefits from kneading, so don’t worry if you have to manipulate it a bit.
  4. At this point, check out a real cookbook. 🙂 If you’re making ravioli or lasagne, you may want thin sheets. If you want fresh pasta, your machine has an add-on that cuts the sheets into lovely strips of pasta.

Here’s some pics of stuff I did….

Butternut squash Ravioli with brown butter & sage

Fresh linguine with mushroom sauce


 

Broiled eggplant parm

I am going to be upfront with you, people. This is not as delicious as eggplant parm. BUT, it is way healthier and easier. That’s worth something, right? My eggplant garden is exploding, so I needed some new cooking methods. I liked it and will certainly make it again, but it does not top the eggplant stuffed with spinach and ricotta. That is divine. I’ll make it/post it next week. In the meantime, this really was quite delicious.

Shown here with my creamy israeli cous-cous (but with whole wheat cous-cous and sauteed mushrooms added…YUM)

  • 2 lbs eggplant (~2 large or 3 medium)
  • 1 T table salt
  • 2 T EVOO
  • 4 t good balsamic
  • 1 toe garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozz (as opposed to grated- just sort of tear it up into small pieces)
  • 6 T fresh grated parm
  • 3 T fresh basil
  • 1/2 C marinara (you can just used good jarred)
  1. Cut off and discard stem and bottom end of each eggplant. Don’t peel. Cut eggplants crosswise into 3/4-inch slices. Lay slices out on a cutting board, sprinkle tops with half the salt, and rub it in with your fingers. Turn eggplant slices over and repeat  with remaining salt. Place eggplant in a colander set over bowl or sink and let eggplant stand for  2 to 3 hours.
  2. Rinse eggplant under cold, running water, rubbing slices lightly in your hands. Shake colander to drain. Lay slices about an inch apart on triple thickness of paper towels or clean dishtowel; cover with another triple layer of towels or clean dishtowel. Using your palms, press each eggplant slice very firmly until it looks green and translucent and feels firm and leathery when pressed between fingertips. You may need to refresh towels if they get too wet.  You can do this and refrigerate up to 3 hours before cooking.
  3. Heat broiler. Mix oil, vinegar, and garlic in small cup. Arrange eggplant slices fairly close together on a baking sheet; brush tops with half of oil mixture. Turn slices over and brush with remaining oil mixture. Broil eggplant slices about 8 inches from heat source until tops turn brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn slices over; broil until other sides lighter brown, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. WATCH CAREFULLY.
  4. While broiling, combine mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. When eggplant is broiled on second side, remove and sprinkle slices with cheese mixture; return eggplant to broiler until cheese melts and becomes a little crusty. Sprinkle with basil and serve with marinara.

Focaccia!

I am in love and the bread that I love is focaccia. Holy salty, chewy, crisp goodness. And it wasn’t even hard! I blatantly used Cook’s recipe with minimal edits. Frankly, only a fool would monkey with a bread recipe the first time. It’s science, no? So, I am blatantly copying and pasting below:

Makes one 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch rectangle.   Published May 1, 1997.

Rapid-rise or instant yeast reduces the preparation time by more than an hour. If you use an equal amount of regular active dry yeast instead, let the sponge in step 2 develop for thirty minutes rather than twenty, and increase the first and second rises to one and one-half hours each.

Dough
1 medium baking potato (about 9 ounces), peeled and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup water (warm, 105 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil , plus more for oiling bowl and pan
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
Topping
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon sea salt , coarse, (or 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt)

Instructions

  1. For the dough: Boil 1 quart water in small saucepan; add potato and simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain potato well; cool until it can be handled comfortably and put through fine disk on ricer or grate through large holes on box grater. You will need 1 1/3 cups lightly packed potato for this recipe.
  2. Meanwhile, in large bowl of electric mixer or workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, mix or pulse yeast, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup warm water until combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (or put workbowl lid on) and set aside until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Add remaining dough ingredients, including reserved potato. If using mixer, fit with paddle attachment and mix on low speed (number 2 on KitchenAid) until dough comes together. Switch to dough hook attachment and increase speed to medium (number 4 on KitchenAid); continue kneading until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. For food processor, process until dough is smooth and elastic, about 40 seconds.
  3. Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  4. With wet hands (to prevent sticking), press dough flat into generously oiled 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch jelly roll pan (see illustration 1). Or, halve and flatten each piece of dough into 8-inch round on large (at least 18 inches long), generously oiled baking sheet (illustration 2). Cover dough with lightly greased or oil-sprayed plastic wrap; let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough is puffy and doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. With two wet fingers, dimple risen dough (illustration 3) at regular intervals.
  6. For the topping: Drizzle dough with oil and sprinkle evenly with rosemary and coarse salt, landing some in pools of oil.
  7. Bake until focaccia bottom(s) are golden brown and crisp, 23 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool slightly. Cut rectangular focaccia into squares or round focaccia into wedges; serve warm. (Focaccia can be kept on counter for several hours and reheated just before serving. Or, wrap cooled focaccia in plastic and then foil and freeze for up to 1 month; unwrap and defrost in 325-degree oven until soft, about 15 minutes.)

Tuscan beans & greens

We’ve been cooking this recipe in my fam for a long time, so it certainly won’t be a shocker. It is just so good, though. Really hearty and healthy.

2     Tablespoons EVOO
3     Toes garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 Teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1      Large bunch greens (I like spinach or kale- about 1 pound), thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips (about 10 cups packed)
1/2  Cup  vegetable broth or low-salt chicken broth
1      15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
Lemon wedges
Good EVOO (garnish)
  1. Heat EVOO in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and dried crushed pepper; stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add greens by large handfuls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more, tossing with tongs to coat with oil.
  2. Add broth, cover, and simmer until greens are just tender. Add beans; simmer uncovered until beans are heated through and liquid is almost absorbed, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Either plate individually or in a large serving dish.  Drizzle with EVOO and serve lemon wedges around

Grilled Mozzarella Sandwiches

These little treats are shockingly tasty, easy and elegant. Not your grandmother’s grilled cheese! This will serve 4 as a big side or 8 as a smaller treat

  • 1 lb    Good Mozzarella (you really need the good, fresh stuff here), sliced 1/4 inch thin
  • 8         Slices good white bread
  • 1/2    Cup heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2 (sorry, but milk just won’t cut it)
  • 2         Large eggs
  • 1/2    Teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4    Teaspoon grated nutmeg (if you can grate fresh, increase amount a smidge)
  • 1/4    Cup EVOO
  • 2         Tablespoons butter
  1. Place the sliced mozzarella on the bread, forming 4 sandwiches. No need to go all the way to the edges. Remove crusts and cut each sandwich in half, forming 8 roughly square mozz sammies
  2. In a pie pan or wide, shallow bowl, whisk eggs. Mix in cream (or 1/2 & 1/2), thyme, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon salt until well blended.
  3. In a nonstick saute pan, heat half of the EVOO over medium-high heat until very hot, but not quite smoking. Add butter. While butter is melting, place half of the sandwiches in the egg mixture, turning once to coat. Put in pan and cook on each side until golden brown, approx 2 min per side.
  4. Transfer sandwiches to plate and repeat with remaining oil, butter and sandwiches

You can cook the sandwiches whole and cut them in half later. It might be a smidge easier, but some of that ooey, gooey mozz will definitely ooze out. I think that is a shameful waste.

NOTE: You’re almost frying the suckers, rather than “grilling” them. You want the fat good and hot before you add the sandwiches, so they don’t get soggy. If you aren’t sure if you’re oil is hot enough, set aside a little bread and dip it in the oil when you think you’re ready. It should start sizzling immediately.