Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: December 2012

How is New Year’s Day Celebrated Around the World?

Celebrating New Year’s Day is one of the oldest customs around the world. Ringing church bells, tooting horns and ear-piercing shrieks echo throughout the world on this holiday. Since this festival marks the beginning of the year, New Year’s Day is thought of as a perfect time for a “clean start”, so people worldwide resolve to act better in the year just beginning than in the year just ended. Many New Year’s traditions are similar, but some are different. Here are some interesting customs, past and present, around the world.

In the United States, New Year’s Day is observed on January 1st and, for many, it is a day of recovery from the New Year’s Eve celebrations the previous night. In some towns and cities, parades are held and special football games are played. The birth of the first baby in the New Year is often celebrated with gifts to his or her parents and appearances in local newspapers and on local news shows. Many people make New Year’s resolutions. These are usually promises to themselves that they will improve something in their own lives. Common New Year’s resolutions are to stop smoking or drinking alcohol, to lose weight, exercise more or to live a healthier lifestyle.

People in China celebrate this holiday for several weeks between January 17th. and February 19th., at the time of the new moon. The Chinese called this time of feasting and celebrations Yuan Tan. Lanterns illuminate the streets as the Chinese use thousands of lanterns “to light the way” for the New Year. The Chinese believe that evil spirits roam the earth at the New Year, so they let off firecrackers to scare off the spirits and seal their windows and doors with paper to keep the evil demons out.

In Scotland, the New Year is called Hogmanay. In many of the villages barrels of tar are set afire and then rolled down the streets. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is” burned up” and the new one is allowed to enter.

In Great Britain the custom of “first footing” is practiced. The first male visitor to the house, after midnight, is supposed to bring good luck. The man brings a gift of money, bread, or coal, to ensure the family will have plenty of these in the year to come. The first person must not be blond, red-haired, or a women, as these are supposed to be bad luck.

New Year’s Day is also the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece. Children leave their shoes by the fireside on New Year’s Day with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.

The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is a holy time when Jews recall the things they have done wrong in the past and then promise to do better in the future. Special services are held in the synagogues, children are given new clothes and bread loaves are baked to remind people of harvest time.

The Indian New Year’s Day begins with a festival of lights called Diwali. Cards and gifts are exchanged and people finish off any uncompleted work.

Iran’s New Year’s Day, which is in March, celebrates not only the beginning of the new year according to the solar calendar, but also bahar, “the beginning of spring.”

On New Year’s Day in Japan, everyone gets dressed in their new clothes and homes are decorated with pine branches and bamboo–symbols of long life.

The French New Year is “Jour des Etrennes”, or Day of New Year’s Presents. Dinner parties are held for the entire family, where presents are exchanged.

In other European countries such as Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, families start the New Year by first attending church services. Afterwards, they visit friends and relatives. In Italy boys and girls receive gifts of money on New Year’s Day. Some very old and popular customs in Italian history include:

Throwing pots, pans, and clothes out of the window to let go of the past and move toward the future.

Light a Christmas log before New Year’s Day to turn away evil spirits (who don’t like fire) and invite the Virgin Mary to warm the newborn Jesus.

Wearing red underwear for good luck.

 

It is fun to entertain your friends and family on New Year’s Day. It is a day of new beginnings, a return to normalcy after the craziness of the holidays, and it holds all of the hope and possibilities for the coming year. To make things as simple as possible, I suggest a New Year’s Day Brunch as a low stress, comfortable way to celebrate with friends and family. Plan a casual and comfortable party filled with delicious breakfast type foods, that can be prepared ahead of time and heated before serving.

The breads can be baked several days ahead or even frozen. The quiches can be baked a day ahead and reheated in a moderate oven. Depending on the number of people you are entertaining, you may need to make double the amount of quiches.The fruit salad can be made a day ahead and chilled.

Brunch Menu:

Bloody Mary

Fresh Fruit Salad

Zucchini, Tomato, and Swiss Cheese Pie

Mushroom Bacon Potato Crust Quiche

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins

Maple Nut Scones

Pot of Coffee

Christmas Cookies

 

 

Bloody Marys

Serves: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 limes, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh or prepared horseradish
  • 2 quarts tomato juice, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka, chilled in the freezer
  • Celery stalks, for serving
  • Cucumber spears, for serving
  • Handful fresh parsley stalks, for garnish

Directions

Combine the lime juice, celery seed, and horseradish in a pitcher. Stir the mixture with the end of a wooden spoon to blend and break up the celery seeds. Pour in the tomato juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce; season with salt and pepper. Stir everything together to combine.

Divide the vodka among 6 tall, chilled glasses filled with ice. Fill the glasses with the bloody mary mix and stir well. Add celery, cucumber and parsley to each glass and serve.

 

Fresh Fruit Salad

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cantaloupe melons cut into chunks
  • 1 honeydew melon cut into chunks
  • 3-4 kiwi, cut into slices
  • 1 bunch grapes, halved
  • 2 pineapple (cut into chunks)
  • 2 quarts strawberries (tops removed)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Combine fruit in large serving bowl. Drizzle in orange juice.

 

Zucchini, Tomato and Swiss Cheese Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 pound grated Swiss or mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375º F. Spread the 1 tablespoon butter on the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate, then sprinkle the bread crumbs all over the sides and bottom. Allow whatever loose crumbs are left to just sit on the bottom.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the onion. Sauté until translucent, then add the garlic and sauté for another 3 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes and sauté another 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high. Mix in the zucchini, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and cool 5 minutes. (The recipe may be prepared in advance to this point and chilled up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the zucchini mixture. Pour half into the prepared pie plate, top with the Swiss cheese, then pour on the remaining vegetable mixture. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese all over the top.

Bake 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Let sit 10 minutes before cutting.

Mushroom Bacon Potato Crust Quiche

CRUST

  • 1/2 cup grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 1/4 cup unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled
  • Olive oil for brushing crust

FILLING

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (1 large) leek, sliced, washed, and drained
  • 4 cups sliced mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated Fontina or Swiss cheese
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 5-6 slices Canadian bacon or ham

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Set up a strainer over a bowl.

Grate the onions into the strainer and drain for 10 minutes, pressing out the extra liquid.

When the onions are drained, transfer them to a bowl and combine them with the salt, thyme and flour.

Grate the potatoes into the strainer. Press out any extra liquid, then combine with the onion mixture, mixing to combine.

Pat the mixture into the prepared pan bottom and up the sides.

After 25 minutes, brush the potatoes with oil, then bake for 15 minutes more, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature to 350°F.

While the crust is baking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and mushrooms and cook until the leeks are wilted, and the mushrooms give up their liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the baked crust bottom with Canadian bacon. Spread the vegetables over the bacon and sprinkle the cheese evenly on top.

Whisk the eggs, milk and Worcestershire together, and pour slowly over the vegetables. Return the quiche to the oven and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.

 

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fat-free (skim) milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray bottoms only of 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray, or line with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In medium bowl, beat bananas, egg substitute, oil, milk and vanilla with a fork until smooth. Stir into flour mixture just until flour is moistened. Gently stir in chocolate chips. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until light golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove muffins from pan to cooling rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

maplenutscones

Maple Nut Scones

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Topping

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup quick cooking oats

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet or cover it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Use a pastry knife to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is coarse and uniform. Stir in the pecans and oats.

Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the syrup, milk, and extract. Stir to combine then remove to a floured counter and knead until uniform. (Do not over-knead. Too much kneading will develop the gluten in the flour and make the scone tough.)

Divide the dough into two pieces and press each into 3/4 inch thick circles. Cut each circle into six wedges and place them on the prepared baking sheet.

Mix the 1/4 cup oats and the 1/4 cup brown sugar together. Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and brush on the scone wedges. Drizzle maple syrup over the wedges and sprinkle on the oat and brown sugar mixture. Let bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool.

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The most commonly sung song on New Year’s eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet, Robert Burns, in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns’s homeland.

But it was bandleader Guy Lombardo, who popularized the song and turned it into a New Year’s tradition. Lombardo first heard “Auld Lang Syne” in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. When he and his brothers formed the famous dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year’s eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929 and a tradition was born. After that, Lombardo’s version of the song was played every New Year’s eve from the 1930s until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria. In the first years it was broadcast on radio, and then on television. The song became such a New Year’s tradition that Life magazine wrote, “if Lombardo failed to play Auld Lang Syne, the American public would not believe that the new year had really arrived.”

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds and is six feet in diameter.

A traditional southern New Year’s dish is Hoppin’ John—black eyed peas and ham hocks. An old saying goes, “Eat peas on New Year’s day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year.”

Another American tradition is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the football game on New Year’s day is made up of elaborate and inventive floats. The first parade was held in 1886.

A common symbol of New Year’s is the Baby New Year. This is often a white male baby dressed in a diaper, a hat and a sash. The year he represents is printed on his sash. According to mythology, Baby New Year grows up and ages in a single year. At the end of the year he is an old man and hands his role over to the next Baby New Year. Other symbols of New Year’s are spectacular fireworks exploding over landmarks and clocks striking midnight as the year begins.

Entertain At Home

Invite a few close friends to ring in the New Year with an easy, intimate party at home. Champagne is the classic New Year’s Eve beverage, but this year you can change things up by making fruity cocktails with that bottle of bubbly

The wonderful wafer-thin pancakes, called crepes, fill a niche in contemporary dining. Made with light sauces and fillings, they suit today’s desire for healthy fare. Crepe refers both to the individual pancake and the filled creation. Fast to assemble and filled by a variety of savory fillings – fresh vegetables and herbs, seafood, poultry, and meat crepes can serve as appetizers, first courses, and entrées. Filled with seasonal fruit, souffles, sauces, sorbets, or ice cream, they become sumptuous desserts.

Crepes are ideal to make ahead, refrigerate or freeze and fill later for a party or informal gathering. They are easy, dramatic, and fun to serve. They can be prepared early on the day of the party or let guests spoon on their own fillings.

 

Basic Crepe Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Oil for the pan

Cooking Instructions for the Crepes:

1. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the milk and water. Whisk the milk and water into the flour mixture until the batter is smooth and well blended.

3. Whisk in the eggs and melted butter until blended.

4. Strain the batter through a sieve into another medium-sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to give the batter time to rest.

5. Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. Lightly brush the pan with olive oil.

6. Ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet and tilt the pan in all directions to evenly coat the bottom.

 

 

7. Cook the crepes for about 30 seconds or until the bottom is lightly brown. Loosen the edges with a spatula and flip the crepe over.

 

8. Cook the underside for 10 to 15 seconds or until it is set, dry and browned in spots.

 

9. Slide the crepe onto a flat plate and cover with a piece of wax paper.

 

10. Repeat with the remaining batter, brushing the pan with more oil as needed, and stacking the crepes between wax paper. The crepes may be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Crepes

Servings: 8

Crepes

Filling                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound sliced smoked salmon

Salad

  • 3 cups baby spinach (3 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced and quartered

Directions:

Make crepes and set aside.

In a bowl blend the cream cheese, lemon zest, shallot, capers, dill and salt and season with pepper.

Fold each crepe in half. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture vertically down the center of each crepe. Lay the salmon over the cream cheese. Fold one side of the crepe over the filling, roll to close and serve.

In a medium bowl, toss the spinach with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and add in the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve on the side of the salmon crepes.

Mushroom, Spinach & Cheese Crepes

Yield: 12 crepes

Ingredients

Crepes

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced ( about 8 cups of any combination of white button, shiitake, oyster, portobello, chanterelles or whate)
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 (10 ounce) packages fresh spinach, washed, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 5 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

Make crepes and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms all at once and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until they begin to brown. About 10 minutes.

Stir in the parsley, thyme, garlic, salt & pepper. Cook for 1 minute.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in the spinach. Cover & cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.

Uncover & add the cream cheese, stirring until melted.

Spoon mixture down the center of each crepe. Roll up crepes and arrange side by side in a 13×9 baking dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Cover pan with foil and heat until cheese melts, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm with sliced tomatoes and red onions.

Ham and Asparagus Crepes with Parmesan Cheese                                                                               

Make crepes and set aside.

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups diced or thinly sliced ham
  • 18 to 24 spears of asparagus
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper, optional
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 cup fresh shredded Parmesan cheese, or about 1/2 cup if finely grated
  • More Parmesan cheese for topping

Filling:

Cut ham into small dice or slice thinly.

Heat oven to 500° F.

Toss asparagus with olive oil to coat thoroughly. Arrange in a single layer in a shallow baking pan; roast for 10 minutes. Remove and let the spears cool.

Sauce:

In a medium saucepan, saute the onion in butter until tender. Add the garlic and chopped red bell pepper and saute for 1 minute longer. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, parsley, and the shredded Parmesan cheese. Continue cooking, stirring, until thickened.

Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Heat oven to 350° F.

Place a crepe on a plate. Arrange ham and 3 to 4 spears of asparagus on the center of the crepe. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of sauce over the ham and asparagus; roll up or fold as desired. Arrange in the prepared baking dish; pour remaining sauce over the filled crepes. Sprinkle with more shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake until hot and bubbly. Serve with tossed salad.

 

Champagne CocktailsClassic champagne cocktail

Classic Champagne Cocktail

Makes 1

Ingredients

  • 3 drops bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 ounce Cognac
  • 4 ounces chilled Champagne

Directions

Drop bitters onto sugar cube; let soak in. Place sugar cube in a Champagne flute. Add Cognac, and top with Champagne.

Champagne Punch

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 thinly sliced peach
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup Simple Sugar Syrup, see recipe below
  • 1 bottle champagne or other sparkling white wine

Directions

In a pitcher, combine ice, peach, raspberries, blueberries, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Slowly pour in champagne or other sparkling white wine.

Simple Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts sugar
  • 1 part water

Bring the water to a boil.

Dissolve the sugar into the boiling water, stirring constantly.

Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat. (Note: Do not allow the syrup to boil for too long or the syrup will be too thick.)

Allow to cool completely and thicken, then bottle.

 

Lavender Champagne

Serves 16

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender
  • 4 bottles (750 mL) dry Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
  • Fresh lavender sprigs, for garnish

Directions

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in dried lavender. Remove from heat. Let cool completely. Strain out lavender. Refrigerate syrup until ready to serve (up to 1 month).

Pour about 6 ounces Champagne and 1 1/2 teaspoons syrup into each flute. Garnish each with a lavender sprig.

Blood Orange Champagne Cocktail                                                                                                                     

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups freshly squeezed or frozen blood-orange juice or regular orange juice
  • 2 750-ml bottles champagne, chilled

Directions

Pour 3 tablespoons juice in each champagne flute. Fill flutes with champagne, and serve.

 

Ginger Sparkler

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 bottle (750 ml) dry sparkling wine, such as Cava, Prosecco, or Champagne

Directions

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a small bowl; set aside. In a small saucepan, boil ginger, sugar, and 1/4 cup water until syrupy, about 2 minutes. Pour through sieve into bowl, discarding solids. (To store syrup, refrigerate in an airtight container, up to 1 week.)

Pour 1 tablespoon syrup into each of 8 tall glasses. Top with sparkling wine, and gently stir.

 

Do You know the lyrics?

Print it off for your guests.

“Auld Lang Syne”

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

 

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,

And surely I’ll be mine,

And we’ll tak a cup o kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

 

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pou’d the gowans fine,

But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit,

Sin auld lang syne.

 

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine,

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne.

 

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,

And gie’s a hand o thine,

And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne.

 

 

 


‘Tis the season for entertaining!” Whether you go with cocktails, wine, beer, or all three, these savory appetizers and cocktail recipes will curb hunger and delight your guests. A great holiday cocktail party has a festive buzz — not just from the cocktails! Sparkling candles, seasonal music, and a bountiful display of bites and treats add to the ambiance of a fabulous party. Here are some tips for hosting a festive holiday cocktail party.

Food

If you’re holding a cocktail party outside of typical meal hours, five or six types of hors d’oeuvres will be sufficient. Plan on each guest eating one or two of each kind.

If your cocktail party takes place during meal hours, your guests will be hungry and there should be enough food to constitute a meal. Prepare eight to ten types of hors d’oeuvres and plan on each guest eating two to three of each.

Drinks

Each guest will drink an average of two drinks the first hour and one drink each hour thereafter.

• A one-liter bottle of alcohol yields approximately 22 mixed drinks, so if you know how many guests are attending and what kind of bar you’re going to have, you can easily figure out how much alcohol to purchase.

• To accommodate any non-cocktail drinkers, estimate one bottle of wine per eight guests, remembering that white wine tends to be more popular than red.

• One 750ml bottle of Champagne fills six regular Champagne glasses.  If you plan to have a Champagne toast, you will need to purchase additional bottles—you only need to pour about a third of a glass for a toast, so plan on one bottle of bubbly for every ten guests.

• Garnishes are inexpensive, so it’s always smart to buy extras. Plan on  1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime and two each of olives, cherries, and onions per guest. This means that if you have 24 guests, you’ll need at least 12 lemons and 12 limes plus 48 each of olives, cherries, and onions.

• Plan on one and a half pounds of ice per person. This will provide enough ice for drinks as well as any ice baths for wine or beer.

While you can wait a bit to serve the food, you should have the drinks ready when the first guests walk through the door—it gives people something to do and gets them mingling.

Special Holiday Cocktails

The Neapolitan

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce strawberry liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce white-chocolate liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce creme de cacao
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup

Pour the strawberry liqueur into the bottom of a martini glass. Shake the bottle of white-chocolate liqueur; measure 1/2 ounce and pour it over the back of a spoon on top of the strawberry liqueur to make a separate layer.

Shake the creme de cacao, heavy cream and chocolate syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice until frothy. Slowly strain into the glass over the back of a spoon to make another layer.

Strawberry Daiquiris

You can keep a batch of this easy beverage recipe in the freezer and be ready for company any time of the year.

Yield: 32 servings

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 6 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 6 oz. can frozen limeade concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 cups rum
  • pinch salt
  • 5 cups ginger ale or 7 Up
  • Strawberries for garnish

Combine all ingredients except ginger ale or 7-Up in a blender or food processor and blend well, then freeze in freezer containers.

Adjust the amount of powdered sugar you use depending on how sweet the strawberries are and to your taste.

When ready to serve, fill glass 2/3 full of frozen mixture and top with ginger ale or 7-Up.

Negroni

Makes 1 Drink

Ingredients:

  • Ice
  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 orange twist, for garnish 

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add the gin, Campari and vermouth and stir well. Strain into a chilled serving glass and garnish with the orange slice.

 

Prosecco Italian Cocktail

Serves: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chilled Prosecco or other Italian sparkling white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chilled vodka
  • 1/3 cup frozen lemon sorbet
  • Sprigs of fresh mint leaves

Pour the Prosecco and vodka into 2 Champagne flutes, dividing equally. Spoon a scoop of sorbet into each flute. Add a sprig of mint to each glass and serve immediately.

 

 

Limoncello Cocktail

8 servings (serving size: about 1/2 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 8 (3 x 1/2-inch) lemon rind strips
  • 8 tablespoons Limoncello (lemon-flavored liqueur)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle brut Champagne, chilled

Roll up each strip of lemon rind; place 1 into each of 8 Champagne flutes.

Add 1 tablespoon liqueur and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to each glass.

Divide Champagne evenly among glasses. Serve immediately.

Easy Cocktail Party Nibbles

Platter of Smoked Salmon with Sliced Bread and Philadelphia Cream Cheese Spread with Chives and Onion

Spiced nuts

Variety of Marinated Olives and Stuffed Peppers

Sliced Cheese and Cracker Tray

Shrimp Platter with Spicy Cocktail Dip

Skewer a small ball of mozzarella, a grape tomato and a bit of basil leaf. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil.

Small pieces of melon and figs wrapped with thinly sliced prosciutto.

Chucks of Salami and Provolone Cheese

Toasted Pita Chips and your favorite Hummus

Platter of Cookies, Brownies and Chocolates


Christmas Lights in Saint Mark’s Square

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities last from December 24th. through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of the holiday. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and it is around the table or, a tavola, that Italian families come together. These holidays allow parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over splendid food and drink.

Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Father Christmas asking for presents and in Italy the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany. These presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch, who fill children’s stockings in the night with sweets, “i dolciumi” if they have been good or with coal, “il carbone” if they have been bad. Santa Lucia brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova, while in other regions, it is the Baby Jesus or Gesu’ Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parents to let know how much they love them. This letter is placed under their father’s plate and he reads it at the end of dinner.

Christmas Time, Little Italy, New York City

Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of the Christmas season are:

  • The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town.
  • Ceppo known, as The Tree of Light, is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it is several feet high and supports many shelves or tiers. The ceppo has on the bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. It is also decorated with gilt pine cones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
  • Urn of Fate: they are wrapped presents for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again.
  • Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
  • In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope’s blessing; he appears at his balcony.
  • Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day.
  • The cribs are usually handed down from generation to generation.

Christmas Dinner In Italy

Again it will almost certainly start with a selection of antipasti – perhaps including salami and Parma ham, and a glass or two of sparkling Prosecco. Then there will be a hearty filled pasta dish, such as agnolotti, ravioli or tortellini. Most families will follow this with a roast – often poultry, served with vegetables; others might have a local meaty speciality, such as a stuffed pig’s trotter. Although Italians don’t usually indulge much in desserts, at Christmas, most people will make an exception and follow the meat course with some panettone – a light but buttery sponge cake or other sweets. In some regions people might also have some pandolce, a heavy fruit cake with pine nuts.

The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In Italy the following  dishes are often served:

  • Lo zampone – the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages                                                                 
  • Il cotechino – pig’s foot stuffed with spiced minced meat 
  • Sausages
  • Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potatoes and lentils
  • Tortellini in chicken stock
  • Crostini with liver pâté

Desserts such as:

  • Torrone – Nougat
  • Il panettone – the Milanese fruit cake filled with candied fruit
  • Gold bread – the traditional cake
  • Il pandoro – similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
  • Il panforte – Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds

The traditional drinks are:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Vin brule – mulled wine
  • Bombardino – Italian version of eggnog
  • Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavors

 Christmas Dinner Memories

When I was a child, Christmas was a very special time in our house. We all looked forward to this season: my parents, my grandparents, my maternal aunts and my siblings. It was a busy time shopping, wrapping presents, baking and decorating the house and the tree.

When Christmas arrived, we were up by 5 A.M. to open presents. After we had time with our new gifts, my father would take us to visit his relatives in Little Italy, while my mother started dinner preparations. My father had a large family so this took awhile. By the time we had wished my grandmother and all my father’s brothers and sisters, a Merry Christmas, it was time to head home. My mother never needed to make dessert for Christmas dinner, because after the rounds of visiting the relatives, we went home with a number of special homemade Christmas treats.

Struffoli

Zeppole

Anise Cookies

In fact, before the day was done we had more sweets than we could eat in a week. My mother’s father would come for dinner and he would always bring Italian pastries, ice cream and Hershey bars. What a day!

Dinner was held early in the afternoon and began with a typical antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.

The next course was always Lasagna with little meatballs in the sauce. This was followed by a pork roast with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Lots to eat – and don’t forget those desserts!

Christmas Dinner At My House

Because several members of my family are vegetarians, I often serve vegetarian dishes alongside the non-vegetarian dishes.

Onion Soup

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1-26-ounce container Pomi tomatoes
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and 4 cups of water. Stir in the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread

 

Beef Tenderloin

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine garlic, mustard and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil and process until the ingrdients are very finely chopped. Rub mixture over beef and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Transfer beef to baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135 F. for medium-rare. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

 

 

Gnocchi with Creamy Pesto

(dilute pesto sauce with a little half and half)

See recipe: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

 

 

Spinach Casserole

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 16 ounces organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups Sargento Italian six cheese blend

 Directions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (it may be necessary to do this in batches) and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach wilts. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the spinach mixture and the Italian cheese, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake until the top has browned and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

Dessert

Italian Cookies see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/


Many of the world’s religions employ some sort of numerology in their rituals, and Christianity is no exception. When it comes to the number of dishes served for Cena della Vigilia (Christmas Eve), however, there is no consensus. In many of Italy’s landlocked regions, three courses are prepared, representing the Three Wise Men, or in the Abruzzo region, where nine dishes are preferred for the Trinity times three and in parts of southern Italy, 12 are served for the number of the apostles. The norm however, seems to be seven dishes.

A traditional Christmas Eve dinner for many people of Italian heritage around the world is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It is a tradition that goes back thousands of years and consists of at least seven seafood dishes and no meat.

The dishes and the types of fish served for Christmas Eve are ultimately dictated by geography. In Naples, for instance, the devout leave certain treats on the table overnight for the angel who heralds Christ’s birth; for this reason, many dishes are vinegar-based to preserve them. Around Lake Como in the north, large trout, which are only fished during the holiday season, are common.

These days, an Italian Christmas Eve dinner is still an important family affair; it is never served before 8 or 9 pm and the many courses are enjoyed slowly, one after another, giving people plenty of time for toasts, playful chatting and fun until midnight.

 

CLASSIC ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE MENU

 

ITALIAN CHRISTMAS APPETIZERS

 

Raw Oysters and Raw Clams

Fried Sardines

Smelts (small fishes that can be fried)

Fried Calamari

Cocktail Shrimp

Crabcakes or Oyster Shooters

 

ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE ENTREES

 

Mussels and Macaroni

Baccala or dried salt cod 

Stuffed Calamari

Linguini and Clams

Lobster Ravioli, Fried Shrimp, or Octopus Salad

 

SERVING SUGGESTIONS FOR ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER

Round the meal out with a classic antipasto of cheeses, olives, red peppers, anchovies, marinated artichoke hearts, and canned tuna.

On the side, serve sauteed spinach or escarole along with a great wine. For dessert, enjoy a classic Italian Panettone, biscotti, or cannoli with an after dinner drink such as Sambuca or Anisette.

Seafood Market

Christmas Eve dinner at my house is a bit more simple.

Antipasto

Italian Cheese, Salami, Roasted Peppers, Olives, Sardines

Italian Bread

Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Makes 8 crab cakes

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed and diced into 1/4-inches pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
  • 1 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Roasted Red Pepper Pesto, recipe below

Directions:

In a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently cook the onion and red peppers until soft, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Pick through the crabmeat and remove any shell or cartilage you may find.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, Old Bay, and cayenne.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the sautéed vegetables, crabmeat, and Panko or cracker crumbs. Season with salt. Refrigerate mixture for 1/2 hour for flavors to meld and breadcrumbs to absorb some of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Divide the crab mixture into 8 portions. Roll each portion into a ball with your hands and place onto a cookie sheet lightly coated with vegetable oil or covered with aluminum foil. Press down gently on each ball to form a cake.

Put cookie sheet into the oven and bake until crab cakes are golden brown on each side, about 20 minutes. Turn the crab cakes over half way through. (Alternatively, you may also fry the crab cakes in oil or butter. About 3 minutes each side.)

 

Red Pepper Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 3  chili peppers or other medium-heat red chili peppers, seeded
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted
  • A small handful basil leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Roast peppers over a flame on stove top or under broiler to blacken the skins all over. Place peppers in bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Peel skins and seed peppers.

Place roasted red peppers and chili peppers in a food processor and add the nuts, basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. Add cheese, turn processor on and slowly pour in the olive oil to form a thick sauce.

Pasta Alfredo

 Ingredients:

  • 12 oz fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle pasta
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, at room temperature, plus extra cheese to pass at the table
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon Wondra (instant) flour
  • Salt and white ground pepper

Directions:

Boil the pasta cooking water. Add salt and pasta.

If you are using fresh fettuccine, it can cook in as little as 2 minutes (plus the time it takes the water to boil), so have all ingredients and cooking utensils ready.

Stir Wondra into milk

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta , melt the butter over low heat.

Slowly add the milk and whisk or stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it is hot and slightly reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cooked and drained pasta. Mix well. Add cheese and stir carefully.

Peas

Defrost a package of frozen peas. Saute in a little olive oil and season with black pepper.

Dessert

Christmas Cookies

See post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/


The Castello and Swing Bridge
in Taranto

The province of Taranto is found in the Puglia region of Italy, which is the region that forms part of the heel of Italy’s boot. The region of Puglia is divided into five provinces (Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce, and Taranto) and includes the two island groups of Tremiti and Cheradi. The weather is typically hot and dry. The beaches on the coast of the Ionian Sea offer plenty of places to sunbathe, swim, and snorkel.

One of the charming and beautiful geographical features of Taranto is where three sides of land face inwards on the Mar Grande, the Mar Piccolo, and the Ionian Sea. The Citta nuova (New City) is located inland and is linked to the Isola della Citta Vecchia (Old City) by the Ponte Girevole and di Pietra Bridge.

Taranto is one of Italy’s oldest and most beautiful port cities. It may be the city of two seas, but it is also the city with two faces, because beyond the bridge, progress has redesigned the new Taranto, a city developed around a 19th. century village, facing the waterway. Housed in the former Convent of San Pasquale Alcantarini, the National Archaeological Museum is famous for its rich collection of rare finds.

The sea, though beautiful, is not the only attraction here. An extraordinary landscape makes up the beautiful countryside of Taranto: sometimes green and lush with large vineyards and olive groves and sometimes rocky and rough with ravines, caves and gorges where ancient civilizations settled.

Remarkable also is the presence of prehistoric ruins, including the Village of Triglie. Castellaneta lies in the heart of the Park of Ravines, a mix of natural environments made even more interesting by ancient ruins. North of Taranto, Martina Franca is a charming town that overlooks the Itria Valley, with its lush green nature contrasting with the white Trulli (limestone dwellings) and ancient farms that frame the old town’s Baroque architecture.

The Ravine of Laterza

Taranto was founded in 708 BC by Spartan immigrants, who named the city after the mythical hero Taras, shown in the coat of arms riding a dolphin. Taranto increased its power and became a major power, ruling over the Greek colonies in southern Italy under its statesman, Archytas. It also became the main center and commercial port in southern Italy, with the largest army and fleet of its time.

In the 8th. century AD,  Saracens began their raids against Southern Italy, occupying Taranto for forty years, until it was reconquered by the Byzantines in 880. The city suffered from other Saracen raids when the Saracens, led by the Slavic Sabir, conquered and destroyed the city, enslaving and deporting to Africa all the survivors. In 967 the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus II Phoca, realizing the strategic importance of the area, rebuilt Taranto. In the 11th. century a bloody struggle between Normans and Byzantines for the rule over the Tarentine and Barensis lands took plsce. Taranto was finally conquered by the Normans and became the capital of a Norman principality for almost 4 centuries.

In March 1502, the Spanish fleet of Ferdinand II of Aragon, allied to Louis XII of France, seized the port of Taranto, and conquered the city. With the fall of Napoleon, Southern Italy and Taranto, returned under Bourbon rule, forming the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Then in 1861 Southern Italy was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became the Kingdom of Italy.

Castel Sant Angelo which overlooks the sea

Beaches

The Cuisine of Taranto

Seafood is a speciality in Taranto, and there are a huge number of excellent seafood restaurants throughout the region, many of which are family run, traditional Italian eateries. The most common meat on the menu is lamb, as elsewhere in the south: here it’s cooked Greek style, over a spit and scented with rosemary. Most of Italy’s fish comes from the coast, and specialities include roasted oysters with oil, lemon, garlic and marjoram, sea bream, and mussel and potato soup. Much seafood is eaten raw, with sardines, prawns and cuttlefish featured heavily.

Orecchiette (meaning ‘little ears’) pasta, made from flour and water, can be found everywhere in Puglia and it is not uncommon to see women sitting out in the street and making it during the day. This is teamed with sauces made from the abundance of vegetables grown locally. Much of Italy’s pasta is produced from the wheat fields of Puglia, as is excellent olive oil and vast quantities of sun-dried tomatoes. Taranto produces many varied wines, from red to white to sparkling wines, such as white Terra d’Otranto and Bianco di Train and reds, such as Castel del Monte Rosso. A wide variety of very sweet fruits round out the menu: grapes, oranges, and the famous clementines of the Gulf of Taranto.

Pugliese cuisine is based on olive oil, one of the great products of the region. In any given year, Puglia produces as much as two-thirds of all the olive oil in Italy, and while much of it is shipped north, more of it stays in the region to be used in Pugliese kitchens. Cooks in Puglia even deep-fry with extra virgin oil, something that comes as a surprise to Americans but is routine in many parts of the Mediterranean. Butter is rarely used in the traditional cuisine and even some sweets are made with olive oil and often fried. Sweets, moreover, are not an everyday occurrence but associated only with holidays, whether major ones like Christmas and Easter or minor ones like the Feast of the Dead (All Saints), Shrove Tuesday or locally celebrated ones like the feasts of St. Anthony Abbot and St. Joseph.

In this culture of sparsity, nothing is wasted. Stale bread is cut into cubes or crumbled and toasted in oil to make a garnish for pasta and vegetable dishes. Vegetables themselves, at the height of their season, are dried, pickled, or preserved in oil to use during the winter. Figs are dried or boiled down to make a syrup, and grape juice, after the first pressing, is boiled to make a thick molasses called mosto cotto, to be served at Christmas poured over fried sweets called cartellate.

Wild greens in great variety are still harvested, especially during the brief Pugliese winter,  when gardens are less productive. On misty days, when the damp soil yields wild roots more easily, you’ll see elderly men and women, stoop~shouldered, as they course intently over abandoned fields often accompanied by grandchildren.

Three dishes come to mind when one thinks of this cuisine:

1. ‘Ncapriata or fave e cicoria: A puree made from dried peeled fava beans (with or without a potato added), dressed olive oil and eaten with steamed bitter greens, preferably wild chicory.

2. Ciceri e tria: Homemade durum wheat pasta (no eggs) in the form of flat tagliatelle or noodles, cooked with chick-peas and mixed with about a third of the pasta that has been kept apart and fried in olive oil until it is crisp and brown.

3. Orecchiette con cime di rape: homemade durum wheat pasta, shaped in the form of “little ears,” cooked with the bittersweet vegetable, we know as broccoli rabe or rapini and dressed with oil, garlic, anchovies, and hot peperoncino.

It’s altogether likely that even five hundred years ago, the dishes on Pugliese tables were not all that different from what they are today, with one great exception the tomato. There are no early cookbooks to tell us when tomatoes were first introduced to Puglia, but it was probably after the explorers returned from America. Puglia’s tomatoes are sweet and acid, dense with flesh and bursting with juice. They are available year-round, fresh from the garden, sun-dried and packed in oil, put up simply in jars, whether whole or in a sauce, or strung in brilliant red clusters.

 Make Some Taranto Inspired Recipes At Home

Italian Mussels Taranto Style

Serves: 6 – 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds large fresh mussels, cleaned
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 thick slices Italian bread
  • Finely chopped parsley

Directions:

Peel the garlic, leave one clove whole and finely chop the remainder.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until very soft and transparent, stirring occasionally.

Add the chopped garlic and cook for several seconds.

Stir in the wine, parsley and pepper to taste, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the bread under a low broiler so it crisps as well as toasts.

Halve the reserved garlic clove and rub over the toast. Keep warm in the oven.

Add the mussels to the saucepan and cook over a high heat for about 6-8 minutes, until they open, shaking to distribute the heat evenly. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Place the toast in wide soup bowls or pasta plates. Divide the mussels amongst the bowls and spoon over the liquid from the pan.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Pasta with Broccoli, Tomatoes and Almonds

Ingredients:

Servings 4

  • 3/4 lb. orecchiette
  • 3/4 lb. broccoli, blanched in boiling water
  • 3 oz. Pecorino cheese
  • 3/4 oz. salted anchovies, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3 oz.  extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 oz. almonds

Directions;

Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chopped garlic, then add the minced anchovies.

Add the broccoli previously blanched in boiling salted water, then the tomato, and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little oil.

In a pasta pot containing boiling salted water, cook the orecchiette pasta, stirring from time to time to avoid them sticking to one another.

Grind some black pepper into the pan containing the broccoli, drain the pasta, leaving them slightly wet.

Add the pasta to the pan with the broccoli, mix well and pour into serving plates and decorate with slivers of  Pecorino cheese and slivers of almond.

 

 

Oven Roast Lamb with Potatoes

Serves 6

The meat and potatoes should he crisp and brown, with very little sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks, about 2 inches long
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut in chunks similar in size to the potatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix the potato chunks in a bowl with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, 1/4 cup of the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat well, then spread over the bottom of a roasting pan or oven dish large enough to hold all the potatoes in one layer. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of grated cheese over the top of the potatoes.

In the same bowl, mix the lamb chunks with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 cup of parsley and more salt and pepper. Add the remaining cheese and the chopped garlic, again stirring to coat well. Arrange the lamb on the top of the potatoes.

Place the uncovered pan in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. The lamb should give off a certain amount of liquid, but if the potatoes are so dry they’re sticking to the bottom of the dish, add a little boiling water.

Bake another 15 minutes and remove the pan from the oven; turn the lamb pieces at the same time stirring the potatoes. Return the pan to the oven for an additional 30 minutes, then remove again and raise the oven heat to 425 degrees F. Stir the meat and potatoes so that most of the potatoes are on top and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to crisp and brown the potatoes.

 

Sweet Rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the milk over low heat or in the microwave. Add the butter and let it melt.

Pour the butter and milk mixture into the bowl of a electric mixer. Add the remaining milk, sugar, flour, baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon of the vanilla. Knead until a smooth dough forms.

Grease a baking sheet. Form the dough into disks, about 2 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Place on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven but do not remove the rolls from the baking pan.

In a saucepan, combine the powdered sugar with 1/2 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes until it begins to thicken.

Add the lemon juice, Amaretto, and remaining vanilla to the sugar mixture. Let simmer another 3 minutes. (The mixture will continue to thicken as you let it sit, so you can control how thin or thick you would like the glaze to be.)

Brush or drizzle the glaze onto the rolls. Put the rolls back into the oven with the heat off, but with the oven still warm, so that the glaze dries.

 


Make a simple but festive centerpiece for your table.

 

Planning Your Dinner Party

Get ready to make lists! Lists are absolutely essential for any party, as you can jot things down as you think of them. Once you have the basics well planned and written down, your mind will be free to be creative with the food, fun, and decor.

Plan your menu. Have fun with this, but don’t overreach! If you are a beginning cook, choose a main dish that you have made before, then build upon it by buying dessert, a salad, and some crusty bakery bread. It’s a good idea to never make a recipe for the first time for a party. There’s nothing worse than struggling with an unfamiliar recipe when you can hear your guests having fun in the next room. Try to plan a mix of make ahead recipes and those that require last minute baking or preparation. I really prefer having everything done, and ready to heat or bake and serve.

Think about how you want to decorate. Decorations for a party can be as simple as candlesticks on the table, or more elaborate flower arrangements and tablecloths. Decorate with the seasons in mind, too. Fresh flowers in the summer, a bowl full of polished apples and spruce tree branches in the winter, or a vase with colorful leaves and cattails in the fall are simple, inexpensive, and beautiful.

Block out time on your calendar for house cleaning, shopping, decorating, and setting the table. Make sure to save some time before the party so you can get ready and relax before your guests arrive.

Go over your menu, gather your recipes, and plan shopping lists directly from the recipes. Don’t rely on your memory for this! Check your pantry too. If you are low on staples like baking powder, sugar, or flour, add those to your list.

Plan to shop for foods and supplies that can be purchased in advance (like staples) and those that need to be bought the week of the party. You may have to revise the party menu if you can’t find certain ingredients.

Check which recipes can be made ahead, and make sure you have freezer or refrigerator space to store them.

It’s best to choose some recipes that can be made well ahead of time, and are just served cold or at room temperature, or heated at the last minute. Planning this well will help make sure that all of the foods are ready to eat at serving time.

 

Dinner Party Menu

Appetizers

Red Wine of Choice

Crusty White Bread with Olive Oil

Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Stuffed Zucchini

Main Course

Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce

Angel Hair Pasta

Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper

Dessert

Chocolate Pecan Cake

 

Do Ahead Tips:

Set the table the day before the party.

You can prepare the beef two days ahead and reheat it on the day of the party. The braciola takes about three-four hours to prepare, so be sure to leave plenty of time to make it.

The stuffed cherry peppers can also be made two days in advance.

The zucchini rolls can be made the day before serving and the broccoli ingredients can be cut or chopped one day ahead.

The cake can also be made the day before the dinner party.

 

 Appetizers

Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz. canned tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 8 anchovies in oil, drained
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 32-oz. jar red, hot cherry peppers, drained, rinsed, and stemmed (jar reserved)

Directions:

Finely chop tuna and anchovies; mix with 1/3 cup oil, bread crumbs, capers, parsley, and salt and pepper in a bowl; stuff each pepper with tuna mixture. Transfer to reserved jar; pour remaining oil over peppers. Chill for at least 8 hours to marinate.

 

Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 slice white sandwich bread
  • 4 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2″ lengths
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. prosciutto, minced
  • 1 oz. pancetta, minced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil

Directions

Heat oven to 400° F. In a bowl, pour milk over bread; soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze bread to drain milk; discard milk. Return bread to bowl.

Using a melon scoop, hollow out zucchini pieces, leaving 1/4″ walls, to form “cups”; season insides with salt and pepper. Stir together tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, chili flakes, garlic, and salt and pepper in a bowl; set sauce aside.

Mix bread with prosciutto, pancetta, Parmesan, parsley , egg, and salt and pepper. Stuff mixture evenly among zucchini cups. Heat remaining oil and butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add cups; cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 2–4 minutes. Transfer cups, stuffing side up, to a 9″ x 9″ baking dish; pour sauce over and around cups. If made ahead cover dish and refrigerate until the next day.Bring to room temperature before heating. Bake zucchini 30 minutes. Sprinkle with basil.

Main Course

Braciola (Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 5 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 6″x 4″ slices boneless beef top sirloin or round steak, pounded to 1/16″ thickness
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 2 (26-oz.) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Angel Hair pasta

Directions:

To make the filling, mix together raisins, 4 tablespoons parsley , pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic in a bowl; set aside. Place a slice of beef on a work surface perpendicular to you, season with salt and pepper, and place about 1 tablespoon filling on the bottom half; starting with the filled half, roll beef up around the filling into a tight cylinder. Secure roll with toothpicks and repeat with remaining beef and filling.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add half the beef rolls, and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add remaining oil and brown the rest of the beef rolls. Transfer to plate with the previously browned rolls.

Add onion to pot, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine, and cook, stirring to scrape bottom of pot, until almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili flakes, tomatoes, and bay leaf, and then return beef rolls to pot.

Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered partially and gently stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and tender, about 2-3 hours.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and place on a large serving platter.

Remove meat rolls from sauce, remove toothpicks, and transfer to the platter with the cooked pasta. Bring sauce to a boil and pour sauce over meat rolls and pasta, and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

 

Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.), stemmed and cut into florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; cook, turning occasionally , until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons water; add garlic; cook until golden, 2–3 minutes. Add chili; cook until toasted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.

Dessert

Chocolate Pecan Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Using a double boiler or pan over simmering water, melt together chocolate and butter. Set aside to cool.

Using a blender, chop pecans finely. Add eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt and melted chocolate mixture, blending until smooth. Pour batter into pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes; cake should be moist but not wet. Allow to cool completely. Dust top of the cake with powdered sugar just before serving.



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