"Tuscany Delights" painting by Lisa Lorenz.

“Tuscany Delights” painting by Lisa Lorenz.

Hey, come over here, kid, learn something. … You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; ya make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs; heh? … And a little bit o’ wine. An’ a little bit o’ sugar, and that’s my trick. (Michael learning to make gravy from The Godfather.)

For a crowd-pleasing reunion meal, serve this family style menu with plenty of garlic bread and red wine for a comforting Italian-American feast. All the dishes in this menu can be prepared several days ahead, except for the pasta, and heated before serving.

I have many memories of the Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses while I was growing up. The centerpiece was the rich tomato gravy. What gave it its distinction were the meats that were cooked in it: pork sausages, meatballs and my favorite, braciole. The dish is a lean cut of beef pounded thin, then spread with a layer of grated cheese, fresh herbs, bits of prosciutto, raisins and pine nuts, then rolled, tied, seared and simmered for hours in tomato sauce.

Sitting down together for a family meal has been in decline in America for decades. According to surveys, however, that’s beginning to change. This is good. Studies show that children who eat meals with their families are more likely to do well in school and more likely to have a healthier diet. In addition the treasured memories children develop are irreplaceable.

“Mangia! Mangia! (Eat! Eat!)” — as my grandmother would say.

Menu for 12-16

  • Braised Artichokes and Stuffed Cherry Peppers
  • Braciole and Pasta
  • Sautéed Greens and Garlic Bread
  • Dessert: Italian Cookies

italianfeast8

Italian American Garlic Bread

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and mix with the garlic powder and parsley.

Using a basting brush, coat the bread generously with the butter mixture. Place the Italian bread on a medium baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes, until lightly toasted.

italianfeast1Braised Artichokes

This dish can be made ahead. Just reheat before serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 8 large artichokes, outer leaves trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 6 lemons, halved and juiced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Cut each of the artichokes in half; remove the toughest outer leaves, use a spoon to remove the choke and trim the bottom.

Heat oil in an 8 to 10-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add wine, artichokes, lemon juice and squeezed lemon halves, salt and 10 cups water; boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the artichokes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Transfer artichokes to a serving platter, cut each half, in half, and keep warm.

Discard all but 2 cups of the cooking liquid; return the pan with the liquid to medium-high heat. Add butter; cook until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; spoon sauce over artichokes to serve.

italianfeast2

Tuna Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Make this appetizer a day or two before the party, so they can marinate.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz can Italian tuna in olive oil
  • 8 anchovies in olive oil
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup plain dried 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, seeded and stemmed

Directions

Finely chop tuna and anchovies; mix with 1/3 cup of the olive oil, bread crumbs, capers, parsley and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Stuff each pepper with a little of the tuna mixture. Transfer to a covered dish and pour the remaining oil over the peppers. Chill for at least 8 hours to marinate.

italianfeast3

Braciole (Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce)

This entire dish, with the exception of the pasta, can be prepared well in advance and reheated.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces prosciutto, sliced thin and finely diced
  • 24 6″x 4″ slices boneless beef steak (top sirloin or round), pounded to 1/16″ thickness (about 3 lbs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 4 (28-oz.) cans whole, peeled Italian tomatoes in juice, crushed 
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 lbs penne or rigatoni or pappardelle pasta

Directions

To make the filling:

Mix together raisins, 3/4 cup parsley, pine nuts, Parmesan, prosciutto 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 of filling on the bottom half; starting with the filled half, roll beef up around the filling into a tight cylinder. Secure roll with toothpicks or kitchen string and repeat with remaining beef and filling.

Heat oil in an 8-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the beef rolls and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add onion to pot, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring to scrape the bottom of pot, until almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili flakes, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves and return beef rolls to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered partially, gently stirring occasionally until meat is cooked through and tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the meat rolls from the sauce, remove toothpicks, transfer to serving platters and cover plates with foil. Keep warm.

Continue cooking sauce until thickened, while you cook the pasta.

Pour some of the sauce over the meat rolls and sprinkle with the remaining parsley. Mix some of the remaining sauce with the pasta. Serve extra sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with the braciole and pasta.

italianfeast5

Sautéed Greens and Red Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium heads escarole (or greens of choice), cored, washed and roughly chopped
  • 3 whole roasted red peppers from a jar, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400° F

Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add escarole; cook until wilted, about 8 minutes. You may have to wait until some of the leaves wilt before adding more.

Stir in peppers; season with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a baking dish. Spread breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top; transfer skillet to the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 12 minutes.

italianfeast6

Pine-nut (Pignoli) Italian Cookies  

Makes about 48 cookies

Use only almond paste, not marzipan or canned almond filling.

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (8-ounce) almond paste, cut in small pieces
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 4 egg whites, from 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel
  • 2 cups pine nuts (pignoli)

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In an electric mixer bowl, beat almond paste, sugar, egg whites and lemon peel until smooth.

Drop by heaping teaspoons, 1 inch apart, on the prepared cookie sheets. Sprinkle with pine nuts to cover, then press them gently to adhere.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until tops feel firm and dry when lightly pressed. Cool completely on cookie sheet on a wire rack.

Store airtight at room temperature. (Cookies are best eaten within 2 weeks. They freeze very well.)

italianfeast7

Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups finely ground almonds, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Strega or Galliano liqueur
  • 1/3 cup coffee, at room temperature

Directions

Heat the oven to 325F. Grease 2 parchment-lined baking sheets with the butter and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together baking powder and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water until dissolved, 20 seconds.

Combine ground and chopped almonds, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, oil and salt in a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the baking powder mixture, liqueur and coffee to form a wet dough.

Divide the dough into 1-oz. portions. Using your hands, roll dough portions into balls and transfer to the prepared baking sheets spaced about 1-inch apart.

Bake until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and let cool to firm before serving.

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