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Small plate dining is very appealing when it is hot, as it is right now where I live. It is appealing for two and even for a small gathering of friends. This type of dining, often called tapas dining, used to be called a cocktail or appetizer party years ago. Eating lightly in such hot weather also makes sense for health reasons.

Doctors advise that in the summer, light food should be preferred because it can easily be digested. Vegetables with high water content like onions, tomatoes and cucumbers should be regularly eaten as they will not only cool down the body but provide the daily quota of nutrition as well. Foods high in fat and sugar will cause the body to work harder to process these foods. Contrary to conventional thinking, when it is really hot, you are not going to exercise these calories away.

Summer eating should be enjoyable and entertaining should be fun, even if it is hot. Small plates can be the answer and not overwork the host. You can even ask friends to bring a small plate to share with 6 or 8 friends. Here are some ideas for small plate options with an Italian flavor. Just add a few cool drinks and you are all set.

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Lambrusco Cooler

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 (750-ml) bottle lemon Italian soda, chilled
  • 8 ounces fresh cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle Lambrusco

Directions

Put 1 cup of lemon soda in a large pitcher with cherries and strawberries and crush the fruit using a wooden spoon to release the juices. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, stir in Lambrusco and remaining soda and pour over ice.

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Crostini Di Scampi

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 sprig rosemary, plus 1 teaspoon minced
  • 16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4  ½ inch thick slices Italian country bread cut in half or quarters, brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted

Directions

Heat oil and garlic in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the whole rosemary sprig, turning once, until crisp, 1–2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rosemary to a paper towel to drain.

Season shrimp with pepper; add to skillet and saute, turning once, until golden about 2–3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to paper towels to drain. Serve shrimp on toasted bread. Sprinkle with minced rosemary and freshly ground black pepper.

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Zucchine Ripiene Con Ricotta

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 6 medium zucchini (about 2 lbs.), halved lengthwise
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Using a small spoon, scoop out the pulp (save pulp for another use) from each zucchini half, leaving a ¼ inch rim around the edges.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, 1/4 cup of the Pecorino cheese, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, parsley, oregano and the egg. Fold in the onion mixture and season with salt and pepper. Set the filling aside.

Arrange an oven rack about 7″ from the broiler element and heat. Rub the insides of the zucchini with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season lightly with salt.

Place zucchini cut side up on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes. Remove baking sheet from the oven and fill each zucchini half with enough of the ricotta mixture that it mounds slightly but doesn’t spill over the edges of the zucchini.

Sprinkle each stuffed zucchini with the remaining Pecorino cheese and bread crumbs and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Broil until the zucchini are soft and the tops are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

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Orange Seasoned Dry Cured Black Olives

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 orange
  • 1 lb. dry-cured black olives
  • 1 large sprig rosemary, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from the orange, taking care to peel as little of the white pith as possible; roughly chop zest and transfer to a medium bowl.

Juice the orange and add the juice to the zest along with the olives, rosemary and pepper; toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour to marinate before serving.

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Peperoni Arrostiti Sotto Olio

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 leaves fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat and lightly oil the grate. Reduce grill heat to medium.

Grill whole peppers until charred on all sides, turning about every 5 minutes. Place charred peppers in a paper or plastic food storage bag. Allow peppers to cool in the bag.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper in a deep serving container.

Remove cooled peppers from the bag and scrape off charred skins. Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and stems. Slice peppers into long strips and place in the oil mixture. Mix well. Serve.

Store leftover peppers in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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Balsamic Glazed Meatballs

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 eggs
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Balsamic Glaze, recipe below

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine beef, bread crumbs and milk. Mix in tomato paste, vinegar and eggs and then add the remaining seasonings. Combine well and form into small, bite sized meatballs.

Place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl, combine ingredients for the glaze and whisk together. Brush glaze over meatballs and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Balsamic Glaze

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup water

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl.  Whisk to combine well. Set aside until needed.

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Italian Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 12 medium button mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Using a spoon or your fingers, pop out mushroom stems and set aside. Finely dice 1/3 cup of the reserved mushroom stems. Reserve the rest for another use.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced mushroom stems, pancetta and onion. Cook until soft and lightly brown; add garlic and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add bread crumbs, Parmesan and wine. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Place mushrooms, stem side up in a baking dish. Spoon ricotta inside each mushroom then top with bread crumb mixture.

Drizzle remaining olive oil on top of the bread crumb mixture. Bake for 25 minutes until soft and brown.

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