Springtime is a great reason to throw a fun-filled party full of happy colors and delectable treats. Between graduations, wedding engagements, bridal and baby showers, you’re bound to play hostess at some point. With a little preparation, you can save yourself a lot of headache at the party. Start a few days in advance to ensure you have everything—including time to yourself to relax.
The most important question when hosting any party is how many guests to invite. Plan according to your space limitations and budget. If you’re having a family oriented get-together, be aware of kids’ vacation schedules. For birthday parties, get your invitations out three weeks in advance; two weeks for informal backyard gatherings or picnics. As a rough rule of thumb for other gatherings—graduations, bridal showers, engagement parties—send an invitation six weeks in advance.
The decor of your party sets the tone. Light pastel colors always work for spring—think lavender, yellow, pink, sage green—and soft orange and turquoise are particularly popular. Always stick to two colors: one light/neutral color and one bright shade that pops.
For centerpiece ideas – Fresh fruit is beautiful, simple…and ultimately tasty for the guests! Choose fruit people can eat easily: mounds of cherries, strawberries, apricots and grapes. White unscented candles are classic and affordable. Buy them in different shapes and sizes—tea lights, floating votives, pillars—and crowd them together in groups on tables. Just be sure to avoid scented varieties, as guests may be allergic and the smell will conflict with the food.
Set up a self-serve bar with one signature drink as well as beer, wine and soft drinks. Some people are uncomfortable at parties, especially when they don’t know people. Having a self-serve bar gives them something to do and is a way for them to meet people.
Forgo catering. My favorite appetizer suggestion is to serve antipasto platters, bread and a few simple desserts. Antipasto plates are colorful offerings of marinated vegetables—think artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or pickled radishes—salty olives, rustic artisan breads, natural deli meats, small bites of seafood and rich cheeses. With antipasto, it’s always best to keep things simple and incorporate a few fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables and you’re set. Try these simple ideas:
- Jarred marinated artichoke hearts served with water crackers and Camembert cheese
- Sliced tomatoes marinated in Italian dressing, served with slices of havarti cheese and garlic-stuffed green olives
- Thinly sliced Genoa salami and Cacio de Roma cheese served with crusty bread
- Shaved prosciutto with chunks of fresh cantaloupe and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts
- Jarred roasted red and yellow peppers, garlic hummus and pita bread
- Toasted focaccia bread with sardines and sweet onions
- Olives, capers, sweet pickles and natural pepperoni or smoked peppered turkey breast
- Roasted almonds, walnuts and pine nuts served with dried and fresh figs in season
- Homemade garlic bread served with marinated cubed tomatoes and cold shrimp
- Grilled vegetables with marinated fresh mozzarella
When planning for a large group or party, set out platters that mix and match an assortment of antipasto or other types of appetizer items, like this:
Meat: Start with a selection of natural deli meats—maybe pepperoni, salami and prosciutto—then add mixed olives, a wheel of creamy brie, deviled eggs, roasted vegetables and crackers.
Vegetarian: Present marinated olives or olive tapenade, sliced semolina bread, fire-roasted peppers, vegetarian stuffed dolmas and roasted garlic hummus.
Seafood: Consider a plate of thin crackers or crostini served with sardines, anchovies, Italian tuna and smoked salmon, then add cream cheese, sliced marinated onions and capers.
Fresh Fruit and Nuts: Serve chunks of fresh cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon alongside natural deli meats, cheese and add toasted walnuts and roasted, salted pistachios.
Roasted Vegetables with Cheese: Pair roasted vegetables with tangy cheeses like feta, Gruyère or aged Manchego. For the roasted veggies, think about eggplant, beets, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and garlic. Simply toss raw veggies with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a 450°F oven until tender.
Cheese and More Cheese: Look for out-of-the-ordinary cheeses like cheese made with red peppers or black peppercorns, rosemary coated Manchego, Caciotta cheese with green olives, Gouda with mustard seeds or cumin, goat cheese made with red wine and Sottocenere cheese with truffles and a hint of cinnamon. Then combine them with a few traditional ones like provolone or fresh mozzarella. Serve with slices of fresh crusty country bread.
Here are a few other ideas for appetizers for your next party. What are your favorite party foods?
Tortellini Salad Skewers
Any vegetable can be substituted for the sugar snap peas.
Makes 12 servings
- 1 (9-oz.) package refrigerated cheese tortellini
- 1 (8-oz.) package frozen sugar snap peas
- 68 (4-inch) wooden skewers
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 pressed garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons sugar or honey
- 1 1/4 cups olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Cook tortellini according to package directions.
Place sugar snap peas in a small bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave at HIGH 2 minutes. Let stand, covered, 2 minutes.
Make the vinaigrette:
Whisk together vinegar, fresh dill, Dijon mustard, garlic and sugar. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Whisk in kosher salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Thread each skewer with 1 sugar snap pea, 1 tortellini and 1 tomato half. Place skewers in a 13×9 inch baking dish.
Pour Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette over skewers, turning to coat. Cover and chill 4 hours. Transfer skewers to a decorative serving platter.
Chicken Salad-Stuffed Eggs
Makes 48 appetizer servings
- 2 pounds skinned and boned chicken breasts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 24 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
- 1 cup mayonnaise (light works fine)
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill on an outdoor grill, covered with the lid, over high heat (400° to 500°) for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 15 minutes; cover and chill at least 30 minutes.
Slice hard-cooked eggs in half lengthwise; carefully remove yolks, keeping egg white halves intact. Arrange them on serving platters. Set yolks aside.
Stir together mayonnaise, the next 4 ingredients (onion-lemon) and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.
Pulse cooled chicken and egg yolks, in batches, in a food processor 3 to 4 times or until chunky; stir into mayonnaise mixture.
Spoon chicken mixture evenly into egg white halves. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
Makes 12 servings
- 1 (8-ounce) package light cream cheese, softened
- 4 ounces Roquefort cheese, softened
- 1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
- 3/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- Garnishes: fresh flat-leaf parsley, fresh basil, edible flowers
- Assorted crackers
Beat cream cheese and Roquefort cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread cheese mixture into an 11×8 inch rectangle onthe parchment paper. Cover and chill 1 hour.
Process spinach and the next 4 ingredients (parsley-oil) in a food processor until smooth.
Stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese, chopped toasted walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
Spread spinach mixture evenly over cheese rectangle on the parchment covered pan. Using the parchment paper as a guide, roll up, jelly roll fashion.
Wrap in parchment paper,twisting the ends to seal and chill at least 2 hours.
Remove paper and garnish, if desired, with parsley and flowers. Serve with assorted crackers.
Mushroom and Parmigiano Bruschetta
- 1 1/2 cups chopped seeded plum tomatoes
- 6 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or honey
- 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 30 thinly sliced basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1 cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps
- 1 cup sliced baby portobello mushroom caps
- 3/4 cup chopped green onions
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 24 (1/2-inch-thick) slices diagonally cut baguette, toasted
- 3/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Combine the first 7 ingredients (tomatoes-basil) in a medium bowl; set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic; cook until tender, stirring frequently. Add mushroom mixture tothe tomato mixture; toss well to combine.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom mixture onto each bread slice. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Serve immediately.
Shrimp and Boursin Cheese Melts
Makes: 28 melts
- 2 (150 grams) boursin cheese containers
- 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 28 (1/2″ thick) slices of baguette, 2½” wide
- 1 pound small shrimp, cooked and patted dry
- Chopped fresh parsley
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the boursin cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper and lemon juice in a bowl and mix until well combined. Divide and spread the mixture on the baguette slices and set on the baking sheet.
Top the cheese mixture with one whole shrimp. (Can be made to this point several hours in advance; refrigerate until ready to bake.)
Bake the melts in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for 10 minutes or until the bread is lightly toasted on the edges and bottom.
Arrange on a large platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Polenta Cups with Braised Beef
Not a quick dish but all the preparation can be done well in advance.
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups polenta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck-eye roast, cut into small cubes
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups beef broth
- 3/4 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
- 5 thyme sprigs
- Salt and black pepper to taste
To make the polenta:
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Whisk in polenta. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender, whisking frequently. Add butter. Line a deep-rimmed cookie sheet with wax paper. Pour polenta onto the baking pan and spread evenly to 1″ thick. Allow to cool at room temperature; transfer to the refrigerator and chill for a minimum of two hours.
Remove polenta from the refrigerator when completely chilled and firm. Cut circles into the polenta using a 2″ cookie cutter. Scoop out the centers of each polenta circle with a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon, taking care not to make a hole in the bottom of the circle. Polenta cups may be prepared up to 2 days in advance at this point.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the braised beef:
Season beef with salt and pepper to taste. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add meat to pot, searing on all sides until dark brown. Remove meat from pot to a bowl and reserve.
Add shallots and garlic to the Dutch oven. If necessary, add remaining oil. Sweat for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until paste becomes fragrant and dark red, approximately 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and whisk in the flour. Whisk in the beef broth, breaking up any lumps. Add wine, Italian seasoning, thyme and peppercorns. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Add the reserved browned beef to the sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven. Cook until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. (Sauce should continue to be at a light simmer while in the oven. If the sauce stops simmering bring it back to a simmer on the stove top and return to the oven.) Remove the beef from the sauce, cover and reserve.
Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and reserve.
Shred beef while warm, discarding any pieces of fat. Toss shredded beef with some of the reserved sauce to coat and keep warm.
Warm polenta cups in a 250 degrees F and fill with shredded beef. Serve.
- Appetizer Party for Your Next Family Celebration (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Marinated Chicken Skewers (chefceaser.wordpress.com)
- Avocado, Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Toasts (everybodylovespretty.com)
- Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (thestoutsprout.wordpress.com)
- Trio Antipasto Salad (cantstayoutofthekitchen.com)
Italians like structure in the way they eat. To them, the balance between the different courses of the meal is as important as the balance between the ingredients of each dish. In Italy, eating is far more than nutrition, it’s a time where families, friends and colleagues get together, relax and participate in the dining ritual. In Italy, even the most informal meals include multiple courses. This does not mean that people eat more food- the various courses are small and a way to break down the meal into different sections, adding variety and creating a progression. Appetizers (Antipasto- the singular form and Antipasti- the plural form of the word) and first courses, Primi Piatto (come first because of their delicate flavors (and textures); second courses follow with their heavier elements; desserts, coffee and liquors are reserved to end the meal.
Antipasto means “before the meal” and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. It is served at the table and signifies the beginning of the meal. Its main purpose is to extend the meal. Traditional European dining is nothing like the fast-paced meals we most often consume in the US. Instead, the food is enjoyed slowly and is only one part of the dining experience. The other part is, of course, good conversation. A typical meal, consisting of antipasto, salad or soup, pasta and a meat dish, perhaps followed by a light dessert, is supposed to take time, as it is meant to build and maintain relationships with friends and family.
There is tremendous range and regional variation in what constitutes an antipasto, and in many situations an antipasto could be considered an elaborate meal by itself.
There are several bread-based preparations that may be included with an antipasto. Most typical are bruschetta (known in Tuscany as fett’unta)—toasted or grilled bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with fruity olive oil (chopped tomatoes or other toppings can also be added); and crostini, thin slices of toast covered with an assortment of pastes made from cheese, chicken livers, mushrooms, artichokes, olives and so forth.
One may find any or all of the following on an antipasto table: marinated cold vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, whole small onions, and peppers; boiled greens such as spinach, cicoria (chicory), and broccoli rabe; anchovies, seafood salad, and mushrooms marinated in olive oil; frittatas (unfolded filled omelette); affettato (cold cuts) of cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, mortadella, smoked tongue, and sausage.
There are also cheeses, especially Provolone, Mozzarella, Asiago, Parmesan, and Pecorino. The favored cheese is mozzarella di bufala, which is made at least partly from buffalo milk (that is, the milk of the water buffalo, not that of the American bison) and has a distinctive taste. A popular cold antipasti is prosciutto and melon or figs, carpaccio (very thin slices of raw beef or fish), and bresaola (cured air-dried beef) drizzled with olive oil.
Antipasti can also be fried and served warm. Crocchette (croquettes) are popular; one type is Arancini (rice balls filled with cheese or ground meat, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried). There are olive ascolane (fried stuffed olives), baccalà filetti (dried salt cod, filleted and fried), and vegetables dipped in batter and fried. The famous fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies before being dipped in batter for frying.
Primi Piatto or just primi are felt to constitute the first course of an Italian meal, though they follow the antipasto. This course includes either pasta, rice, gnocchi, or polenta with sauce, or soups containing pasta, rice, or farro (spelt—an ancient variety of wheat).
The variety of pasta shapes and sauces is seemingly infinite. Regions and even villages often have their own specific creations. It is important for Italians to match the shape of the pasta with the sauce, though they allow much flexibility. While almost any combination is possible, there are “rules.” One general rule is that smooth sauces are appropriate on long pasta, and sauces with chunks of vegetables or meats are better on small pasta shapes, which trap the chunks. Another is that fresh egg pastas work better with butter based sauces instead of olive oil–based ones. In the dairy-rich north of Italy, fresh egg pastas are very popular, whereas in the olive oil–dominated south, dried or egg free pastas predominate. An important “rule” is that all pastas are consumed without a spoon (that is, with just a fork), even spaghetti.
Fresh egg pastas include noodles such as fettuccine, tagliarini, and pappardelle (all ribbon-shaped in various widths), and filled pastas such as ravioli, tortellini (small, hand-pinched, ring-shaped), and agnolotti (small, half-moon-shaped). Popular dried pastas include spaghetti, penne (short, thick, tubular, cut diagonally), and farfalle (bowties). Some pasta types are quite specifically associated with a certain region, as is the case with orecchiette (little ears), a traditional pasta from Apulia (Puglia).
Risotto is a uniquely Italian way of cooking rice, resulting in a dish with a creamy consistency. Risotto is best made with special types of rice such as arborio, canaroli, or vialone nano. Popular recipes include Milanese (that is, with saffron—risotto Milanese, unlike other risottos, is traditionally served with osso buco, a meat dish, as a secondo), con funghi (with mushrooms), con frutti di mare (with seafood), and nero (with squid ink).
Polenta (thick cornmeal mush) is typically a northern dish. It can be soft and creamy with a sauce on top (often tomato with sausage and pork ribs), or it can be cut into shapes and baked, fried, or grilled. It is traditionally a cool-weather dish served on a wooden plate.
Gnocchi (dumplings) are either di farina (made from wheat flour) or di patate (made from potato). There are also gnocchi alla romana, made of semolina flour and traditionally served on Thursdays in Rome. Crespelle (crepes) may also be a first course and can be filled with meat or with cheese and spinach.
Most pasta sauces are either butter-or olive oil–based. Tomatoes are probably the next most frequent ingredient, particularly in the south. An important component of baked pastas from Emilia-Romagna is balsamella (béchamel sauce). Whatever the sauce (called sugo or salsa), the most important thing is just to moisten the pasta with it. Italian pasta is served with much less sauce than its American counterpart.
The best-known sauces are probably ragù alla bolognese, made of vegetables, tomatoes, cream, and beef and simmered for a long time, and pesto alla genovese, a mixture of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, pecorino cheese, and olive oil that is traditionally served over trenette (thin strips of pasta), potatoes, and green beans. Other popular pasta sauces are quattro formaggi (four cheeses); boscaiolo (woodsman-style), containing mushrooms, peas, ham, tomatoes, cream, or whatever the chef wants to add “from the forest”; arrabbiata (literally, angry), a tomato sauce with hot peppers; as well as many for seafood (which are served without cheese).
Some Antipasti Recipes for Your Next Dinner Party
Arancini (Italian Rice Balls)
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups leftover risotto
- 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut in ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
- 3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Marinara Sauce
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat eggs lightly with fork. Add the rice and stir gently but thoroughly.
Take 1 tablespoon of the mixture, place a cube of mozzarella in the middle and then top with another tablespoon of rice. Shape into a ball and roll in the breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the rice mixture.
Refrigerate pan of rice balls for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over rice balls.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with warm marinara sauce.
This healthy side vegetable salad is made quickly and is very fresh tasting. It is a great way to add more vegetables to your meals with little effort. It can be served as a salad, side vegetable, or appetizer, and can be made in advance and kept in your refrigerator. Give it a little extra time to marinate before serving and the flavor will be even better.
- 2 cups carrots, sliced on the diagonal
- 11/2 cups thick sliced celery
- 1 cup fresh sliced fennel bulb
- 2 tablespoons rinsed and halved olives
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- extra virgin olive oil to taste
Bring salted water to a boil in a medium pot while cutting vegetables. Place carrots in boiling water for about 4 minutes and add celery and fennel. Cook for just 1 more minute. Immediately drain through a colander and rinse with cold water. Pat dry and place in a bowl with capers and olives.
Whisk all dressing ingredients together, drizzling olive oil at the end, a little at a time.
Toss with vegetables and marinate for at least 15 minutes before serving.
The cooking time for this recipe can vary depending on the exact size you cut your vegetables. You want your vegetables to be tender on the outside and still crisp on the inside. When they get to this point remove from the heat. Place them under cold water to stop the cooking. To check for doneness, insert the tip of a sharp knife. If you overcook the vegetables they won’t hold up and will get soggy quickly. If you undercook them they won’t absorb the dressing. It is also very important that your vegetables are dry, so they don’t dilute the flavor of the dressing.
Savory Cheese Biscotti
Makes about 45 biscotti
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (coarse grind)
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup grated aged Asiago cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds (with skins) or pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, or pistachio nuts, toasted
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten or 1/2 cup egg substitute
- 1/2 cup low fat milk
- Tomato Marmalade, recipe below
Put the flour, pepper, dried herbs, baking powder, salt, cheeses, and almonds in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse briefly. Combine the eggs or egg substitute with the milk and pour the mixture into the food processor. Process just until the mixture begins to form a ball of dough.
Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and pat it into a disk. Wrap the disk in the waxed paper and refrigerate it for 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 11 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick. Wetting your fingers with water makes it easier to shape the logs.
Cover 2 rimmed baking sheet pans with parchment paper and place one log on each.
Bake the logs for 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets on the oven shelves after 15 minutes. The logs should be lightly brown on top and springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a rack to cool for 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Place a log on a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut it on the bias into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices back onto the baking sheets.
Bake the biscotti for 40 minutes, turning them over once halfway through, until they are golden and crisp and switching the baking sheets on upper and lower oven shelves. Remove the biscotti to a rack to cool completely. Serve as an appetizer with cheese, salami, olives, and tomato marmalade.
Spread this marmalade on crostini and top with a sharp or pungent cheese. Using a sugar alternative such as, Domino Light or Truvia for Baking, works just as well as regular sugar in recipes. Since the sugar amount can be reduced by half with a sugar alternative, calories are saved.
Makes two 1/2-pint jars
- 5 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups sugar or 1 cup light sugar alternative
- Juice and peel of 2 oranges (peel should be cut into strips)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 chile peppers, minced
Cut each tomato into 4 pieces. Put the tomato pieces into a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot as you go.
Add the remaining ingredients into the pot with the tomatoes. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook at a fairly lively simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the marmalade is glossy and thick enough to spread. Be sure to stir often to prevent burning. Remove bay leaves.
If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can blend the mixture using a blender, food processor or immersion blender.
Spoon the marmalade into sterilized jars and store the marmalade in the refrigerator, where it will keep for at least a month.
Some First Course Recipes for Your Next Dinner Party
Whole Wheat Fettuccine with Artichokes and Ricotta
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 9 oz. package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and quartered
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 pound whole wheat fettuccine
- 1 cup skim ricotta
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Freshly grated Parmesan
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and as soon as it starts to sizzle, add the artichokes and lemon juice. Add 1/4 cup water, cover the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water together in a large pasta bowl until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley.
Reserve about 1/2 cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the bowl with the ricotta. If necessary, add a little hot pasta water to attain a creamy consistency. Add the artichokes and toss again. Serve immediately with generous amounts of grated Parmesan.
Herbed Italian White Beans
Makes 4 servings.
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 (14-oz.) can cannellini beans (Italian white beans), drained
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes may be substituted)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, shredded
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or to taste
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sage. Sauté about 2 minutes.
Add drained beans and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes.
Uncover pan and remove from heat. Immediately add basil and vinegar and serve.
Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Pancetta & Spinach
4 servings, about 1 cup each
- 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound refrigerated or frozen gnocchi
- 10 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put a large pan of water on to boil.
Cook pancetta in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add spinach, tomatoes, sugar and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are almost completely broken down, about 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and salt. Remove from the heat.
Cook gnocchi in the boiling water until they float, 3 to 5 minutes or according to package directions. Add the gnocchi to the sauce in the pan; toss to combine. Serve with Parmesan.
- Healthy dinner recommendations from Ricciotti’s Chef Gero Dimaria (livegreatfoodblog.com)
- Cuisine of the Week: Italian (dualshow.com)
- Antipasti E Insalate (chefmuslih.wordpress.com)
- Risotto, Risotto Recipes & How To Make Risotto (williams-sonoma.com)
- Buon Appetito! Eating Our Way Through Milan (schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com)
Many vegetables have been assimilated into Italian cooking from other cultures. Some vegetables that we associate with the Italian cuisine, such as tomatoes and peppers, actually came from the Americas in the sixteenth century. However, it is what Italian cooks do with vegetables that have made them identifiable with Italian cuisine and what makes them taste so good. A classic example would be roasting red peppers. Red bell peppers are ripened green bell peppers.
Roasting brings out their sweetness and gives them a different, richer flavor that also doubles the amount of vitamin C. As the pepper turns from green to red on the vine, the amount of Vitamin A is also increased. Red peppers contain more folate and are rich in the phytochemicals that help protect us from many different chronic diseases. Red peppers rank among the top ten foods for beta-carotene, lutein and other important antioxidants.
Roasted red peppers can be used in a variety of dishes from pizza to salads. You can even puree them and put the puree in your pasta sauce. They are a staple on the antipasto tray and I like to use them for stuffing meat entrees and for sandwich fillings.
Home roasted peppers taste so much better than the store bought peppers in a jar and it really isn’t very difficult at all. I am including a link here for a video that demonstrates the technique for roasting red bell peppers.
Heat a broiler (or BBQ grill) to high. Rinse the peppers (I usually roast 6 at one time) and place them directly on the oven rack right underneath the flame or on the grill rack. The flame will cause the peppers to bubble and turn black. We want this to happen. Once the top side of the pepper turns black, rotate it. Repeat this process until the whole pepper has blackened.
Place the peppers in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The peppers will continue to cook in its container. This also loosens the skin. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bowl and let them cool down a little bit. Save any liquid that collects in the bottom of the bowl if you are going to make marinated peppers. To cut the pepper, insert the knife on top and cut around the stem. Slice it in half and remove the seeds. With the knife, gently scrape off the skin. You can slice the pepper into strips as thick as you want them.
You can use roasted peppers in the following recipes.
4 roasted red bell peppers
Reserved liquid from the roasted peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Cut the flesh into broad strips or bite-size pieces and set them aside.
In a bowl add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Put the peppers back into the bowl with the sliced garlic, pepper liquid and carefully toss to combine. If you are planning on serving the peppers the same day, allow them to sit at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
4 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz each) or chicken breast halves, trimmed and pounded thin into 4 cutlets
4 roasted red pepper halves
4 slices provolone cheese (deli style)
8 basil leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Salt, Pepper and dried basil
Lay your chicken breasts out flat.
Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top, then a pepper half and 2 basil leaves.
Roll the chicken breast up as tightly and evenly as possible and secure with toothpicks.
Season rolls with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with dried basil and add wine, cover, and cook over low heat, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer rolls to serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Boil juices in skillet until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Diagonally slice rolls into thick pieces, drizzle with pan juices, and serve.
I like to serve this dish over a bed of sauteed swiss chard or spinach.
Video link on how to prepare a chicken breast for stuffing.
- Roasted Red Pepper Soup a big hit (ramblingprose.wordpress.com)
- Spanish-Style Chicken Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (themoveablefeasts.wordpress.com)