I enjoy inviting friends over for an afternoon get together after a game of golf or a sporting event. It is always nice to relax in a casual setting. I will have foods to sample, such as my olive salad, plus Italian cocktails to enjoy, a Negroni is perfect for such gatherings or a glass of wine (see my suggestions below). I have also included a number of pictures of dishes that make a lovely presentation. You can bring these creations together without the need for a recipe, adding a polished appeal to any social gathering. Allow your creative juices to flow and the results will be both memorable and delicious.
Broccoli Rabe Pancakes
This antipasto does not need to be served hot, they are delicious at room temperature, making this recipe ideal as a starter.
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large bunches of broccoli rabe
9 large eggs, beaten
½ cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
4 oz Ricotta Salata, in one piece
Remove the stems from the broccoli rabe. In a medium-sized non-stick sauté pan (10” is ideal), heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the broccoli rabe and reduce the flame to medium and cook stirring frequently until the broccoli rabe is very soft, but still retains its shape. Remove from the flame and allow to cool. Place the broccoli rabe into a large bowl and add the eggs, bread crumbs, flour and pecorino. Stir gently to mix.
Using the same sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame. Drop the broccoli rabe into the batter and by tablespoon into the pan, making sure not to crowd the pancakes. Cook turning once, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Coarsely grate the ricotta salata over the pancakes and serve either hot or at room temperature. Take note that the pancakes do not do well if refrigerated or reheated, so enjoy them while fresh.
Marinated Olive Salad
You can use any of your favorite olives in this recipe, but it is best if you use a medley of different colors and sizes.
½ cup Picholine olives
½ cup Nicoise olives
½ cup Gaeta Olives
½ cup cracked Sicilian olives
5 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed
grated zest of 1 orange
In a medium bowl, combine the olives, toss in the oregano and set aside. Using a mandoline or vegetable slicer, shave the fennel as thin as possible. Add the fennel to the olives and toss well. Add the orange zest, toss again and serve.
Mozzarella in Carrozza with Anchovy Sauce
This classic dish of southern Italy is eaten as a mid-morning snack, lunch or dinner. Regardless of when it is served, it is always delicious.
1 loaf day-old Italian bread
1 lb fresh mozzarella
1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil
3 large eggs
8 salt-packed anchovies
1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
16 bamboo skewers
Cut the loaf of bread into 2” slices and then cut the slices into 2” cubes. Cut the mozzarella into 2” cubes. Fillet the anchovies and rinse well. Chop into very small pieces (approximately 1/8”).
Thread 3 cubes of bread and 2 cubes of mozzarella onto each skewer, beginning and ending with bread and sandwiching the cheese in between. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 1 cup of olive oil over a high flame until hot. While the oil is reaching temperature, lightly beat the eggs in a large shallow bowl. Working in batches, dip each skewer into the eggs, turning to coat, then allow the excess to drip off. Cook in the oil, turning occasionally until light golden brown on all sides (about 5 minutes). Transfer to paper towels to drain.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ½ cup of olive oil and the anchovies. Heat slowly over a low flame until the anchovies fall apart. Remove from the heat and add the parsley. Transfer the skewers to a platter, pour the anchovy sauce over and serve.
Pasticco di Maccheroni
Everyone loves a baked macaroni dish. With pancetta, cheeses and a dry red wine, the flavors of this dish will win smiles all around.
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb pancetta
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4” dices
1 onion, cut into 1/4” dices
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
1 ½ lb ziti
1 lb fresh ricotta
8 oz hard provolone, cut into small dices
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the pancetta into ½” cubes. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over a high flame. Add the pancetta and brown for 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the carrot, onion and celery. Cook until the vegetables are golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid reduces by half. Add the tomato sauce, bring to a boil and then reduce the flame to low and cover. Simmer for 45-50 minutes until the pancetta is very tender and ready to fall apart. Transfer the meat to a large bowl and keep the sauce warm.
While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 450°F and bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add 2 tablespoons of salt. Cook the ziti for 1 minute less than the cooking directions specify, until very al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta into a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Grease a 12” deep pie dish, or casserole with olive oil. Place a ladleful of the sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of meat and pasta. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano and repeat with another layer of sauce, then pasta. Continue until all of the ingredients are used. Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warm bowls.
Frittatta di Spinaci e Cacio
This is a simple antipasto that is often served in Rome as a series of dishes that might also include roasted peppers, marinated olives, goat cheese and other informal dishes, bringing together a wonderfully well-balanced afternoon fare.
2 lbs spinach
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
8 large eggs
1/4 cup Cacio di Roma cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove. Plunge the spinach into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice bath until chilled. Remove from the ice bath and drain in a colander, then place the spinach between two plates and squeeze out the excess liquid. Place on a cutting board and finely chop.
In a 9” non-stick sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, beat the eggs to blend. Add the spinach, cheeses, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well to combine.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook until the bottom has set, about 5 minutes. Hold a flat plate over the pan and invert the frittata onto the plate, then slide it back into the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes more and serve hot.
Finocchi e Tarocchi
Shaved fennel is a fantastic addition to salads. With its fresh, crisp flavor, it is unmatched when combined with fruits, such as cherries and watermelon. Fennel is so versatile you can vary the fruits, according to the season. It works equally well with blood oranges and pomegranate.
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed
several fennel fronds
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb fresh cherries
½ watermelon, seeded and cut into chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz hard Pecorino cheese, shaved
Using a mandonline or other vegetable slicer, shave the fennel crosswise into 1/4” slices. Place into a bowl and toss with lemon juice and olive oil. Add the cherries, watermelon and fennel fronds. Toss gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the fennel salad on individual plates, shave the pecorino over each plate and serve.
Peaches in Poli Grappa
Serving fruit with grappa is a traditional dessert in Bassano del Grappa. Be sure to use ripe, but not mushy, white peaches; otherwise you’ll have a hard time slicing them.
2 cups sugar
2 cups grappa
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, grappa and clove. Bring to a low boil and simmer until the grappa reduces by half, about 30 minutes. Let cool and remove the clove. Slice the peaches and divide among four bowls. Pour 1/4 cup syrup over each peach and serve.
Savory Chestnut Custard
1 lb dried, peeled chestnuts
2 cups whole milk
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
5 large eggs, separated
3 cups heavy cream
4 oz Fontina cheese, grated
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 1/4 cups toasted bread crumbs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup whole parsley leaves
Soak the chestnuts overnight in cool water and then drain. Place the chestnuts into a 2-quart saucepan, add the milk and bring to a boil over a medium flame. Lower the heat and simmer until the chestnuts are tender, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a small Bundt pan and sprinkle with the fresh bread crumbs to coat. Drain the chestnuts and puree in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and add the eggs yolks, heavy cream, Fontina, Parmigiano, toasted bread crumbs and nutmeg.
In a large bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Carefully fold the whites into the chestnut mixture. Pour into the Bundt pan and place in a roasting pan. Pour enough water into the pan to come 3” up the sides of the Bundt pan and place into the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and the center tube and invert the custard onto a serving plate. Garnish with parsley and serve.