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2012 - Summer Issue
¡Comidas Sabrosas!
Entertaining at Home
Article: Bob Skolnick
Photos: Jesse Ramirez
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What better way to entertain at home than to invite family and friends over for an Italian patio buffet? We selected a menu that will be pleasing to both adults and children. The menu provides for advanced preparation so that the hostess and host can limit their kitchen time once the party begins. We also wanted to encourage you to try new ingredients and experience cooking pizza on your barbecue grill.

    Ingredient Resource:

Greenery Market
Sunland Park Mall
El Paso, TX  79912

Toucan Market
1701 E University Ave.
Las Cruces, NM  88001
ANTIPASTI - In Europe, and particularly Italy, most meals and family gatherings start off with an appetizer or group of appetizers called antipasti. The typical American antipasti includes a combination of meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables, cured fish and hearth breads. In Italy, the antipasti can include not only these items, but any creative starting course, whether prepared hot or cold, to begin the meal.

Italian Meats - Proscuitto is the best of Italian cured meats. Proscuitto is the salted and air-dried hind leg of the pig. The salt removes the moisture from the meat and the slow process of air-drying produces a soft, delicate flavor. Proscuitto should always be sliced paper thin and served shortly after slicing to maximize its flavor. It should be cut close to the time of service. Mortadella is from the town of Bologna and has a soft, smooth texture. It is often studded with fat, garlic and pistachios and has a great flavor. There are several well-known types of salami such as sopressata, Genoa, finocchiona Toscana, pepperoni and Milano. Salami are typically made with lean beef, pork and pork fat with the additions of wine, fennel seeds and seasonings; then cured in a casing until hard. We also selected cappacola which is a spicy cured ham.

Italian Cheeses - The Italians are well known for their cheeses. Mozzarella is a smooth, matured and mild flavored cheese with a stringy texture typically made from cow's milk. Served in antipasti or salads, small balls of mozzarella are called bocconcini. Gorgonzola is prized for its rich, creamy texture and mild, blue cheese flavor. It is less salty than most blue cheeses. Provolone is usually sold incased in waxed coating and hung by a striped red and white string. Provolone is highly smoked and sharpens with age. Pecorino is a hard-cooked sheep's milk cheese. It has a grainy texture similar to parmesan. Percorino romano is aged for the longest time. Pecorino pepato has black peppercorns added to the curd and has a slight peppery taste. Parmesan is the most famous hard cheese of Italy and a staple of any Italian cheese selection. It is a staple of the cheese board and also a key cooking ingredient. We also selected a fontina which is a Piedmontese cheese that is soft, nutty and semi-sweet cheese made from cow's milk to round out our cheese board.

Hearth Crusty Breads - A good crusty loaf or a savory focaccia pizzelle are always part of the antipasti options.

Marinated Vegetables & Condiments - The antipasti platters feature an assortment of fresh and marinated vegetables. Italy is know for its variety of olives from green pimiento stuffed, black cured and calamata. We also selected marinated mushrooms, garbanzo beans, pepperocini peppers, roasted pimiento peppers, hearts of palm, radishes, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and capers, plus the bocconcini mozzarella balls. You can add sardines, marinated calamari and anchovy to your antipasti if you want to expand the choices.

SALADS - On a warm summer or early fall day, there is a desire to choose menu items that are either chilled or room temperature. An Italian pizza party offers a variety of pizzas, but demands that a good selection of salads be available to choose from as well. Some of our salads are intended to accompany your pizza and pastas and others can be your entree. We chose four salads, each with their own taste and appeal.

Farfalle with Sun Dried Tomatoes & Arugula - Select a tri-colored farfalle pasta and cook it al dente in a light chicken stock and then chill quickly. In a portion of the same cooking stock, reconstitute the sun dried tomatoes; soaking them for several hours. When soft, drain the sun dried tomatoes and cut them into strips. Next, season the farfalle and sun dried tomato mixture with garlic salt, dried oregano, ground black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Apply the dressing to well coat the pasta, but be careful, too much dressing will make the salad soggy. The salad should be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Clean and trim your arugula, then cut into bite size pieces. Wrap the arugula in a damp paper or cloth kitchen towel and refrigerate. When readying to serve, place the farfalle salad in your serving bowl and add a little more dressing. Gently toss in the cut fresh arugula.

Chilled Summer Vegetables in Lemon & Olive Oil Dressing - Poach fresh green beans, fresh asparagus and fresh brocolini. Each vegetable must be cooked separately in a cooking stock slightly flavored with lemon juice and granulated garlic salt. When they are al dente, remove them and plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking. The vegetables are then lightly tossed in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, basil and ground black pepper. They should be prepared a day in advance and allowed to refrigerate with the olive lemon dressing overnight.

Funghetto Salad - This salad is a traditional Italian salad combining brown & porcini mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini. It is a cooked vegetable salad that must be made a day in advance of the party. Cut the eggplant into bite-sized pieces and the zucchini and mushrooms into quarter-inch slices. Sauté the vegetables in olive oil and melted butter, starting with the eggplant. When the eggplant starts softening, add the sliced zucchini, mushrooms and minced garlic. Remove from the cooking pan and season with rosemary leaves, chopped Italian parsley, ground black pepper and garlic salt. Gently toss the mixture and refrigerate in a covered bowl.

Tuna and White Bean and Pasta Salad - This salad can be your entree as it has lots of protein. We cooked gnocci style pasta in a well-seasoned stock, then chilled it quickly. Rinse a can of white canelli beans and add to the cooked pasta. Drain white albacore tuna, separate the chunks and add to the salad. Dice small red and yellow bell peppers, red onion, green onion, celery and Italian parsley. Add them to the pasta, beans and tuna. Purchase a bottle of Green Goddess dressing and thin the dressing slightly with lemon juice. Add a moderate amount of the dressing to the mixture and toss gently so as not to crush the beans or tuna. Refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.
  Click on any "Italian Buffet" course below to reveal or hide its cooresponding recipe.

• Pizza Dough - Serves 8 to 10

  To Prepare

• Turkey Bolognese Rigatoni - Serves 8 to 10

  1   box   imported rigatoni
  4   each   chicken sausage (roasted garlic & mozzarella flavor)
  16   oz   ground turkey
  2   each   Spanish onions (medium) – peeled and diced small
  8   cloves   garlic – peeled and minced or grated
  6   oz   chicken or beef stock
  2   cans   Italian crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
  10   each   brown mushrooms (large) – cut in half, then sliced
  4   oz   red wine vinegar
  4   oz   extra virgin olive oil
  2   oz   oregano – dried imported
  2   oz   sweet basil – dried imported
  2   oz   black pepper – ground
          garlic salt to taste
  To Prepare
  1.   Sauté on medium to high heat the diced onions in half of the olive oil until almost brown. Add the minced garlic and continue to cook until the garlic browns. Remove the onion garlic mixture to a container and hold at room temperature.
  2.   Place the remainder of the olive oil into the pan and when hot (not smoking) crumble the ground turkey into the hot oil and stir and chop with your spatula and spoon so the ground turkey breaks up and cooks. Season the ground turkey with garlic salt, ground black pepper and part of the oregano while cooking. When the ground turkey is browned and much of the liquid is evaporated, return the onion- garlic mixture to the pan and add the red wine vinegar. Simmer vigorously until about half of the vinegar is evaporated. (If you want to add a little local twist to your Bolognese sauce you can substitute chorizo for part of the ground turkey.)
  3.   Add the crushed Italian tomatoes and the chicken or beef stock. Season with the oregano, sweet basil and ground black pepper. Taste as you add the spices so as not to make it too salty or peppery. Bring the mixture to a good simmer and add the sliced brown mushrooms. Cover and simmer for at least two hours, stirring every 15 minutes.
  4.   If you are not serving right away, remove any olive oil that comes to the top as it might congeal when refrigerated. When you reheat after refrigerating it may seem too thick but the sauce will loosen when heated. If you need to thin it use a little chicken or beef stock.

• Seafood Alfredo Fusilli con Buco - Serves 8 to 10

  To Prepare

• Toasted Pine Nut and Basil Pesto Ravioli- Serves 8 to 10

  To Prepare

• Banana Split Cake - Serves 12 to 16

  2   cups   graham cracker crumbs
  1   each   4 oz stick of softened salted sweet cream butter
  Filling Layer 1
  2   cups   confectioner's sugar
  2   each   raw eggs
  2   each   4 oz stick of softened salted sweet cream butter
  Filling Layer 2
  4-5   each   bananas (large) – peeled and thinly sliced
  1   each   15 oz can of crushed pineapple – drained well
  8   oz   Cool Whip
  14   each   each strawberries (large)
          powdered sugar
  To Prepare
  1.   Mix graham cracker crumbs and butter until well blended. Press mixture into two 8 inch pie tins or into one 9x13 inch baking pan and then chill the crust for an hour.
  2.   Beat the Layer 1 ingredients (confectioner's sugar, eggs and butter) together for five minutes or until fluffy. When ready, spread this mixture on top of the graham cracker crust.
  3.   Place the thinly sliced bananas on top of Layer 1, then cover the bananas with a layer of crushed pineapple. Next, cover the pineapple and bananas with a generous coating of Cool Whip. Refrigerate the pie for eight hours or more in advance of serving.
  4.   Pull your pie from the refrigerator about two hours before serving and slice the strawberries thin – stem to tip and fully arrange a generous layer of strawberries on top of the Cool Whip. Sprinkle lightly with powder sugar and return to refrigeration until ready for service.
    Here are a few of our suggestions for a different pizza combination:

Pepe's White Clam Pizza - Frank Pepe's Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut is famous for their white clam pizza. This is a pizza without tomato sauce. Pre-blanch your pizza crust. Brush on a generous amount of olive oil and sprinkle on a good amount of minced fresh garlic. Top completely with whole baby clams and sprinkle oregano over the entire pizza. Top with a light coating of freshly-grated parmesan and Romano cheeses.

Roman Style Pizza - The keys to this pizza are the contrasting flavors of the raw tomato sauce, anchovies and black olives. Rub olive oil on your crust. Brush on minced garlic and finely-diced onions; then spoon on your fresh tomato sauce. Next, add diced pimentos, halved pitted black olives and anchovy filets. Sprinkle with oregano and crushed black pepper. This pizza has no cheese.

Carciofi Pizza - The featured ingredients in this pizza are artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. Brush your crust with olive oil and minced fresh garlic. Add your fresh tomato sauce, then top with marinated artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes. If you like capers they are a good addition to this combination of flavors. Sprinkle on a small amount of basil leaves. Cheese is optional. A little grated fontina cheese pairs well with the other ingredients.

BLT Pizza - If you have to keep the kids (big & small) happy, try a BLT pizza. Just pre-cook bacon and break into small pieces, cook fresh spinach leaves, cool and chop. Seed and chop fresh Roma tomatoes. Spread olive oil on your crust, then place a light coating of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Then place your diced cooked bacon, spinach and tomatoes in rows. Season with a little ground black pepper and granulated onion. This pizza is made without tomato sauce.

Spicy Options - If you are a fan of spicy foods, then add to any pizza topping crushed Italian red pepper, seeded and diced fresh jalapeño peppers, chorizo or hot Italian sausage.
PIZZA - Pizza is a very popular choice for your backyard party. Only your imagination limits the number of combinations you can create. It is understood that you will have the traditional tomato and cheese pizza. We have chosen several alternative options to give you a varied pizza menu. Successful pizza has three basic components: the dough, the sauce and the cheese mixture. Given that you have assembled a great pizza, then cooking the pizza correctly is also an essential part of a successful outdoor pizza party.

The Dough - The basic pizza dough recipe can be used for thin crust, regular or deep dish pizza. I prefer the dough recipe that includes a little olive oil. I also recommend a combination of all purpose and semolina flours. It is essential you use the water at 110 to 115 degrees to properly activate the yeast. You can modify the basic pizza dough with whole wheat or cornmeal in combination with the all-purpose flour. Following the mixing and proofing process is essential to creating a workable dough. If you are not up to making fresh pizza dough, there are Italian restaurants in your area that will sell you the basic dough. You can also go to your nearby supermarket and purchase a premade Boboli crust.

The Sauce - The better quality canned or fresh tomatoes you purchase, the tastier your pizza sauce. I prefer a raw tomato sauce rather than a pre-cooked tomato sauce. Start with crushed Italian plumb tomatoes. The consistency varies from can to can so make sure your tomatoes do not have excess juice. In a blender or food processor, mince a little onion and about 10 – 12 cloves of garlic. Add several ounces of olive oil, fresh or dried oregano, dried basil, granulated garlic powder and ground black pepper and blend. Add the can(s) of crushed Italian tomatoes and pulse a few times. Do not over puree and aerate the pizza sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.

The Cheese - The quality and type of cheese also significantly affects the taste of the cooked pizza. Most pizza recipes call for mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Freshly grated parmesan and/or pecorino Romano is the best choice. Blended supermarket parmesan – Romano cheeses have a tendency to be salty. For an added flavor, also incorporate grated Fontina cheese. I suggest you experiment with your cheese combinations. It is also important not to use too much cheese on your pizza. When you taste a cooked tomato-cheese pizza, you should individually taste the crust, the sauce and the cheeses equally.

Sizing The Pizza - At a backyard pizza party, it is likely your guests will want to try several different types of pizza. I recommend you make your pizzas either small round, to get three slices per, or rectangular so you can cut the pizza into smaller portions.

Cooking The Pizza - In a backyard or patio pizza party, you need to consider the cooking of your pizza. If your kitchen is just off of your patio, set up your pizza assembly area inside and cook your pizzas in a high temperature oven (450-500 degrees) on a pizza stone. You can cook your pizzas in the oven until the crusts starts to brown and then finish them on your gas barbecue. This allows you to cook your pizzas slightly ahead and finish them in front of your guests. You can also cook your crust from scratch on the barbecue, turning and cooking both sides; then remove the cooked crusts, add the sauce, cheeses and toppings and return the to the covered barbecue for finishing.

PASTAS - We chose an assortment of pastas and sauces to accompany our pizzas. The nice thing about pasta and sauces is you can cook them a day or two ahead, refrigerate and then bring them back to temperature at serving time. The key to pasta cookery is to season the water with either a little chicken or beef stock along with granulated garlic, granulated onion and a little salt. Dried pasta is like a sponge and will absorb the cooking liquid. If the cooking liquid is flavored, those flavors will impart to the pasta. Be sure to select an imported Italian pasta brand. While they might be a little more expensive the quality difference is noticeable.

Make sure the cooking liquid is at a good boil when you add your pasta. Stir continually for the first couple of minutes to ensure the pasta separates and cooks individually. Taste test, and remove the pasta and drain into a colander when al dente. After draining, cover the cooked pasta with ice water for a couple of minutes to stop the cooking. When cooled and drained thoroughly, toss with a little olive oil and refrigerate in an air tight container until ready to reheat.

We selected vegetable ravioli, mated it with basil pesto and garnished it with toasted pine nuts. The second pasta is a fusilli con buco, which is a pasta similar to spaghetti but spiraled. This fusilli con buco was paired with a mixed seafood Alfredo. Our final pasta selection is a rigatoni, which we topped with sauce Bolognese made with ground turkey and then served with a chicken sausage of mozzarella and roasted garlic.

DESSERT - Who doesn't like strawberries? Serving your guests a banana split cake with strawberries and bananas along with a tasty Italian ice is the perfect way to finish off a fun and tasty patio Italian pizza party. The banana split cake is my favorite dessert made by my wife, Linda. It is always a treat and I recommend this recipe highly. The Italian ices can be purchased in most quality supermarkets. We selected Luigi's brand with a mix of lemon and cherry made with real fruit juices. They were very refreshing and have no added sugars as they are sweetened with Splenda. ///
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