Recipes to Nourish the Body and Soul

Here’s a foolproof menu to get you going for any gathering in your kitchen. This one is Italian-themed. Most of it is pretty simple to throw together, but I’ve added a few options that require more technical kitchen skills if you are feeling like a challenge. Therefore, we have three levels: Little League (easy with minimal prep or chopping), Junior Varsity (some prep, chopping probably need to turn on the stove/oven), and Varsity (roll up your sleeves, put on an apron, use obscure ingredients and gadgets, etc). And remember, this menu is intended to inspire you as you gather people you love in your kitchen and around your table. It’s about finding the joy in nourishing ourselves.


Antipasti

Essentially an appetizer plate, Italian-style.

Level- Little League

assorted food on white ceramic plate

Grab your favorite platter and fill it with a variety of cheese, salami, toasted nuts, veggies, olives, sauces, crackers, and more. The possibilities are endless. This is where you get to really explore the fun part of the deli at your grocery store. Feel free to mix savory and sweet, mild and spicy, fresh and dried.  Let the creativity flow. There is no wrong way to do this!


Aperitif

A before dinner cocktail, intended to stimulate your appetite.

Aperol Spritz

This is a beautiful orange cocktail that is super easy to make and sure to impress.

Level- Little League

beverage in clear wine glass

Ingredients:

  • Aperol- an Italian liqueur found in most liquor stores
  • Prosecco- essentially Italian champagne
  • Soda water
  • Orange slices

Fill glass with ice. Mix equal parts Aperol and Prosecco (may I recommend 3 oz each, then adjust to taste), top with a dash of soda water and a slice of orange.

If you can’t find this recipe later, never fear. It is printed on the bottle of Aperol!

But like, if this is truly too much to handle no one will be sad if you just open a bottle of wine.


Primi Piatti

Fancy for first plate, or course, in Italian. Usually a pasta of some sort.

Here we have two levels, Little League and Varsity. But let’s start with varsity, because this is about getting our hands messy!

Homemade Gnocchi with Fontina Sauce

Serves 8

Gnocchi are potato dumplings traditional to Italy. Done right, they are light and fluffy, like a cloud or a pillow. Smother them in sauce and they are a dream come true.

Level- Varsity

silesian dumplings

Ingredients for the gnocchi:

  • 1kg (2 1/4 lb) potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 egg
  • 300g (11oz) flour
  • 1tsp salt

Boil the potatoes in a large pot of water and cook until tender. Allow to cool a bit but peel them while still fairly warm. Pass them through a potato ricer and place in a bowl. Stir in the flour, egg and salt to form a soft, pliable dough.

Now comes the fun part! Flour a flat surface and divide the dough into pieces the size of a small fist and roll them out into lengths, not unlike the play-doh snakes you made as a child, until them are about 3/4 inch thick. Cut them into 3/4 inch pieces.

Ingredients for the Fontina sauce:

  • 400g (13oz) fontina cheese, grated
  • 1 cup cream
  • 160g (5 1/2oz) butter
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

While you are rolling your gnocchi this can be simmering on the stove, as it does take a bit of time. If you have a double boiler, you can use it for this. But honestly, who has one? Not me. So just place a glass bowl over a smaller pot of simmering water. Put all the ingredients in the bowl and stir occasionally until it’s completely melted and creamy and amazing. This can take upwards of 30 minutes sometimes, so just keep an eye on it.

Now you are ready to put this dish together. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Lower your beautiful gnocchi into the pot in batches and boil for about 2 minutes, until the gnocchi rise to the surface.

Divide the gnocchi into 8 bowls, top with the sauce, and maybe throw on a garnish of something green. Because garnishes make everything fancier.

Gnocchi with Marinara

Level- Little League

If you aren’t ready for varsity level, we can still get you in the game.

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 packages of pre-made gnocchi, found at most grocery stores
  • 1 jar of marinara, or any type of favorite sauce

Cook the gnocchi according to the package instructions. Drain. Warm the sauce in a large saucepan, and serve over the gnocchi. Grate some parmesan cheese over the top if you like.


Secondi Piatti

The second course, usually some type of meat

I’m not a big meat eater, but if you are, this first one is a super easy roast that is a real show stopper.

chicken close up dish food

Mustard Roasted Chicken

Recipe adapted from Return to Tuscany by Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi

Serves 4-6

Level- Junior Varsity

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 lbs onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves halved and crushed
  • 1 170g jar of mustard
  • 3- 3 1/2 lb whole chicken
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 4-5 oz white wine
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Place the onions and garlic in a large ovenproof dish, such as a 13×9 deep casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on the bed of onions, spread the mustard over the whole chicken, and season with more salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and place the pan in the oven. Cook for 35 minutes or until the skin is slightly crispy.

Turn the chicken over, pour the white wine over the chicken and cook for another 25 minutes.

Turn the bird once more and cook for another 10 minutes until the skin is golden and crispy. Add a bit of stock whenever necessary, to keep the onions from drying out.

To check if the meat is cooked, pierce a chicken leg with a skewer. When the juices run clear it is ready. Scoop the onions onto a platter, place the chicken on top, and feel like a champ. You just roasted a whole bird!

Italian Sausage

Serves…as many as you buy sausages for

Level- Little League

Simply buy some good quality sausages, pan sauté them until cooked through with a crispy edge, and serve.


Contorni

Italian for vegetables. Typically served at the end of the meal.

Make one, two, or even all of these if you aren’t cooking meat. They are pretty easy and completely delicious!

Arugula Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 6

Level- Little League

This is a super easy, fresh salad that looks really elegant.

Ingredients for the vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, from about 3-4 lemons
  • A squirt of Dijon mustard (maybe a tsp or two)
  • 1 tsp of maple syrup
  • A pinch of salt and pepper

Shake the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar.

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 5 oz arugula
  • Some shaved Parmesan
  • Some pine nuts, bonus points if toasted

And I’m sorry, but there just aren’t measurements for the salad ingredients because I tend to put some in until it looks how I would want to eat it. Just fill a bowl with the arugula, then put in some pine nuts and Parmesan. The ratios are totally up to you. Top with the vinaigrette.

Green Beans with Marinara

Serves 6-8

Level- Little League

Again, another non-recipe. But it looks beautiful and you really can’t mess it up.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs green beans, cleaned with ends trimmed.
  • 1 jar marinara of your choice

Boil the beans for 5-7 minutes, until cooked but still with a bite. Drain the water and add the marinara until just heated through.

Roasted Mess of Root Vegetables

Serves 6

Level- Junior Varsity 

carrots-close-up-delicious-208453

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 cups of root vegetables. My favorites are carrots, parsnips, fennel, sweet potato, red potato, even sweet onions. You can throw in some asparagus or Brussels sprouts to add more color.
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, what-have-you

Cut the veggies into similar-sized pieces so they roast evenly. I like to leave the stems on my carrots for a rustic look, but not required.

Put all the veggies on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, a pinch or two of salt, and a sprinkle of any other seasonings that suit you. Don’t crowd your pan, for the love. Use two pans if needed.

Roast for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and have a slight crisp to them.

Serve on a platter sprinkled with some torn up sage leaves and even a bit of parmesan if you like.


Dolci

Simply put, the sweets.

We have one option for each level here, depending on how much energy you’ve put into the rest of your meal. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Lemon Mascarpone Tartlets

Makes 24

Level- Little League

My friend Debbie served these recently at a dinner party and I could not believe how delicious they were. And the best part is they are super easy to make, yet look like something you would buy at a boutique bakery.

img_1354.jpg

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of frozen mini tart crusts, found in the frozen food section of most grocery stores
  • 1 jar lemon curd
  • 1 container mascarpone cheese
  • 1 container whipped topping
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries

Bake the tarts according to the package instructions; cool.

Meanwhile, mix the lemon curd, mascarpone, and whipped topping in a bowl. Start with 1/2 cup of each and then add more of each according to your taste.

Put a dollop of lemon cream into each tart, top with a raspberry, and serve.

Peach Crostata

Adapted from Grilled Peach and Caramel Crostata, Giada De Laurentiis

Serves 8

Level- Varsity

Listen. This may seem a bit involved and the grill pan may scare some of you away. But I promise it is worth every moment of its preparation.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup cold ice water
  • 1 tsp olive oil, for the grill pan
  • 1 lb fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and halved or 1 10-oz bag frozen peaches, thawed
  • 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • Punch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup of the water, followed by 1 tbsp more at a time until a shaggy dough forms. Form the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge while you prepare the peaches.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Drizzle the peaches with the white balsamic vinegar, then place flat side down until softened, 3-4 minutes. Slice the peaches thinly.

Meanwhile combine the sugar and 2 tbsp of water in a small saucepan and cook without stirring until a deep amber color forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the butter, lemon juice, and salt.

Now it’s time to assemble. Roll your crostata dough out to a 10-inch diameter circle and place on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Arrange your peaches in the center of the crust, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the edges of the dough over the peaches and pinch to seal any cracks. The edge looks unfinished, and it’s supposed to. Pour the caramel into the crust, over the peach slices.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla gelato.

If you can’t possibly be bothered to create one more thing, your Little League level dolci will still be a sweet end to a fabulous night: just gelato.

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