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An Italian-Style Feast

by Lou Seibert Pappas

Entertain with ease with a festive dinner that has several dishes that are easily made in advance. This menu features the popular foccacia bread laced with fresh sage, chicken breasts rolled and stuffed with a touch of prosciutto and cheese, risotto, herb green beans, a berry gelato, and biscotti. A California sparkling wine such as a Roederer Estate Brut, a Cordoniu Napa Brut Napa Valley, or a Jordan J Sonoma County 1990 would be a delightful accompaniment with the meal. Or, consider a Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay Carneros 1993 or a favorite Sauvignon Blanc.

Focaccia with Sage
makes 1 large rectangular or 2 round loaves
Crusty outside and springy within, focaccia is a beloved Italian bread with homespun goodness. Its dimpled surface can take on many flavor variations. This basic dough makes one big rectangle or two round discs.

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water
Pinch sugar or honey
1-1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Olive oil for brushing
Coarse sea salt for topping (about 1 teaspoon)
20 sage leaves or fresh rosemary
Dried Tomato Roasted Garlic Pesto for topping (optional)

Sprinkle yeast into warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and let stand until dissolved and puffy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water and oil. Add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and mix until smooth. Mix in 2 tablespoons chopped sage or rosemary. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes together.

Using a heavy duty mixer, knead with a dough hook about 8 to 10 minutes. Or by hand, knead on a floured surface until smooth and satiny, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch down, turn out on a lightly floured board and knead to eliminate air bubbles. Roll out dough to fit a 10 by 15-inch baking pan. Or divide in half and shape into 9-inch rounds to fit two 9-inch pie pans. Place in a greased pan and with fingers dimple dough by making depressions about 1 inch apart. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and herbs. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled.

Place baking pans in the middle of a preheated 425ェ oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Dried Tomato Roasted Garlic Pesto
makes about 7/8 cup

1 head garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dried tomatoes (flexible and moist style)
1/3 cup each packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley sprigs and basil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic chives or green onion tops
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Place garlic in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer 5 minutes; drain. Place the garlic head in a small baking dish and rub with 2 teaspoons of oil. Bake in a preheated 325ェ oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until soft. Let cool, then squeeze out the garlic from its papery wrapper into a bowl.

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the garlic puree, tomatoes, parsley, basil, garlic chives, and nuts. Process until finely minced. Add the remaining oil and cheese and process until mixed in. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and chill. If desired, add 1/3 cup of basil.

Spinach and Orange Salad
makes 6 servings

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch spinach or other greens, trimmed and leaves torn
1 orange, sectioned
1/4 cup chopped red onions

Mix together in a bowl the mustard and vinegar and stir in oil, salt, and pepper. When ready to serve, toss with spinach and top with oranges and onions.

Chicken Rolls Saltimbocca
makes 6 servings

6 large split boned, skinned chicken breasts
6 wafer-thin slices prosciutto
6 slices Italian fontina, Jarlsberg, or Samsoe cheese
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup dry vermouth or wine

Bone and skin the chicken breasts. Lay each chicken breast out flat and pound lightly between 2 sheets of waxed paper to achieve an equal thickness. Cover each chicken breast with a slice of ham and one of cheese. Roll up and secure with a toothpick.

Mix together the crumbs, salt, pepper, and cheese in a bowl. Dip the rolled breasts in egg and then in a bread-crumb mixture. In a large skillet heat oil and butter and brown chicken rolls, turning to cook all sides. Transfer to a baking dish.

Pour stock and vermouth into the skillet and deglaze pan; pour over chicken. If desired, refrigerate at this point until ready to finish cooking. Bake in a preheated 350ェ oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Risotto with Mushrooms
makes 6 servings

2 1/2 to 3 cups low-fat chicken stock (home-made is preferable)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 cup arborio or long-grain rice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 pound button mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup chopped dried tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, reduce heat and hold it on simmer. In a saucepan, heat the butter and oil over medium low heat, add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup hot stock and lemon zest and cook, stirring constantly, until the stock is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup stock, the mushrooms, and tomatoes, and cook, stirring until the stock is absorbed. Repeat, adding 1/2 cup stock two more times, until it is absorbed. Add additional stock as needed until the rice is al dente in the center and creamy on the outside. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese.

Green Beans with Herbs
makes 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds slender green beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon

Trim ends from beans. If slender, leave whole, otherwise cut in half lengthwise. Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 5 to 7 minutes; drain. Add butter, parsley, garlic, and tarragon and heat, shaking pan to coat.

Strawberry Gelato
makes 1 quart

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 pounds strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons Framboise (optional)

In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, cook until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and let cool. In a food processor or blender, puree or crush the strawberries and stir in the sugar syrup. Chill thoroughly. Freeze according to the directions for your ice cream maker. Blend in the Framboise at the finish.

Freezer method: pour the prepared mixture into an 8-or-9-inch square metal pan. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Place in the freezer and freeze until firm, about 2 to 3 hours. Scrape out into a food processor or electric mixer, and process or beat until light and fluffy but not thawed, blending in the Framboise, if desired, at the finish. Return to the pan, cover, and freeze until firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Orange Almond Biscotti
makes 3 1/2 dozen biscotti

2/3 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Toast nuts in a preheated 325ェ oven until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let cool.

In a mixing bowl cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla, almond extract and orange zest. In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, mixing until blended. Cut almonds into halves or thirds and fold in.

Divide dough in half. Place on a greased and floured baking sheet and form into two logs about 1/2 inch thick, 1 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake in a preheated 325ェ oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Transfer from the baking sheet to a rack. Let cool 5 minutes. With a serrated knife slice diagonally at a 45 degree angle 1/2 inch thick. Lay flat on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, turning them once, to dry.

Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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