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An Italian Picnic

by Lou Seibert Pappas

What's more perfect than a harvest picnic featuring Mediterranean fare? Set out a mid-day or early afternoon spread some good, crusty bread with crispy bruschetta topped with sun-sweet tomatoes and olives, an eggplant caponato redolent with herbs, succulent artichoke frittata, cold chicken breasts sealed in mustard and herbs, and cherry tomatoes to lend a salad freshness. Crispy biscotti and fruit make a refreshing finale. For summer sipping, pick a California sparkling wine, such as a Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley, a Codorniu Napa Brut, a Domaine Chandon Brut Blanc de Noirs Carneros, or a Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut Carneros Winery Lake. Or, for a nice white at a good price, choose a Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 1994.

Capanota with Basil
Makes 8 to 10 appetizer servings

2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red onion
1 stalk fennel or celery, chopped
1 pound chopped plum tomatoes, or diced canned tomatoes
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons wine vinegar or part Balsamic
3 tablespoons chopped pistachios
1/4 cup minced fresh basil and additional basil leaves for garnish
Crackers, sliced baguettes, or lettuce leaves

Cut the eggplant into 1-inch chunks, salt it lightly and let drain in a colander for half an hour; rinse and pat dry. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and saut» the onions and eggplant until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the fennel, tomatoes, capers, and vinegar, and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the fennel is still slightly crunchy. Chill several hours. Garnish with nuts and basil. Serve with crackers, baguettes, or on lettuce leaves as a salad.

Sun-Dried Tomato Bruschetta
makes 12 servings
Sealing over crusty baguette slices is a cloak of sun-dried tomatoes, Nicoise olives, sweet onions, basil, and pistachios.

1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional for baguette slices
1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil or flexible ones, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup pitted Nicoise olives, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios or pine nuts
12 baguette slices, brushed with olive oil
Basil sprigs for garnish

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil and saute the onions until soft. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute longer, stirring. Add the tomatoes and basil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in olives and nuts. Brush baguette slices lightly with olive oil and bake in a preheated 350ÉF oven until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Spread tomato mixture on the toasted bread and garnish with basil sprigs.

Artichoke Frittata Squares
makes 16 appetizers

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 6-ounce jars marinated artichioke hearts, drained and chopped
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Dash hot pepper seasoning
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or basil

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saut» the onion and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. In a bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the artichoke hearts, saut»ed onions, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, pepper seasoning, cheese, parsley, and oregano. Mix well. Spray a nonstick 9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and pour in the artichoke mixture. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until set. Let cool in the pan and cut into 1-1/2-inch squares.

Note: If desired, bake it in nonstick small muffin tins, allowing 20 minutes.

Mustard and Herb-Glazed Chicken Breasts
makes 4 servings

4 split boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1/4 pounds)
3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 strips lemon zest, julienned and minced
1/3 cup mixed fresh herbs: rosemary, oregano, chives, sage, parsley, and thyme

Wash the chicken breasts and pat dry. Mix together the mustard, lemon juice, oil, lemon zest, and herbs and spoon the mixture over the meat. Place on a roasting pan and grill under a preheated broiler for 3 to 4 minutes. Then bake in a 375 degrees F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the juices no longer run pink.

Roast Potatoes and Garlic
makes 4 servings

1 head garlic
1 1/4 pounds assorted small potatoes, such as fingerling, purple, red Bliss, and Yukon Gold, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Trim the top of the papery wrapper from the garlic head. Place the garlic and potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil; drain and pat dry. In a baking pan, heat the oil in the oven and roll the potatoes and garlic in it. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic in a small piece of aluminum foil. Bake the potatoes and garlic in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife and the garlic is soft. Serve each person a selection of roasted potatoes along with several cloves of garlic to squeeze over them.

Dried Cherry and Almond Biscotti
makes about 3 1/2 dozen

This wonderful Italian cookie is a perfect coffee dipper. It keeps tightly sealed in a tin for a month, making it handy for any occasion.

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
7/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash salt
1/3 cup toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped coarsely
3/4 cup dried cherries or golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a small bowl beat the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract with a wire whisk. In a mixing bowl place the flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Mix to blend. Add egg mixture and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Mix in the nuts and cherries. On a baking sheet lined with parchment, pat out the dough into two logs about 12 inches long, 1/2 inch high and 2-1/2 inches wide. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes. Then slice about 3/8 inch thick, cutting diagonally. Lay cut side down and return to a 275 degree F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until toasted, turning them once to dry the other side. Let cool and store in a tightly closed container.

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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