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A Pesto Genoa Dinner

by Lou Seibert Pappas

The friendly elements of family-style Northern Italian dining characterize this make-ahead dinner celebrating the basil harvest season. In the Genovese region of Italy, the basil carpets the hillsides in the wild and pesto is a classic staple. In its simplistic glory, pesto is superb as the star of a guest supper, paired with pasta. Here it is also savored in several dishes.

The menu revolves around typical Mediterranean vegetables -- tomatoes, peppers, green onions, eggplant, carrots, and mushrooms. The vegetable-laden meat sauce gains a new dimension when prepared with pork or turkey instead of beef. Pears steeped in wine provide a fitting dessert. Enjoy a good value wine: a bottle of 1995 Geyser Peak Sonoma County Shiraz, a 1995 Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel, or a 1995 Ravenswood Napa Valley Zinfandel.

Vegetable Platter Salad with Pesto Sauce
Makes 6 servings

4 large tomatoes, sliced
3 green onions, chopped
1 red or gold pepper, seeded and cut into strips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Pesto Sauce: follows
Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the tomatoes on a platter and scatter over the onions, pepper, and parsley. Season with vinegar, pesto sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pesto Sauce: Place in a food processor 2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed, 2 garlic cloves, minced, 2 tablespoons parsley sprigs, and process until fine. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, and dash salt and pepper, and whir to blend.

Eggplant-Tomato Bisque
Makes 6 servings

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 cup pureed Roma tomatoes
3 cups low-fat chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly chopped basil

In a heavy saucepot, saut» the onion in oil until golden. Meanwhile, cut the eggplant into wedges, sprinkle with salt, and let stand 15 minutes for the juices to exude. Rinse, peel, and chop. Add it to the onions along with the tomatoes, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender. Puree in a blender or food processor. Return to the pan and reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil. If you prefer, add a dollop of Pesto Sauce instead.

Pasta with Pesto
Makes 6 servings
Vary the pasta with a vegetable or seafood addition, such as cooked artichoke hearts, shrimp, or scallops, on another occasion.

12 ounces fettucine
Boiling salted water
1 1/2 cups Basil Pesto
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 1/2 cups red cherry tomatoes, halved if large

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions, or until al dente (allow about 11 minutes for dried pasta and 3 minutes for fresh pasta). Reserve 2 to 3 tablespoons cooking liquid and drain pasta. Mix reserved liquid with pesto, add to pasta, and mix to coat. Mix in the tomatoes. Serve at once on hot plates. Pass cheese to spoon over.

Mushrooms Bolognese
Serves 6; makes 1 1/2 quarts of sauce

1 pound brown cultivated mushrooms
1 tablespoon each extra-virgin olive oil and unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
Bolognese Meat Sauce: follows

First prepare the Bolognese Meat Sauce. Slice the mushrooms and in a large skillet over medium high heat, saut» them quickly in oil and butter with garlic, just until soft. Turn into a 10-inch greased casserole or baking dish. Spoon on the meat sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Slip under the broiler until the cheese melts.

Bolognese Meat Sauce: Using a large heavy saucepot, saut» 2 large onions, chopped, in 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil until soft and golden. Add 3 large shredded carrots and cook several minutes. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown 1 pound ground lean pork or ground turkey, stirring until crumbly, then add it to the vegetables. Add 1 can (15 oz.) ground plum tomatoes, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1 cup chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste, and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Cover and simmer 1 hour, letting the juices boil down at the end. Stir in 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.

Pears in Red Wine
Makes 6 servings

6 Anjou or Bosc pears
6 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
4 thin slices lemon
1-1/2 cups dry red wine or cranberry juice
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 400É F. Remove the cores from the blossom end of the pears and slice off a little of the bottom evenly, so that the pears stand upright, leaving the stems in place and the peels intact. Combine in a saucepot or baking pan the cloves, cinnamon, lemon slices, wine, and sugar; bring to a boil. Arrange the fruit in the pan, stem up, and pour in the sauce. Cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking 20 to 25 minutes longer, basting occasionally, until the fruit is tender. Serve hot or cold.

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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