On birthdays (and half birthdays), I like to make my favorite foods, thus for my half-birthday housewarming, I plan on serving a spread of delectable Italian bites. The party goes from 7:30-10 p.m., smack in the middle of dinner time, so I'll need to offer a substantial amount of food. I don't want to spend days in the kitchen or prepare anything that requires a plate and utensils; that's why I'll take some help from the grocery store and make four easy appetizers.
From the Italian market I'll purchase charcuterie, an assortment of cheese, marinated olives, grissini, nduja and crusty bread. A quartet of homemade dishes — stuffed marinated hot red cherry peppers, polpette in spicy tomato sauce, roasted asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and arugula and fava-bean crostini — rounds out the menu. To check out the recipes I'll be using,
14 hot red cherry peppers, cored and seeded, tops reserved
4 ounces young pecorino or provolone cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
14 small sprigs fresh marjoram
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, for serving
- Stuff each pepper with cheese and a sprig of marjoram. Transfer stuffed pepper and pepper tops to a glass loaf pan.
- Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over peppers. Let marinate at room temperature 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tops on peppers. Cook until cheese has melted and peppers are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Serve with bread.
Makes 14 peppers.
- Vegetables, Appetizers
1 pound ground veal
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup whole milk
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°. In a bowl, mix the veal with the sausage meat, bread crumbs, milk, garlic, chopped parsley, egg whites, tomato paste and 1/2 cup of pecorino; season with salt and pepper. Roll into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Bake the meatballs on a lightly oiled baking sheet for about 30 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
- In a large saucepan, season the tomato sauce with the crushed red pepper. Add the meatballs and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with pecorino cheese and serve.
- Meats, Appetizers
1 pound asparagus (about 19 stalks), trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 paper-thin slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Snap the dry stem ends off of each asparagus and place on a heavy baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss. Roast until the asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.
- Wrap each asparagus with 1 piece (about 1/2 a slice) of prosciutto, exposing tips. Arrange on a platter and serve at room temperature.
- Vegetables, Appetizers
1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (1 1/4 pounds in pods) or shelled fresh or frozen edamame (soybeans; 3/4 pounds in pods)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for drizzling
1 1/2 cups packed baby arugula (1 1/2 ounces), divided
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Toscano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, halved crosswise
16 mint leaves
- Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
- Cook fava beans in boiling water, uncovered, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes, then drain and transfer to an ice bath to stop cooking. Gently peel off skins (if using edamame, don't peel).
- Pulse fava beans in a food processor until very coarsely chopped, then transfer half of mixture to a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 cup arugula, cheese, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to favas in processor and purée until smooth. Add to bowl. Coarsely chop remaining cup arugula and gently fold into fava-bean mixture.
- Cut 16 diagonal slices (1/3 inch thick) from baguette and put in a 4-sided sheet pan. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil. Bake until pale golden and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub with cut side of garlic.
- Spoon fava-bean mixture onto baguette toasts, then drizzle with oil and top with mint.
- Appetizers, Crostini