Housewarming Cooking: Italian Influence

My series on cooking for our housewarming party continues today with the contributions from Italian food. I'm nearing the end (and the pictures will come soon), but you can still read about the chicken tower, the BBQ pork, the pastry appetizers or the fried food to get the full experience of what we were eating a couple Fridays ago.

One of the Italian dishes I made was my famous panzanella, an Italian bread salad. I've recounted the recipe on here on several occasions (in several forms even) and I can't say I changed much for the paarty. I just amped up the proportions, so I could make a big enough bowl. The dressed mixed greens with diced Roma tomatoes and red onions made a perfect base for those crispy, chewy, salty grilled bread croutons, which make panzanella so delicious when interspersed throughout the rest of the salad and dressing. This salad always surprises people when they taste it because it looks so simple (and people usually miss the bread visually), but when they taste their first crouton, they are instantly hooked and can't stop raving. That's why I make it, serve it and love to eat it over and over and over again.

The second Italian-themed dish I created was an appetizer take on the classic baked ziti: baked ziti cups. That's right – individualized little baked zitis in their own foil muffin wrappers. It was a (clever) idea of mine that Julia doubted would work. Since they DID work and she lost the bet, I get to harass her publically about it. We kid.

The dish couldn't have been easier. I made two boxes of small ziti or penne tube pastas by boiling them in salted water until just al dente. In this case, I mean three quarters of the cooking time max, but I always sample a piece of pasta every two minutes or so. I didn't make my own marinara for the party but instead warmed a jar’s worth each of regular marinara and spicy marinara sauces. After draining the pasta, I returned it to the pot and tossed it well in the warmed marinara sauce combination. Then I mixed and melted in an entire bag of shredded mozzarella cheese to be the “glue” for the pasta so it would be delicious and stand up in those cups.

To finish up, I filled two muffin pans with the foil muffin liners and then filled each of those 24 cups with a scoop of ziti, as neatly as possible and just over the top of the cup. Then I used another bag of shredded cheese to top each cup with a large pinch to create a melty layer on top. I put them in the oven until the cheese was golden and bubbly – this also helped to lock in the moisture in the pasta. The cups came out looking and tasting great and they worked quite well in the small packages. People thought they were a lot of fun: they could literally peel off the wrapper and eat it, eat it with a fork right in the wrapper or eat it like a cupcake. They were quite popular, especially once people realized what the heck they were.

Italian dishes are always popular among a wide group of people – and easy to make vegetarian – so they make tremendous party dishes. I could probably do an entire spread of easy Italian favorites. Maybe soon?

No comments: