My birthday just recently passed and this year I decided to host my family for an Italian Tapas party. On the menu: Ricotta gnocchi, Meatball sliders, Crispy sausage stuffed olives, Baked bruschetta, and Mini skewered arancini! It was a fun concept but turned out to be a lot more work than I expected! I didn’t get to sit down once since I wanted to keep the food coming in stages. I couldn’t feel my feet by the end of the night but I always enjoy the rush of serving 12 guests all on my own! Makes me appreciate caterers, like Meg a whole lot more! It’s intense!
I started prepping in the morning and tried to do the final frying and reheating as guests arrived. Here are the recipes for the Italian tapas I served. My guests enjoyed the spin on tapas and it made for a fun and fast-paced evening! Add a few bottles of great wine (which I couldn’t drink because I’m with child) and you get a perfect evening!
-Serves 6 as an appetizer (or tapas).
Chef Mark McEwen taught me this recipe – you can find it in his book Rustic Italian. I was fortunate enough to get a personal signed copy of the book from Chef Mark himself! He is such an inspiring chef and very humble about his success. Having a conversation with Chef Mark was like talking to a family member or a close friend – you easily forget that he is the Head judge on Top Chef Canada, author of many successful cook books and owns a chain of successful restaurants! He taught us how to make our own ricotta – and to prepare it the evening before your party so that you can use it for the ricotta gnocchi. I intended on making my own ricotta however this time around I used store bought. I will post the recipe for home made ricotta soon!
|Chef Mark teaching us how to make Ricotta cheese and Me and Meg recently at a Top Chef Viewing party with Chef Mark|
Chef Mark told us that it is best to prepare this dish when your guests have already arrived – to get them involved and add a bit of wow factor to the party! My family were all really hungry so they weren’t in the mood to start prepping food but I did make the gnocchi while they were mingling around my kitchen and the fresh taste of the gnocchi was worth the scramble.
2 lb (1 kg) ricotta (preferably buffalo)
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
2/3 cup (150 ml) all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 batch of fresh basil marinara sauce
2 tbsp. butter, preferably whipped
1 top-quality burrata
2 tbsp. fine olive oil
12 basil leaves, torn
1. Rinse a sheet of cheesecloth under cold running water, squeeze it dry, and line a large strainer with it. Place the strainer over a bowl, add the ricotta, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, discard the drained liquid, wipe the bowl dry, and tip in the thickened ricotta. Press down on the centre of the mound to form a well. Add the egg and egg yolk, and gently mix into the ricotta with your hands, lifting the mixture and then letting it tumble between your fingers so that it is aerated by the process. Sift the flour over the mixture, then add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest; gently mix together as before. The dough should be just tacky to the touch-if it feels wet and sticky, incorporate a little more flour.
2. Flour a work surface and then, working in batches of about a handful at a time, roll the dough into a log about 3/4 inch wide. Flour a knife and trim the end of the log at an angle. Maintaining that angle, cut the roll into equal pieces about 1 inch long. Transfer the gnocchi to a lightly floured baking sheet.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a vigorous boil. Add the gnocchi, and stir very gently to prevent them from sticking. As they float to the surface-after about 2 minutes-remove them with a slotted spoon to a lightly oiled baking sheet to cool.
4. In a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high heat, bring the tomato sauce to a simmer. Add the cooled gnocchi and stir very gently to cover them with the sauce. When the gnocchi are heated through, taste and correct seasonings. Gently stir in the butter. Divide the gnocchi and sauce among warm plates or pasta bowls (I used short martini glasses to serve my gnocchi). Working over a plate, tear the burrata into bite-sized pieces and then divide them – along with the leaked cream – among the servings. Garnish each plate with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of basil.
Substitutions: Clumps of fresh burrata melting on contact with hot tomato sauce makes for a special experience but if you are unable to locate one of unimpeachable freshness, 1 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano makes an eminently suitable substitute.
Suggested Wine: Chianti
Yields: About 24 sliders
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound veal
1/2 pound Italian pork sausage
extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup water
1 quart of marinara sauce
1-2 packages of mini slider hamburger buns
Shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Heat a large saute pan with olive oil, add the onions and bring to medium-high heat. Season the onions with salt and cook until translucent but with no colour. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and saute for another 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine meats, eggs, Parmigiano cheese, parsley and breadcrumbs. Squish the mixture with your hands to make sure everything is well combined. Add the cooled onion mixture and season with salt. Squish the mixture some more until it is well combined. If mixture feels to dry and sticky, add the water and combine. Test the seasoning of the mix by making a mini hamburger size patty and cooking it. It should taste good but if it doesn’t it likely needs a bit more salt.
3. Shape the meat into mini hamburgers. Heat a sauté pan with olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. Add the mini hamburgers to a skillet of simmering marinara sauce to have the meat cook through.
4. To serve, put your mini hamburgers on the slider buns, add a little more marinara sauce on top if needed, some shredded mozzarella and a basil leaf if desired.
Crispy Sausage Stuffed Olives
(Adapted from The Food Network-Recipe by Michael Chiarello)
Yields: About 24 large stuffed olives
1 jar (8 ounces) of large green pitted olives
2 links of fresh Italian sausage
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Canola oil for deep frying
Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
Salt & pepper
1. Remove the sausage meat from the casing and place it in a medium bowl. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt, and red pepper flakes, if using. Mix to evenly distribute the ingredients. Drain the olives and rinse them under cold water. Remove the pimentos, if necessary. Stuff each of the olives with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the sausage mixture.
2. Heat the oil in a deep fryer, or stock pot, to 375 degrees F. Spread the flour on a dinner plate. Break the eggs into a separate shallow bowl and beat lightly. Spread the bread crumbs on another dinner plate and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Moisten the olives with the olive oil, stirring to evenly distribute the oil and seasoning. Roll the olives in the flour, coating them all over and shaking off the excess. Then dip them in the egg, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Finally, coat the olives all over with the bread crumbs. As each olive is coated, place it on a tray. Cover the olives and refrigerate until you are ready to fry them.
3. Fry the olives until golden brown and the sausage in the middle is cooked through, about 3 minutes. The olives will bubble vigorously until they are nearly done, so watch for splatters. Drain on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(My picture shows the unbaked version)
4 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 onion diced
Fresh cut basil leaves and whole basil leaves
Salt & Pepper
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Freshly sliced baguette
1. Add the tomatoes, garlic, onions, chopped basil, olive oil to a bowl and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Pile about a tablespoon of the tomato mixture on top of the sliced baguette slices. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is melted and slightly golden and the edges of the bread a crispy and golden. Top with a fresh basil leaf and serve warm.
Mini Arancini on a skewer:
2.5 cups water
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
5 egg whites
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
3 cups oil for frying
1. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the rice and add the garlic, bay leaf and salt. Return to a boil and reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender. Remove from heat, discard the garlic and bay leaf, and allow to cool.
2. In a medium bowl combine the prosciutto, mozzarella, cheese, and parsley. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil over and toss to coat.
3. Stir 3 egg whites and the Parmigiano cheese into the rice until well blended. Stir the Mozzarella and parsley mixture into the rice mixture and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a deep pan to about 350 degrees F. Place breadcrumbs in one shallow bowl, in another bowl whisk together 2 remaining egg whites and 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
5. Wet hands and shape the rice mixture into 1 inch balls. Dip each ball in the egg whites, then coat in breadcrumbs. Deep fry the rice balls a few at a time until golden brown, about 30 seconds per batch. Drain on paper towels. Skewer 2 balls onto a wooden skewer. Serve hot and with a marinara dipping sauce.