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Hosting a holiday party doesn’t need to be a hassle, and the preparation for company doesn’t need to consume your life leading up to their arrival. If you have a general idea of what you want to cook, and basic ingredients in your home, then making a meal to feed the entire family isn’t such an implausible feat — even while balancing a full-time job.
“I used to write down everything so it made it easy for me to pick and choose — it was easier than trying to come up with something,” says Ginamarie Schicitano Schembre, author of A Professional Woman’s Guide to Stress-Free Holiday Cooking: Italian Style and A Professional Woman’s Guide to Stress-Free Italian Cooking. “It’s trial and error. When you cook in your own kitchen, you don’t make mistakes; you only make revisions. Just keep tweaking until you get it the way you want it… You can use the best of what you already have and just make it good.”
And you don’t need to already have all that much. Schembre’s recipes, which she’s learned from her family and favorite Italian restaurants, are mostly comprised of just a few ingredients and can be done in just three to four steps.
To make sure you can enjoy yourself, we’ve taken the planning out of the equation for you. Consider these five recipes — a soup, pasta, meat, vegetable and dessert — for your holiday party this year. Buon appetite!
1. Italian Wedding Soup
1. Combine the ground beef, parmigiana-reggian, breadcrumbs and eggs in a bowl. Add in the milk a bit at a time, until the mixture is firm but sticky.
2. Out of the mixture, make one-inch meatballs. Brown them in the extra virgin olive oil and set them aside. Then sauté the onion and garlic in the same oil.
3. In a Dutch oven, bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for one hour before adding in the spinach and the Ditalini, and simmering for another 30 minutes. After about 10 minutes, add in the meatballs.
4. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of parmigiana-reggiano.
“When I make wedding soup, althought this recipe is for one batch, I almost always double it and make extra little meatballs,” she says. “I stick them in Ziploc bags and throw them into the freezer. Making them is the most time-consuming part of making this soup, so having extra makes it a piece of cake the second time around.”
1. In a large stockpot, bring salted water to a boil and add the lasagna noodles. Cook the noodles ¾ of the way through before removing them from the water and setting them aside.
2. Mix the ricotta, eggs, parmigiana-reggiano and parsley in a bowl.
3. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce and then lay a layer of noodles side by side; they can overlap a little. Add a layer of ricotta mix followed by a layer of mozzarella, more marinara and another layer of noodles. Repeat the process, but make sure the top layer is marinara and mozzarella. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.
“Lasagna can be made ahead of time and simple reheated and, because it is some work, I always make two or more pans of it,” she says. “The recipe allows for that, and it freezes well.”
3. Steak Pizzaiola
1. Season the chuck steak with sea salt and cracked black pepper and, in a deep drying pan, brown the meat on all sides in extra virgin olive oil.
2. Add the onion, garlic, oregano, basil and tomatoes.
3. Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 to 2½ hours, until the meat is tender. Stir occasionally.
“I serve steak pizzaiola over pasta, but you can also add potatoes for a starch,” she says.
4. Broccoli Rabe
1. Trim off the stems of the broccoli rabe and rinse well.
2. In a frying pan, sauté the chopped garlic in the extra virgin olive oil until it is golden. Add in the broccoli rabe with about ½ cup of water. Let it cook until the leaves are soft and bright green.
3. Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper.
“Broccoli rabe has a very distinct taste — you either love it or you hate it,” she says. “Sometimes I add some hot pepper flakes and sometimes I dust it with grated parmigiana-reggiano or even some freshly squeezed lemon juice. The thing is: Anyway you make it, someone will love it and, invariably, someone is going to hate it. Ignore them.”
5. Ricotta Cheese Cake
1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest and ricotta. Mix the ingredients well and pour them into a spring pan. Bake for one hour until it’s golden.
3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool.
4. Dust the cheesecake with Confectioners sugar and refrigerate it for at least five hours before serving.
“You will be a star — everyone really thinks it’s the hardest thing to make because nobody ever makes Italian cheesecake, but it’s the easiest thing ever,” she says.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
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