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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Italian Tapas Party

Most of us tried or at least have heard of Spanish Tapas food and restaraunts.  Tapas meaning bite sized or small plates of  food.  I used one of my favorite restaraunts in Chicago, Quartino, as my inspiration to create an Italian Tapas party using Italian ingredients and recipes instead of Spanish.  Quartino has these bite sized meatballs with golden raisins on their menu that are to die for.  I created my own version of this dish...which I must say was to die for as well!  My second inspiration was thinking about some of my favorite italian recipes and trying to create bite sized versions of these dishes.  For example; I absolutely love anything eggplant, especially eggplant parmesean or pomodoro.  I came up with mini Eggplant Pomodoro stacks that were amazing! When creating a tapas or appetizer menu you must also think about making a more "hearty" menu because you will not be serving a meal after the appetizers....the tapas/appetizers are in fact the meal. Also, please don't forget you cannot throw a party without desserts!  Include at least 2 different bite sized desserts that you can serve at a different table with some coffee and after dinner liquors! We had about 14 adults (plus kids) at our party and believe me no one left hungry from this Italian Tapas Party!


These margaritas are way better than the Mexican version.....the reason being....Amarreto!  I make about 4 - 5 batches of this drink ahead of time so that I don't have to constantly interrupt the party by using the blender.  I make them the morning before the party and place in a large plastic container with a lid.  Place it all in the freezer and fill up a pitcher when I am ready to serve.  When the pitcher is empty I just go to the freezer and fill up my pitcher!  Very simple!
  • 4 oz. Amaretto ( plus more for rimming of glass)
  • 6 oz. limeade
  • 6 oz. tequila
  • 6 cups of ice
  • Sugar to rim the glass
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and puree or blend together.
  2. Dip rim of glass in Amaretto and then immediatly dip rim in sugar.
  3. Pour drink into glasses and serve!


A few years ago my husband and I went to a great restaraunt in Chicago called The Firehouse.  I remember ordering these fabulous asparugus bundles that were surrounded by mascarpone cheese and prosciutto.  I tried to come up with my version of this great recipe!
  • 1 lb. thin asparagus (about 30 or so)
  • 1/2 lb.  prosciutto sliced paper thin (make sure it is not too fatty and has more meat than fat)
  • 12 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt to taste
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • high quality olive oil
  1. Trim the hard ends of the asparugus.  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  In the meantime fill a large bowl with very cold water and about 2 cups of ice water. 
  2. Add the asparugus to the boiling water.  Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes stirring halfway so that all the asparagus cooks.  Immediatly remove the asparagus from the boiling water and place them in the ice water.  This will immediatly stop the cooking process.  You want the asparagus "al dente" and not "limp" so make sure you do not over cook.
  3. Remove asparagus from the ice water after about 5 minutes.  Place them on a paper towel lined cookie sheet.  Pat with extra paper towl to make sure they are completely dry.
  4. In the meantime - place the mascarpone cheese in a small bowl.  Add a bit of salt, pepper and the garlic powder.  Stir to make creamy mixture.
  5. Carefully remove one slice of prosciutto from the package making sure it does not tear.  Cut in half longways.
  6. Using a butter knife carefully spread about 1/2 TB to 1 TB mascarpone mixture over the slice of prosciutto.
  7. Carefully wrap the mascarpone/prosciutto slices around one asparagus.
  8. Repeat until all asparagus are wrapped.
  9. Place on a large rectangular platter.  Wrap with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
  10. When ready to serve take out of fridge and uncover.  Squeeze a fresh lemon wedge over the wraps so that each one gets a drizzle of lemon juice.
  11. Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus.  Ground some fresh ground pepper over each roll.
  12. Serve immediately


1/2 lb. assorted olives
3 TB. olive oil
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. rosemary
2 TB. chopped fresh italian parsley
fresh ground pepper
  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl.  Mix.
  2. Cover and place in fridge for at least 2 hours for flavors to meld.
  3. Place in serving dish with some toothpicks along side


I absolutely love anthing to do with eggplant.  A few weeks ago I found a recipe for Eggplant Pomodoro - which is an eggplant dish that is slightly lighter than Eggplant Parmasean and uses a layer of goat cheese instead of mozerella.  It was fantastic!  I served it with grilled pork chops and couscous (look for it in an upcoming post).  For my tapas party I came up with an appetizer version of this dish.  I layered it with sliced campari tomatoes and goat cheese.  I also used some fresh grated parmasean as the "glue" that held the eggplant stacks together.  These took a little time and effort, but they were worth it for sure!  They turned out delicious!!!!!

6 Japanese Eggplants

Vegie oil for frying
Flour for dredging
16 Campari tomatoes
15 oz. goat cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh grated parmasean cheese

For Drizzle:

1 TB. tomato paste
1/2 cup olive oil

1 TB. chopped fresh basil
salt & pepper to taste
  1. Prepare Ahead:  Slice eggplants into 1/4 inch slices.  Dredge each slice in flour.  In a large skillet heat olive oil (about 1/4 inch deep).  When oil is hot place eggplant slices in hot oil - working in batches of about 5-7 at a time. Fry both sides of eggplant - only one minute on each side.  Remove eggplant from skillet and place on a plate lined with paper towel so  oil can be absorbed.  Once eggplant has cooled place in container of platter layering paper towel between layers.  Place in fridge covered for a few hours or overnight.
  2. Prepare Ahead:  Slice campari tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.  Place onto a platter or container into a single layer - layering paper towel in between layers to absorb some of the moisture from the tomatoes.  Place in fridge covered for a few hours or over night.
  3. To Assemble Layer Into Stacks:  Slice of eggplant, sprinkle of parm cheese, tomato, sprinkle of parm cheese, eggplant, sprinkle of parm cheese, crumble of goat cheese, sprinkle of parm cheese, eggplant, sprinkle parm cheese on top.  Repeat until you have about 24 stacks placing stacks onto a cookie sheet which has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 - 10 minutes until cheese has melted and eggplant and tomato has been warmed.
  5. In the meantime make the drizzle:  Place tomato paste in a small bowl.  Add salt, pepper and chopped basil.  Whisk.  Slowly whisk in olive oil.
  6. When stacks are done place them on a serving platter.  Using a fork add drizzle to each stack.
  7. Serve immediately.


One of my favorite restaraunts, Quartino, serves the most amazing veal meatballs.  I wanted to create my own version with a slightly different twist.  Their sauce is a regular tomato sauce, but I wanted mine to be different...slightly more exoctic or mediterranean.  I added some capers and a dash of cinnamon to mine to give it an added sweetness so that it tasted different than my regular tomato sauce.  Let me put it to you this way...I made about 70 meatballs thinking we could have some leftover for the next day....5 meatballs were left!!!!!!  So much for left overs!

For Meatballs:
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground veal or pork
  • 1 1/2  lbs ground chuck
  • 2 TB. finely chopped italian parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 TB. whole milk
  • 2 TB. tomato paste
  • 1 TB. woecestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. organo
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp. hungarian paprika
  • vegetable oil for frying meatballs
For Sauce:
  • 2 TB.  olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves chopped
  • 4 (32 oz. each) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (32 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 2 TB. capers (drained)
  • 1/2 tsp. hungarian paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups golden raisins
To Make Meatballs:
  1. Place all ingredients (except vegie oil) in a large bowl.  Mix well ( I like to use my hands, but you could use a spoon).
  2. Roll about 1 1/2 TB. of meatball  mix into a small bowl.  Repeat with all meat until all is used.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet (about 1/4 inch. covering bottom of skillet).  Brown each meatball on all sides - working in batches of about 7-10 meatballs at a time.  Once the meatballs are browned remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel.  Continue until all meatballs are browned.  Set aside.
To Make Sauce:

  1. Add olive oil to a large pot and heat.
  2. Add garlic & onion and saute about 3-5 minutes or until slightly soft.
  3. Add all ingredients (except raisins) to the pot.  Stir well.  Simmer for 1/2 hour.
  4. With a hand blender puree all ingredients in the pot until smooth.  Simmer for about 1 hour.
  5. Add golden raisins and simmer - covered 1/2 hour more.
  6. At this point you can either add meatballs to the pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes or until meatballs are completely cooked and serve immediately or you can place in a container and keep in fridge overnight.
  7. When you are ready to use the sauce and meatballs:  take sauce and meatballs out of fridge.  Place in a crock pot and cook for 4-6 hours.  You can serve directly from crock pot and let your guests serve themselves.
*Makes 60 - 70 meatballs


* Quartino also has a dish like this on their small plates menu.  They serve strip of skirt steak hot over a pile of argulula & grape tomatoes with a balsalmic vinegar reduction.  I love this dish so much that I decided to create my own version.  I chose to place the meat on wood skewers so that it was easier for my guests to eat.  I also placed the skewers on a bed of arugula & grape tomatoes with a balsalmic vinegar "drizzle".  I placed a spoon on the platter so guests could help themselves!  This dish was served room temperature so that I could make all ahead of time.

For Steak:

2 lbs. of veal skirt steak
1/2 cup olive oil
2 TB. Balsalmic vinegar
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 tsp. chopped rosemary
salt, pepper & crushed red pepper flakes to taste

For Arugula & Tomato Salad with Balsalmic "drizzle"

1 package fresh baby arugula
1/2 TB. olive oil
1 cup grape tomatoes (kept whole)
1/2 cup balsalmic vinegar
1/4 cup water
salt, pepper & crushed red pepper flakes to taste
To Make Steak:
  1. Place olive oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper & crushed red pepper in a large plastic zip lock baggie.  Add steak and toss to coat.  Place in fridge and let marinate for about 3 - 4 hours.
  2. Heat either an indoor cast iron grill or an outside grill.  Remove steak from marinate and place on heated grill.  Grill each side for about 5 minutes or until you consider it done.  I prefer to serve it rare.
  3. Remove steak from grill and place on a cutting board.  Let sit for about 10 minutes.
  4. Slice steak into 1/4 inch slices.  Slide steak pieces onto small wooden skewers. Put to the side until ready to serve.
To Make Arugula & Tomatoes:
  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Add arugula and toss to coat with olive oil.  Heat for only 1 or 2 minutes.  You don not want arugula to wilt.
  2. Remove arugula from skillet and  place on a large platter.
  3. In same skillet add tomatoes, balsalmic vinegar, water, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.  Stir well and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  You want the tomatoes to cook slightly and for the balsalmic vinegar to reduce and become slightly thicker.
To Assemble:
  1. Place skirt steak skewers decoratively over the arugula on the platter.
  2. Remove tomatoes from the skillet and arrange on platter over meat and arugula.
  3. Drizzle balsalmic vinegar reduction over arugula, meat and tomatoes over platter.
  4. Serve immediatly
*Makes about 25 - 30 skewers


* To me nothing says "fresh italian" more than a Caprese Salad.  Usually a caprese salad is served on small plates before a meal, but for my tapas party I wanted it to be eaten along side other appetizers.  To do this I had to then think "small" and come up with an appetizer version of this famous salad.  This was simple to do....just use small mozzerella and small tomatoes!
  • 16 oz. mini mozzerella cheese balls ( cigliegini)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes cut in half
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 TB. red wine vinegar
  • 3 TB. chopped fresh basil
  • salt, pepper & crushed red pepper to taste
  1. Place mozzerella cheese and tomatoes in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Add olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.  Stir well.
  3. Cover and place in fridge for at least one hour so that flavors meld together.
  4. When ready to serve remove from bowl and place in a serving bowl or platter.  Garnish with fresh basil.
  5. Serve immediately


* My sister came over before the party to help me cook.  She found a dessert recipe ,made by Giada De Laurentis, that combined Limencello, lemons and cream cheese.  To me this says "Meditteranean Italy"!  I left the making of this dessert up to my sister.  It was a task...but it was the hit of the party!

Nonstick cooking spray
8 ounces purchased biscotti

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained, at room temperature
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup limoncello liqueur*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bottom of a 9 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Finely grind the biscotti in a food processor. Add the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and process until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumb mixture over the bottom (not the sides) of the prepared pan. Bake until the crust is golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the crust completely on a cooling rack.

Blend the ricotta in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping the machine occasionally and scraping down the sides of the work bowl. Blend in the limoncello, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon zest. Add the eggs 1 at a time, and pulse just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the baking pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour (the cake will become firm when it is cold).

Transfer the cake to a rack; cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Cut the cake into squares and serve.

*Limoncello liqueur can be found at most liquor stores and in the liquor department of some specialty markets.

*Photo #1 Courtesy of Food Network


* This was a dessert I made for my Pasta Dinner menu on an earlier blog.  Everyone loved this recipe so much I decided to make it again...but this time make them "mini".  they turned out awesome!  Super simple...I just used a mini cupcake pan and they came out like mini perfect pies!
  • 1 package ( 8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed ground sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (9 inch.) unbaked pastry shell
  • 2 cups peeled and sliced apples
  • 1/2 cup halved cranberries
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup old fashioned or quick cooking oats, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts ( I used walnuts)

 Using a small round cookie cutter - cut out small circles of dough.  Place rounds of dough into small muffin pans making sure they cover the bottom and sides of each cupcake hole.

Mix cream cheese and 1/4 cup brown sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Blen in egg. Pour into pastry shells.

 Toss apples, cranberries and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Spoon over cream cheese mixture.

Mix flour, oats and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts. Spoon over fruit mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool before serving.

* I made these pies a day before my party and placed it in the refrigerator. I took it out of fridge a couple hours before serving and dusted it with powdered sugar.

 * Recipe Courtesy of


I found this recipe in and old Gourmet magazine issue which was featuring italian recipes.  To me this recipe just reminded me of walking into all the wonderful bakeries in Italy and seeing and smelling the wonderful home-made pastries.  They looked and tasted just like Italy!

For filling:

1/2 cup whole milk
2 (3-by 1-inch) strips orange zest
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 pound fresh ricotta
3/4 teaspoon orange-flower water
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied citron

For pastry:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold water
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Equipment: a nonstick muffin pan with 12 (1/2-cup) cups

Garnish: confectioners sugar for dusting

Make Filling:

Bring milk and zest to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Remove from heat.  Whisk together yolk, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in milk, then transfer mixture to saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute. Stir in vanilla, then transfer to a clean bowl and chill custard, its surface covered with parchment paper (to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least 1 hour. Discard zest.

Pulse ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Whisk into custard. Stir in orange-flower water and citron. Chill until ready to use.

Prepare Pastry While Custard Chills:

Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in cleaned food processor until combined.  Add butter and zest and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Add yolks and water and pulse until just incorporated and dough begins to form large clumps.

Turn out dough onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, using a pastry or bench scraper if you have one, and form into a ball.

Generously butter muffin cups and top of pan.  Press 2 tablespoon dough over bottom and up side of each muffin cup in an even layer with well-floured fingers.  Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll out remaining dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 9-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and transfer to a baking sheet, discarding top sheet of paper. Cut 12 (1/2-inch-wide) strips, then cut in half crosswise to make 24 strips total. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble and Bake pastries:

Spoon a scant 2 tablespoons filling into each muffin cup and smooth, then crisscross 2 strips on top of filling, trimming to fit. Brush pastry cross with egg wash. Bake until filling is puffed and starting to crack and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Invert a rack on top of pan, then flip pan and remove.  Turn pastries right side up and cool completely.

Cooks' notes:

•Dough, in muffin cups and in strips on baking sheet, can be chilled, covered with plastic wrap, up to 1 day.

•Pastries can be made 4 days ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving.

** Recipe Courtesy of Bon Appetite


  1. Totally makeing the eggplant pomordors! My sister recently went vegitarian and i am alays looking for delicous things she can eat! Thanks!

  2. These look so delicious! Thanks for dropping by me.I look forward to more delicious treats from you.

    Workshop Bonbons Maken & Workshop Taarten Maken

  3. Useful information like this one must be kept and maintained so I will put this one on my bookmark list! Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this!

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