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Tips for throwing an Italian dinner party

Observer Scene | Monday, April 18, 2005

Although most people tend to throw parties based on Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack,” a nice change of pace would be an authentic Italian dinner party you can throw for a small group of close friends. Italian food is great for dinner parties since most of the dishes can be expanded and served family style. Setting the theme is very easy, as well. All you need is a simple white tablecloth, some plain wooden baskets for bread, a couple candles and maybe some Italian opera in the background. Before guests arrive, set out a nice red table wine, pools of olive oil on small plates and hearty chunks of Italian bread. Your guests may also enjoy little dishes of marinated olives to munch on before you start serving the meal. The first course can be a simple salad of torn lettuce and Italian dressing dashed with pepper, salt and mixed dried Italian herbs. Here are some recipes for easy to prepare meat and pasta dishes, and of course the grand finale, a delicious tiramisu.

Penne with Spicy Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce1 pound uncooked penne pasta1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil4 cloves garlic, minced1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes3/4 teaspoon salt2 tablespoons vodka1/2 cup heavy whipping cream1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley2 (3.5 ounce) links sweet Italian sausage

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for eight to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. In large skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Remove casing from sausage and add to skillet. Cook, breaking up the meat, until brown. Add garlic and red pepper and cook, stirring until garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add vodka and cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and add pasta, toss for one minute. Stir in fresh parsley and serve. Serves four.Courtesy of Star Pooley; Copyright © 2005; www.allrecipes.com., All Rights Reserved Chicken Piccata4 (6-ounce) chicken breasts 2 cups all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper 1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 cup lemon juice 2 cups chicken stock 1 tablespoon capers 1/3 cup unsalted sweet cream butter

Dust the chicken breasts with the seasoned flour; shake off any excess. Heat the olive oil in a heavy sided medium saute pan over medium heat and then add the chicken breasts. Saute until golden brown on both sides. Once the chicken breasts are browned, drain the oil and add the lemon juice, chicken stock and capers to the pan with the chicken. Reduce for about five minutes, turning the chicken breasts halfway through. The chicken is done when it is firm to the touch. Turn off the heat and add the butter, stirring until melted. Put one chicken breast on each of four plates and drizzle with remainder of the sauce. Serves four. Courtesy of Matt Iaria, Copyright © 2005 Television Food Network, G.P., All Rights Reserved

Tiramisu Toffee Dessert1 (10.75 ounce) package frozen prepared pound cake, thawed and cut into 9 pieces3/4 cup strong brewed coffee1 cup white sugar1/2 cup chocolate syrup1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese2 cups heavy whipping cream2 (1.4 ounce) bars chocolate covered English toffee, chopped Arrange cake slices on bottom of a rectangular 11×7 inch baking dish, cutting cake slices if necessary to fit the bottom of the dish. Drizzle coffee over cake. Beat sugar, chocolate syrup and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add whipping cream; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Spread over cake. Sprinkle with chocolate-covered toffee candy. Spread frosting over cake. Sprinkle with toffee candy. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, but no longer than 24 hours to set dessert and blend flavors. Serves 12.Courtesy of Jackie Smith, Copyright © 2005; www.allrecipes.com., All Rights Reserved