By Zacchoreli Frescobadli-Grimaldi
Finally, an affordable holiday dinner
Money seems to fly out the window during the holiday season. And don’t even get me started on the surreal speed at which minutes seem to abandon convention and slip through the fingers. Combine this with shopping, traffic congestion and social obligations and it is all too easy to morph into some crazed anti-social Mr. Morton Snotblocker: the scourge of all things fun.
Bitter and resentful is never helpful when preparing a holiday get-together. But then, a dinner party needn’t break the bank or take all day to prepare. Good wine, wonderful food shared with friends and family – or friends who’ve become family – make every holiday just a bit better.
In their own ways, my grandmother and my mother-in-law were masters of holiday entertaining. To this day I reflect with awe and gratitude at their ability to elegantly and joyfully produce a masterful dinner. My own mother couldn’t cook to save her soul, but that’s a different story, better told, apparently, after many hours of psychotherapy; but, I digress.
My grandmother made these two time-saving vintage recipes that are easy to make and only cost about $2 per person. I can hear my check book heave a sigh of relief. Serve these dishes at your holiday dinner party and you won’t fail to spoil your guests silly while you save yourself time and money.
Fried Ricotta, or Ricotta Frita if you want to really impress your guests, is an age-old Italian antipasti dish. Don’t be fooled by new chefs who try to pass this off as their own invention. My grandma, may she rest in peace (or not, depending), regularly served this incredible dish. This recipe can be prepared months in advance and then frozen until needed.
I plan to serve the Gordon Brothers 2009 Sauvignon Blanc with the Ricotta Frita. This $12 wine’s crisp-tart apple and herbal notes pair beautifully with the ricotta, salad and olive oil. And at this price, it is far too delicious to pass by.
Garlic Chicken Marinade is a dish best served hot or cold! Honestly, the most complicated element of this dish is leaving it in the refrigerator to marinade for a day or two. It takes about 15 minutes to prep both the chickens and only 45 minutes to cook, which leaves plenty of time to set the table and vacuum the carpet before guests arrive. The crispy skin on this chicken will be the envy of all your chicken-skin-loving friends. Oh, how they’ll rue the day when they mocked your lemon-herb roasted chicken breast!
Worried about your younger dinner guests? My youngest guest, Stella, feasted on this chicken dish. Actually, the aroma roused her from the ebb and tide of an early evening nap and drew her back to the dinner table where the toddler proceeded to dine on the chicken, garlic and all!
At about $10 a bottle the Maryhill Winery’s 2010 Rosé of Sangiovese is especially outrageously scrumptious with this dish. The wild strawberry, rich red cherry and citrus notes make this rosé an exceptional main-course accompaniment.
Finish this delectable dinner with a light, yet unforgettable dessert. Pair assorted nuts with the Maryhill Winery 2008 Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel. At $32 a bottle this may seem a tad indulgent, though this affordable dinner party makes such a splurge seem less painful: after all, the season is about sharing our blessings.
Makes about 24 servings
- 1 pound ricotta, crumbly
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups corn starch
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 2 egg yolks, separated
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 large ripe tomato
- 1 bag mixed salad greens
- 2 sprigs fresh basil (optional)
- 1 fresh red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil (I use Verde Olive Oil for this dish.)
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt & white pepper to taste
- Red wine vinegar
- Place the drained ricotta and listed ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk briskly until combined. Use a 2-ounce scoop and portion the ricotta mix onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. With wet finger tips gently shape cheese mound into disk. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in freezer for 45-60 minutes.
- About 30 minutes prior to serving, you’ll need to prep the tomato salad. Whatever you do, do not place the completed salad in the refrigerator. Once the tomatoes suffer the confines of artificial refrigeration, they lose all flavor. Halve the tomatoes, squeeze out the seeds and discard. Cube and drain off any excess liquid. Chop the stems of the basil, finely and tear the leaves up roughly, then add to the tomatoes with the chili. In a large salad bowl combine the tomato with the salad greens and gently toss. Pour in a hefty swig of olive oil, and about 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar, correct with sea salt and white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and set on cool counter space until needed.
- Dry Coat: Separate egg yolks into mixing bowl and add heavy cream and whisk until blended. In first coating dish pour two cups cornstarch. In the second coating dish pour two cups of breadcrumbs.
- Remove the frozen ricotta from the freezer and, working quickly, first coat the disk in cornstarch, tap off excess starch, and then completely submerge in egg mix. Allow excess wet coat to drain for a few seconds, then place disk in breadcrumbs and cover thoroughly. Place disk on parchment-lined sheet pan. Repeat with all disks, cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer. Disks can be stored up to eight weeks.
- Put a nonstick pan on medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. When the oil begins to ripple, drop a couple breadcrumbs into oil – if it fizzes the oil is hot enough to cook. Place two or three frozen ricotta disks into oil. Cook on each side for about two to three minutes, or until golden brown. Set on paper towels to absorb oil. The residual heat will soften the interior of the cheese. An offset spatula and a regular old soup spoon works best for moving the frying cheese around the skillet.
Don’t hold these for a long time. Serve them right away, while they’re nice and gooey. Place two disks on a serving plate and garnish with tomato salad.
Makes about 6-8 servings
- 2 large bulbs garlic (bulbs with hard tight cloves are freshest)
- ½ pound unsalted butter
- Juice and zest of four juice lemons (these are smaller and rounder in shape than the gigantic lemons often found in the store)
- 2 cups olive oil
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. sumac
- 1 12-inch length of cotton kitchen twine
- 2 good size roasting hens
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 2 Ziploc bags
- Peel garlic. Set aside eight cloves. Place the rest in the food processor.
- Zest and juice lemons; discard seeds. Pour zest and juice into processor with garlic.
- Measure sumac and sea salt into processor and pulse until garlic cloves are finely chopped but not a paste.
- Pour garlic into mixing bowl and add olive oil and set aside until needed. (In tightly sealed jar will store refrigerated for about seven days.)
- Rinse chicken inside and out; make certain that the giblets get a good rinse too.
- Place the birds in ceramic bowl and sprinkle the kosher salt all over – and in – the birds. Set aside for about 10 minutes.
- While the birds are koshering, slice the butter into 16 pats. Set aside.
- Rinse the salt off the birds, rubbing the flesh vigorously as you do to remove pin feathers.
- Dry the birds with paper or cloth towels. Fold the wings akimbo. Gently separate the skin from the flesh, and insert the eight butter pats under the skin of each bird. In the cavity of each bird place the giblets and the reserved garlic cloves. Cut the kitchen string in half and tie the legs together. Fold the wings akimbo.
- Place one bird in each Ziploc bag; pour marinade over birds. Seal, and refrigerate for at least eight hours. About every two or three hours, flip the bags to redistribute the marinade.
- Bake in preheated 450-degree oven or grill for the first 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees until done (about 45 minutes). Skin will be crispy brown.