Hospitality 101--Featuring 3 Ab Fab Italian Appetizers

Welcome to Hospitality 101 where you'll learn to make all (or at least most) of the food mentioned in my blogpost, Hospitality Lost and Found. That post told the story about entertaining a family of five missionaries for five days at Chez Tarantini, our hundred year old house which on most days houses a family of five.
            When our company arrived that summer evening, they were met with a veritable Italian feast with spaghetti and meatballs at the center of the celebration. I was not born and raised Italian, but I married into it and soon learned that man does not live on spaghetti and meatballs alone. When you sit down to eat in an Italian home, there should be so many serving dishes on the table that there's no room for anything else.
            Today we tackle three appetizers. These are all super easy and can be made a day or two ahead if necessary. We'll start with white pizza. White pizza is my family's term for what the rest of the world calls focaccia. In case you have no idea what either is, Webster's Dictionary defines focaccia as a flat Italian bread, typically seasoned with herbs and olive oil. Bingo. We add cheese because, well, cheese makes everything better, don't you think?
 
White Pizza

1 batch of bread dough
(homemade, machine-made, or thawed out frozen)
2 T. olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3-1/2 c. Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3-1/2 c. fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)
Crushed red pepper (optional)
 
-Pour the olive oil into a small bowl. Crush the garlic cloves into the oil. Set aside while you gather the rest of your ingredients.
-Drizzle some of the garlic oil onto a pizza stone. Spread with clean fingers or a pastry brush.
-Place bread dough onto the oiled stone. Stretch, press, or roll dough to the edge. Form a rim if desired.
-Use clean fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon to dimple the dough. Brush with garlic oil.
-Sprinkle the dough with salt and pepper. Evenly administer the grated cheese. Sprinkle the herbs over the top evenly. If using, apply a light dusting of hot pepper flakes.
-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Let the pizza rise for at least 15 minutes on the the stovetop of the preheating oven.
-Bake 20 or more minutes until golden. Another way of testing doneness is by tapping the surface with a wooden spoon handle. It will sound hollow when it’s done.
-Remove from oven and smack everyone who tries to beat you to the first slice.
-Serve with dipping oil. (recipe follows)
   
Dipping Oil
 
-In a small bowl, combine 2 T. olive oil with 2 T. balsamic vinegar.
Add the following ingredients:
1 T. Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
½ t. salt
1 crushed garlic clove
1/8 t. fresh ground black pepper
1/8 t. + crushed red peppers (optional)
1/8 c. fresh minced herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)

-Stir to combine then adjust seasonings to your taste.
-Double, triple, or gazillionth this recipe to accommodate your needs.
 
              Now, when we’re entertaining (or when the kids beg), I have two other must-make appetizers that I prepare. This next one is one of the easiest appetizers on the planet. I stole the idea from a fancy restaurant up Pittsburgh way.
 
Roasted Bell Peppers with Havarti
 
1/2 red bell pepper, roasted and cut in 1 ½ ” squares
1/2 yellow red bell pepper, roasted and cut into 1 ½ ” squares
1/2 orange bell pepper, roasted and cut into 1 ½ ” squares
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Havarti cheese (Don’t you dare buy “lite.”)
Crackers of your choice (We like a woven wheat option like Triscuits.)
 
-In a container with a lid, combine the vinegar and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Add the roasted bell pepper squares, stir and cover. Marinade in the fridge for a few hours or days.
-Slice Havarti cheese (I like to use Pampered Chef’s wavy cutter for a pretty result.). Store in a ziplock bag until right before serving.
-About an hour before company arrives, remove Havarti from refrigerator. It is key that the cheese be at room temperature. This ensures its creaminess.
-About 30 minutes before company arrives, arrange crackers on a pretty plate. Top each with a piece of cheese. Top each with a roasted bell pepper square.
-Try not to eat them all before your friends get a chance to taste  them.
   
Tarantini Tapenade
(This is a doctored version of a recipe that I found in Bon Appetit years ago.)
 
1 red bell pepper, roasted and coarsely chopped
1 6 oz. jar of artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped
½ c. minced fresh parsley (preferably flat leaf)
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
 ½ c. black olives, drained
½ c. green olives, drained
¼ c. capers, drained
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Toasted baguette slices
 
-Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.
 -Process using on/off turns until mixture is well blended and finely chopped.
-Transfer mixture to pretty bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Serve with toasted baguette slices.
Note: You might want to place a bowl of mints nearby. Though absolutely scrumptious, tapenade is guaranteed to give you dragon breath.
 
So there you  have it. Three ab fab and easy, Italian appetizers. Next time you decide to entertain, consider offering these items. Your family and friends will thank you:)

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