Partied out after all those holiday soirees and NYE bashes? Even though at the moment the last thing you want to imagine is a party, the fact is that 2012 will be filled with gatherings, too. So, instead of sitting on the sidelines this year, make a vow to throw your own fêtes in 2012. Food Network personality, Iron Chef judge and cookbook author Donatella Arpaia has a slew of how-tos from great recipes to table-setting tips!
Food Network personality
Iron Chef Judge
Owner of restaurants in New York City and Miami
Author of Donatella Cooks: Simple Food Made Glamorous
MARTINI Entertaining Expert
What surprises you most about parties?
A lot of times the host is so worried about everything going according to plan that they forget to have a good time. If the hostess is at ease, the guests are at ease!
What is one thing your table setting should never be without?
Remember: we eat with our eyes first, so the visual is very important! Dress up a cheese platter with artisanal honey, chestnut or lavender, for instant culinary credibility. Serve it with a honey spool. Skip the pre-made cheese cube platters and go to a local cheesemonger and select four or five cheeses based on a country—you can’t go wrong.
I also love to add mini wines, like MARTINI Rose, Asti and Prosecco minis (187mL) to the table. They are beautiful and can be easily adorned with ribbons to serve as place-card holders with guest names at the table!
What do you suggest making for a party with children?
The most important thing for children at a party is to engage them in activity! The parents always want to have a good time, so find a fun game that ties in with what your child loves. My nephew is really into CSI and forensics, so at a recent family gathering, we set up a CSI-inspired challenge. It’s all about creativity and getting all of the children to work together and stay occupied!
How can women find their passion?
Women should start by thinking about what they enjoy doing when they’re not working. What are their hobbies? Whether it’s scrapbooking, baking, entertaining, anything. Find what brings you the most joy!
Any advice for those of us who can’t cook?
There is a stigma surrounding the use of premade products, but the key is to choose correctly and add your own touch to make it seem freshly made. For example, indulge in a proper shrimp cocktail! Put peeled poached shrimp in a huge bowl filled with crushed ice and lots of lemon wedges. For the cocktail sauce, go to your local fishmonger and ask for their homemade version and grate fresh horseradish on top to suggest you made it yourself.
Also, look to organic specialty gourmet stores or online as a great resource for dishes, then present beautifully and add fresh garnishes of chopped herbs, very good quality olive oil or balsamic vinegar! No one needs to know!
What is your favorite dish to cook for others?
Zia Donata’s Ricotta Cheesecake is my aunt’s recipe and it’s so easy because there is no crust and you can make it all in a pan—and everybody dies for it! Plus, if you make it the day before, it’s actually better the next day. My Baked Figs with Prosciutto and Gorgonzola are also a favorite. (See recipes below)
Zia Donata’s Ricotta Cheesecake
8 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
3 pounds fresh ricotta
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon, juice strained
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sweet liquer such as limoncello or Strega
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
PREHEAT THE OVEN to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
TO MAKE THE CHEESECAKE: Beat the eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer until foamy and light yellow. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the flour and beat until incorporated. Add the ricotta and whipped cream and beat until smooth. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla and liqueur to the ricotta and stir gently until incorporated.
Pour the mixture into the pan, place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 1 hour 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in it to settle for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool completely. Dust the top of the cheesecake with confectioners’ sugar (this will be the background for the caramel flourish).
TO MAKE THE DECORATIVE TOPPING: Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Put the granulated sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly as the sugar melts. It will bubble and begin to turn golden. When the liquid becomes deep golden, remove from the stove. Dip a metal spoon into the molten sugar and drizzle onto the wax paper, forming letters or designs. Let harden, then gently peel off the paper and arrange on the cheesecake. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving.
*Suggested pairing: MARTINI Asti, a sweet sparkling wine with a fragrant bouquet.
*Serves 6 to 8
*Equipment needed: electric mixer, 9-inch springform pan
Baked Figs with Prosciutto and Gorgonzola
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating the pan
12 fresh black Mission figs
6 ounces Gorgonzola
6 slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise, trimmed of most excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup aged balsamic vinegar (at least 5 years)
PREHEAT THE OVEN to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Make a shallow “X” with a sharp knife into the body of each fig.
ROLL THE GORGONZOLA into 12 small balls and gently press 1 into each fig. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each fig 1½ times, covering the cheese and leaving the top of the fig exposed. Trim away the excess prosciutto (If there are too many layers of it, the fig won’t crisp up.) Arrange the figs, stem end up, on the baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the prosciutto is crisp, about 15 minutes.
ARRANGE ON A PLATTER and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
*Serves 4 to 6
*Suggested pairing: MARTINI Prosecco, a light, crisp and delicate sparkling wine.
GIRL TALK TIME: What do you think of these tips? What are you hostessing in 2012?