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Delicious spring menu features fresh ingredients, easy for kids to help with

03/26/2012 04:32 EDT | Updated 05/26/2012 05:12 EDT
In "Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?" Lisa Caponigri has created 52 menus, one for every week of the year. They stem from years of cooking with her family each Sunday starting in her childhood.

"When you ask me which menu is my favourite, it's like asking which child do I like best," says Caponigri. "I love them all. They're all part of me and my life."

Menu 4 is a good one to try as we head into spring because it incorporates a lot of fresh ingredients, the author says. It's also ideal to prepare when you have young children assisting.

"Ever since my children were small they loved crunching up the amaretto cookies and sprinkling them over the creamy mascarpone cheese, layer after layer, to make Coppa Italiana. It's the perfect dessert for the little ones. In fact, this whole menu is perfect for the youngest members of the family," Caponigri writes.

This menu is designed to serve 8 to 10 people.

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Tortini di Pomodori (Tomato Tarts)

Start your meal with the colours of the Italian flag — puff pastry topped with bright red slices of ripe tomato and given a final garnish of fresh basil leaves right before going to the table.

2 sheets refrigerated puff pastry

3 cloves garlic, chopped

150 ml (2/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

250 g (1/2 lb) prosciutto, thinly sliced and chopped into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces

2 ml (1/2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

10 firm Roma tomatoes, sliced 5 mm (1/4 inch) thick

5 ml (1 tsp) fresh thyme leaves

125 ml (1/2 cup) fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F). Grease a large baking sheet.

Cut 10 circles (each 10 cm/4 inches) from the sheets of puff pastry using an upside-down coffee cup. Place pastry circles on prepared baking sheet.

In a food processor or blender, combine garlic, olive oil, prosciutto and pepper. Process just 5 to 7 seconds into a rough puree. Spread mixture evenly over the pastry circles.

Arrange tomato slices attractively on top of each circle.

Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with thyme.

Turn up the edges of each tart.

Bake for 15 minutes or until edges are golden and crisp.

Chop basil, mix with a little olive oil and drizzle over tarts.

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Pasta con Salsicce e Broccolini (Pasta with Sausage and Broccolini)

"I first enjoyed this dish on the island of Sardinia, where it was served to me with homemade sausage and the pasta della casa, ear-shaped orecchiette," writes Caponigri.

1 kg (2 lb) Italian sausage

1 kg (2 lb) rigatoni, penne or orecchiette

250 ml (1 cup) extra-virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste

1.5 g (3 lb) broccoli rabe, stems trimmed and cut into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces

5 ml (1 tsp) red pepper flakes

5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt

60 ml (4 tbsp/1/2 stick) unsalted butter

250 ml (1 cup) grated Pecorino Romano

Remove sausages from casings and crumble. In a large skillet over high heat, brown sausage. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Wipe the fat out of the pan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente (if using rigatoni or orecchiette, cook for 8 minutes; if using penne, cook for 9 minutes).

Heat olive oil and garlic in wiped-out skillet over medium-high heat until garlic is golden.

Add broccoli rabe, red pepper flakes and salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

Add sausage and butter and cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

Drain pasta, reserving 250 ml (1 cup) of the cooking water and transfer pasta to skillet.

Mix well, adding water if pasta seems too dry.

Pour into a large warm serving bowl, sprinkle cheese over top and serve.

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Medaglione di Agnello con Prosciutto (Medallions of Lamb, Italian Style)

Pan-seared lamb medallions are paired with a thin slice of salty prosciutto, then finished with a white wine reduction sauce

150 ml (10 tbsp/1 stick plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, divided

12 thin slices prosciutto

12 slices white bread, crusts removed

12 lamb chops, about 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick, cut off bone, bone removed

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

250 ml (1 cup) white wine

In a large skillet, melt 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the butter over medium heat. Add prosciutto slices and warm through for 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

With a 5-cm (2-inch) round biscuit cutter, cut a round out of each slice of bread. Discard trimmings.

Melt 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add bread rounds (you may need to do this in two batches) and brown until golden on both sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven on low or cover with aluminum foil.

In the same skillet, melt remaining 90 ml (6 tbsp) butter over medium heat. Add lamb and cook for no more than 2 minutes per side. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper on both sides as you cook.

Place bread rounds on a serving platter and top each with a slice of prosciutto. Place a lamb medallion on each.

Add wine to skillet, turn heat to high and deglaze pan, scraping up all the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to reduce wine slightly.

Pour over lamb and serve.

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Insalata Mista alla Siciliana (Sicilian Mixed Salad)

This refreshing salad is a wonderful mix of bitter, sweet and peppery greens, crunchy fennel and luscious ripe tomatoes.

1 small head butter lettuce, leaves torn into small pieces

2 heads radicchio, cut into long strips

1 bunch watercress, stems removed

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks, bulbs cut into 3-mm (1/8-inch) thick crescents

1 small head endive, cut into long strips

1 red onion, cut in half, then sliced into 3-mm (1/8-inch) thick half-moons

4 ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters, then cut in half again

5 ml (1 tsp) sea salt

15 ml (1 tbsp) red wine vinegar

30 ml (2 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large salad bowl, place lettuce, radicchio, watercress, fennel, endive, onion and tomatoes.

Place sea salt in a large serving or salad spoon. Pour vinegar into spoon and stir with a fork until vinegar begins to absorb salt. Toss onto salad.

Pour olive oil over salad, add pepper to taste, then toss everything together to coat with vinegar and oil.

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Coppa Italiana (Italian Parfaits)

These personal parfaits are a scrumptious combination of espresso-flavoured mascarpone lightened with whipped egg whites layered with biscotti di amaretto crumbs.

500 g (16 oz) mascarpone

125 ml (1/2 cup) freshly brewed espresso

90 ml (6 tbsp) sugar

3 large egg whites

10 biscotti di amaretto, ground into crumbs

Dark chocolate shavings

Have ready 8 parfait glasses or wine glasses.

In a large bowl, stir together mascarpone, espresso and sugar.

In a medium bowl using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold into the mascarpone mixture.

Layer parfaits into glasses, beginning with 30 ml (2 tbsp) of mascarpone, then 5 ml (1 tsp) of the amaretto cookie crumbs, repeating the layers till you get to the top.

Give each parfait a final sprinkling of amaretto crumbs.

Top with shaved chocolate.

Source: "Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? A Year of Italian Menus with 250 Recipes That Celebrate Family" by Lisa Caponigri (Sterling Epicure, 2012).

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