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Keep It Simple: A Cozy Buffet

Accept this challenge: Stay home on New Year’s Eve! Transform your celebration into a personally gratifying evening on your own turf.

Food served on New Year’s doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, just stylish and appealing. The New Year’s menu that follows, for instance, can be a spontaneous undertaking; the shopping and cooking are both easily done within hours.

Start with the simplest antipasti items from an Italian deli--maybe cured black olives marinated in garlic oil. Set out bowls of fresh nuts for munching.

A salad of beautiful young greens, tossed in a simple vinaigrette, rounds out the meal of baked pasta with spinach, goat cheese and tomatoes paired with fresh basil-garlic bread with cracked pepper. A tortoni ice cream pie is unbelievably easy and delicious.

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Depending on the size of your crowd, these recipes can be doubled or tripled with little extra effort. If your friends offer to help out, just give them a recipe. These are easy enough for even the most timid cooks.

If you’re drinking Champagne or a sparkling white wine from Spain, try serving it chilled with a dash of Angostura bitters and an orange twist garnish. A chilled white wine sangria would also be excellent.

NEW YEAR’S EVE AT HOME Italian antipasti Cured black olives marinated in garlic oil Bowl of nuts Tossed young greens in vinaigrette Baked Pasta with Spinach, Goat Cheese and Tomatoes Fresh Basil Garlic Bread with Cracked Pepper Tortoni Ice Cream Pie Champagne, s parkling Spanish white wine and/or white wine sangria

This garlic bread is intended to complement, not dominate, the flavors of the pasta dish, so it’s more delicate and fresher-tasting than most. A useful cooking note: heated oil goes much further than room - temperature oil, allowing you to use less when preparing a recipe such as this. Just heat the bread during the last 25 minutes of baking the pasta dish.

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FRESH BASIL-GARLIC

BREAD WITH

CRACKED PEPPER

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

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1/4 cup light-tasting olive oil

1 baguette, split lengthwise

Generous 1/2 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper

Salt

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1/4 cup julienne-cut fresh basil leaves

Combine garlic and olive oil in very small pan or microwaveable dish. Heat on stove top or in microwave oven until oil is hot (do not brown garlic). Strain oil, pressing on garlic to extract as much flavor as possible. While still warm, brush oil on cut sides of loaf, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons for final drizzle. Sprinkle with pepper. Season lightly with salt to taste. Wrap each half in foil. (Can be prepared ahead and kept at room temperature.)

Bake, wrapped in foil, in 375-degree oven until very hot, about 25 minutes. Unwrap. Scatter basil over surface, then drizzle remaining oil (warmed, if chilled) evenly over basil. Gently press basil in place. Use serrated knife to cut into wedges. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The appeal of this fresh-tasting layered pasta dish lies in its extremely quick preparation. It also can be done ahead. Radiatore pasta, a curled radiator-like shape, stands up well to the thickest topping, making it ideal for this casserole-type preparation. Spiral-shaped fusilli would work well too. Served steaming hot, this is a perfect light supper.

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BAKED PASTA

WITH SPINACH,

GOAT CHEESE

AND TOMATOES

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8 ounces radiatore or fusilli pasta

5 tablespoons light-tasting olive oil

Salt

2 (14-1/2-ounce) cans chunky pasta-style stewed tomatoes

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1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen whole-leaf spinach, thawed

2 large cloves garlic

1 medium shallot

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1 large egg

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

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1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

7 ounces soft goat cheese (preferably Montrachet)

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Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Drain stewed tomatoes; reserve 3 tablespoons liquid from can. Toss tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Set aside.

Wrap spinach in cloth towel to wring out moisture. Mince garlic and shallot in food processor. Add spinach, egg, ricotta, generous 1/2 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and pepper. Process until just combined to keep texture. Spread mixture evenly in lightly oiled, 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Spread pasta in even layer over spinach. Press gently in place. Drizzle 3 tablespoons reserved tomato liquid over pasta. Scatter tomatoes and any juices in bowl evenly over pasta. Press lightly in place.

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Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, dried rosemary, basil and oregano in small bowl. Cut goat cheese in 1/2-inch chunks. Toss lightly in herb-oil mixture. Arrange cheese pieces evenly between tomatoes. (Pasta should be completely covered by tomatoes and cheese.) Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt. (Can be prepared day ahead and refrigerated, loosely covered. Let come to room temperature before baking.)

Loosely tent dish with foil and place on baking sheet. Place in center of oven and bake at 375 degrees 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove foil. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes longer. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 late-supper servings.

Here, sugared toasted almonds provide a thin crust and a topping to two flavors of ice cream, giving this dessert a delectable crunch. A splash of brandy is a fitting splurge at serving time. Many other combinations of ice cream would work here . I like layers of coffee and chocolate gelato with raspberry sorbet.

TORTONI ICE CREAM

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PIE

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds with skins

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine, softened

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1 1/2 pints frozen strawberry yogurt, softened as needed

1 1/2 pints vanilla bean gelato or ice cream, softened as needed

2 to 3 tablespoons brandy

Mix almonds and powdered sugar together and spread in foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees 3 to 5 minutes or until browned, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from oven and stir about 1 minute. Cool completely.

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Generously and evenly coat deep 10-inch glass pie dish with butter or margarine. Scatter 2/3 cup almonds evenly over bottom and sides of dish, pressing lightly in place. (It’s OK to have spaces between nuts and some nuts that don’t adhere to dish.) Place in freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.

Spread softened strawberry yogurt in pie dish. Scatter 3 tablespoons almonds over surface. Freeze until solid, about 15 minutes. Spread softened gelato over yogurt. Scatter remaining almonds over surface. Freeze. Allow to soften ever so slightly before serving, spooning 1 teaspoon brandy over each wedge. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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