An Anytime Party Meal


What with house guests, informal get-togethers and the aftermath of serious celebrating, it’s great to be prepared with totally appealing food that works all day. Who knows when hunger will strike?

Here’s a little Italian-inspired meal for these circumstances; it’s casual yet festive, and what’s not do-ahead is easy to put together at the last minute. Start off with chilled Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, mixed with orange juice or with slightly sweetened pomegranate juice. Breakfast panini Valdostano and warm roasted pears with cranberries and balsamic vinegar serve four but are easily multiplied. And don’t forget espresso and cappuccino for a leisurely finish with sesame-coated sugar cookies that are sturdy enough for dipping into coffee.

Mandel is author of “Celebrating the Midwestern Table” (Doubleday & Co., 1996).

Breakfast Panini Valdostano

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

4 teaspoons butter

4 eggs

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

4 Kaiser buns

8 ounces thinly sliced fontina cheese

4 slices Canadian bacon

8 thin slices tomato

24 small arugula leaves, stems removed

* Melt 2 teaspoons butter in large nonstick skillet over low heat. When warm, add eggs. Use spatula to move yolk to center of white; hold until it stays, about 1 to 2 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until yolk is almost entirely set, turning carefully after 2 minutes, for a total of about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.


* Arrange remaining ingredients evenly on bottom halves of buns as follows: 1/2 cheese, Canadian bacon, tomato slices, salt to taste, pepper to taste, arugula, fried egg, remaining cheese. Close bun. Gently press down to compress panini. (Can be assembled 1 hour ahead and kept at room temperature.

* Melt remaining butter in same skillet over medium heat. Place sandwich, top side down, in skillet. Cook, covered, until cheese is melted and sandwich is heated through, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes. To serve, cut in half with serrated knife. Serve hot.

4 servings. Each serving: 427 calories; 1,433 mg sodium; 317 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams protein; 0.20 gram fiber.

Roasted Pears With Cranberries

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 55 minutes

4 ripe but firm pears, peeled, split lengthwise (keeping stem on 1 half), cored lengthwise

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/3 cup sugar

Dash coarse salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup cranberries

* Put pears, cut side down, in baking dish just large enough to hold snugly in single layer. Combine butter, vinegar, allspice, sugar, salt and water in small dish. Brush mixture over pears.

* Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees, occasionally spooning juices over pears, 15 minutes. Sprinkle cranberries over pears. Add 2 tablespoons water to dish. Bake until pears are tender and fork slides easily into flesh, shaking pan once during baking to shift cranberries, about 15 to 25 minutes more, depending on ripeness of pears. Add more water as needed to maintain sauce-like consistency. Spoon sauce over pears. (Can be baked a few days ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before reheating.)

* To serve, gently reheat pears (add water as needed for sauce), uncovered, in 400-degree oven 10 minutes. Arrange pears, cut side up, on serving plates. Spoon juices and cranberries on pears, dividing evenly. Serve hot.


4 servings. Each serving: 212 calories; 103 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 2.54 grams fiber.

Convito Italiano’s Sesame-Coated Sugar Cookies

Nancy Brussat Barocci, owner of Convito Italiano in Wilmette, Ill., patterned the recipe after an Italian-style dip cookie.

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour plus 1 hour chilling

1 1/3 cups butter, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup milk

1 cup sesame seeds

* Place butter and sugar in mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. With mixer on low speed, add egg and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined. Transfer dough onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use your hands to press dough until uniformly 3/4-inch thick. Cover with plastic; freeze until dough is firm, about 1 hour.

* Use knife to cut into 1-inch squares. Dip each square into milk, then in sesame seeds. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper, 2 inches apart.

* Bake in batches on lower rack in oven at 350 degrees until just starting to turn golden on edges, about 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight container. (Cookies can be made up to 3 days ahead, stored at room temperature, or frozen as long as 1 month.)

About 60 cookies. Each cookie: 65 calories; 62 mg sodium; 15 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.12 gram fiber.