This week's Chef on a Shoestring, Giada De Laurentiis, host of the Food Network's "Everyday Italian," is a pro at creating simple, healthy menus that feed a crowd.
We gave her a special entertainment budget of $80 for 8 people.
De Laurentiis will prepare a simple Super Bowl party feast of finger foods and snacks.
The menu includes Sundried Tomato and Olive Tapenade, Italian Quesadillas, Stuffed Mushrooms, Prosciutto-Wrapped Breadsticks, Rosemary-Infused Popcorn, and Salami Crisps with Sour Cream and Basil.
De Laurentiis' show debuted 2002. On it, she shares many of her family's recipes, often simplifying them to make the food accessible for the cook at home, as well as quick to prepare.
Saturday's menu exemplifies her approach: It's simple and tasty, very affordable, and fairly healthy.
De Laurentiis is a private chef and caterer in Los Angeles and the founder of GDL Foods.
Growing up in a large Italian family, De Laurentiis' passion for food was sparked as a child as she learned to prepare family recipes for their frequent gatherings. She became a professional chef after attending the famed Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris. After working in a variety of Los Angeles restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck's Spago, De Laurentiis started her own business, from Food Network Web site.
A few notes on the dishes:
Tapenade: Every party needs a dip, right? This one is so easy: Dump three ingredients in the food processor, pulse, and you're done. Served with endive leaves and radicchio, it's a very healthy snack.
Quesadillas: De Laurentiis puts an Italian spin on these quesadillas, substituting traditional bell peppers with roasted peppers, Mexican cheeses with Fontina and Parmesan, and finishing with some Italian parsley. These can actually be assembled in the morning, then refrigerated until you fire up the stove right before kickoff.
Mushrooms: Stuffed mushrooms are popular in Italy, and De Laurentiis simple version is sure to be a hit. She shows how easy it is to remove the stems from the mushroom caps before stuffing.
Breadsticks: This recipe calls for refrigerated breadstick dough. "There are only a few times that I use store-bought products, but this is one product that, when wrapped in prosciutto or rolled in cheese, makes for a great tasting and super-easy antipasto," De Laurentiis writes as an intro to this recipe. "And when you are making a large meal from scratch, a few shortcuts are always welcome."
Popcorn: The rosemary-infused popcorn is an elegant alternative to buttered popcorn. Basically, when De Laurentiis pops the corn, she uses rosemary oil instead of peanut or olive oil. You can make the rosemary infused oil yourself by combining olive oil and rosemary sprigs in a pan and cooking for about five minutes. That's it. She likes to finish the popcorn with lots of salt.
Salami Crisps: If you're tired of potato chips but want to serve something crisp and salty, this may be the answer. De Laurentiis bakes salami slices in the oven until they brown, then tops with sour cream and fresh basil.
Radicchio: A red-leafed Italian green most often used in salads. Radicchio has a firm leaf, like endive, which makes it good for dipping. It has a slightly bitter flavor and is in peak season right now.
Fontina: One of Italy's greatest cheeses, it's a semi-firm cow's milk cheese. With its mild, nutty flavor and melting easily, Fontina is quite versatile.
Prosciuttto: Italian for "ham." Proscuitto broadly describes a ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured -- but not smoked -- and air-dried.
Olive and Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade with Endive Leaves
12 appetizer servings
3 (8 ounces each) jars pitted kalamata olives or canned black olives, drained
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 heads of endive (about 1/2 pound total)
6 radicchio leaves, cleaned and spun dry
1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the olives, sun-dried tomatoes with their oil, and the extra-virgin olive oil until well blended but still chunky.
2. Spoon the tapenade into a serving bowl. (The tapenade can be prepared one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
3. Gently remove the leaves from the endive. Wash the leaves with cold water and dry completely.
On a large platter, place the bowl of tapenade in the center. Decoratively arrange the endive leaves and radicchio around the bowl of tapenade, and serve. (The platter of tapenade, endive and radicchio leaves can be assembled 8 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Yield: 12 servings (36 wedges)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
9 (8-inch-diameter) flour tortillas
3 cups grated Fontina cheese
3/4 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained well and patted dry
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
Italian parsley sprigs, for garnish
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onions and sugar, and sauté until the onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Season the onions to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
4. Sprinkle half of the Fontina over the bottom halves of the tortillas.
5. Arrange the bell peppers and sautéed onions atop the cheeses, dividing equally.
6. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese.
7. Sprinkle the remaining Fontina cheese over. Fold the top halves of the tortillas over the filling to cover and press gently to seal.
Do-Ahead Tip: The quesadillas can be assembled up to 8 hours ahead. Arrange them on a baking sheet, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
8. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a heavy large griddle over medium heat.
9. Working in batches, cook the quesadillas until the cheese melts and the tortillas are golden brown, adding more oil as needed, about 3 minutes per side.
10. Transfer the quesadillas to baking sheets and keep them warm in the oven while cooking the remaining quesadillas.
11. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the quesadillas. Cut each quesadillas into 4 wedges. Arrange them on a platter. 12. Garnish the platter with parsley sprigs and serve.
Makes 28 mushrooms
1/2 cup Italian-style dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
28 large (21/2-inch-diameter) white mushrooms, stemmed
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, stir the breadcrumbs, Romano cheese, parsley, mint, and garlic to blend.
3. Lightly coat a heavy large baking sheet with some oil. Arrange the mushroom caps on the baking sheet, cavity side up, and spoon the filling into the mushroom cavities.
4. Drizzle 1/4 teaspoon of oil over the filling in each mushroom.
5. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is heated through and golden on top, about 25 minutes.
6. Arrange the stuffed mushrooms on a platter and serve.
Makes 2 dozen
1 (11-ounce) container refrigerated breadstick dough (such as Pillsbury)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
24 paper-thin slices prosciutto
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line 2 large heavy baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Tear the breadstick dough along the perforations into rectangles. Using a large sharp knife, cut each dough rectangle lengthwise in half, forming 2 thin strips from each rectangle.
4. Working with one dough strip at a time, coat the dough strips with the Parmesan cheese.
5. Roll each dough strip between your palms and the work surface into 14-inch-long strips, then transfer the dough strips to the prepared baking sheets.
6. Bake until the breadsticks are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. Cool the breadsticks completely on the baking sheet. (The breadsticks can be prepared up to this point 8 hours ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
7. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around each cooled breadstick, and arrange the prosciutto wrapped breadsticks on a platter and serve.
Popcorn with Infused Rosemary Oil
Makes 8 cups
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
4 tablespoons Infused Rosemary Oil
1. In a large heavy pot, stir the popcorn kernels and 3 tablespoons of the Infused Rosemary Oil.
2. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the kernels have popped, shaking the pot halfway through cooking, about 3 minutes.
3. Immediately transfer the popcorn to a large bowl. Toss the popcorn with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Infused Rosemary Oil. 4. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and serve.
Rosemary Infused Oil
1 cup olive oil
5 to 6 fresh rosemary sprigs (each 5 inches long)
1. Combine the oil and rosemary in a heavy small saucepan.
2. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
4. Transfer the sprigs to a 4-ounce bottle or cruet. Add the oil and seal the lid. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Yield: 1 cup
Salami Crisps with Sour Cream and Basil
Yield: 24 pieces
24 thin slices Italian dry salami (about 4 ounces)
1/3 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with aluminum foil. Arrange the salami in a single layer over the baking sheets.
3. Bake until the salami slices are amber brown, watching closely to ensure they brown evenly, about 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the salami crisps to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil. Set aside to cool.
Do-Ahead Tip: The salami crisps can be made 8 hours ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
5. Spoon a dollop of sour cream atop each salami crisp. Sprinkle the basil over and serve.