Summer flavors, savory pastries and rich cheese tarts

<em>Ricotta Cheese Tart  Photo by Dan Kacvinski. Food preparation and styling by Judy Zeidler</em>

Ricotta Cheese Tart Photo by Dan Kacvinski. Food preparation and styling by Judy Zeidler

Let’s have an outdoor summer party!

Whether you have a tennis court, a swimming pool or a great lawn for playing croquet, now is the time to invite friends over for a fun-in-the-sun celebration and an alfresco meal. Or you can take your party to the park.

At our annual summer event, we invite friends to an afternoon bocce tournament and an outdoor dinner just before sunset. The game of bocce dates back to Roman times and was developed in Italy. It evolved from a traditional lawn sport into the modern-day game we know today.

Invitations are sent by email. I enjoy using clip art and a fun typeface that relates to the game. If your guests have never played before, it is a good idea to include the rules so everyone can come prepared for a day of friendly competition.

When everyone arrives, we serve hot and cold finger food to munch on during and between games, along with a cold Campari drink. We set up chairs around the bocce court from which spectators can watch while they are awaiting their turn to play.

To get things rolling, we divvy up the bocce balls and, well, get things rolling.

For the menu, we pick from a list of our favorite foods. Start with individual Baked Cheese Pastries and Open-face Mushroom Bruschetta. Include a cheese and olive tray with a selection of Italian products, and don’t forget to label them.

Begin dinner with a refreshing bowl of cold, raw tomato soup with cubes of fresh mozzarella. Then serve the main course, a big plate of traditional Spaghetti With Spicy Salmon Tomato Sauce.

Finish the day with espresso, a Ricotta Cheese Tart with fresh berries and, of course, a fun trophy for the winning team.


From “Italy Cooks,” by Judy Zeidler.

1 cup milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 cup flour

4 eggs

1 1/2  cups finely shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese


Preheat the oven to 400 F.

In a heavy saucepan, scald milk. In a medium bowl, knead butter, salt, pepper and mustards together; add to milk, and blend with a wooden spoon. Bring to a rolling boil. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously, until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.

Transfer mixture to bowl of an electric mixer and add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Blend until the dough is shiny and smooth. Add 1 cup cheese and blend well.

Spoon into a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe the cheese puffs in mounds 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart on a foil- or silicone-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and a few drops of milk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until well-puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes about 24.


12 white mushrooms

8 slices whole wheat bread

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place mushrooms on wooden surface, cap-side down. Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut mushrooms into paper-thin slices, making sure to keep the stem section attached.

Brush one side of each slice of bread lightly with oil. Place mushrooms in a row on the unoiled side of the bread, overlapping mushroom slices slightly, making 3 or 4 rows to cover the bread. Brush mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place bread, mushroom side up, in a panini-style grill and close grill top over bread, pressing top down to slightly smash bread. Grill about 4 to 5 minutes until bread is golden brown and mushrooms are sizzling and cooked through.

Makes 8 servings.


(From “Italy Cooks,” by Judy Zeidler)

6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and pureed (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt or more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

6 ounces soft mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes

Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish


Strain pureed tomatoes into a glass bowl. Add sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the basil and mix thoroughly. Spoon an equal amount of mozzarella into centers of 8 shallow bowls; ladle tomato mixture over each. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Makes 8 servings.


1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper

5 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 to 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 pound salmon fillets, cut in cubes

1 (1-pound) package spaghetti

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until soft. Add salt, cayenne, tomatoes and 1 cup broth; cook until the ingredients are well combined.

Add basil and salmon; sauté until salmon is cooked through. Stir in some or all of remaining 1/2 cup broth, if needed, to achieve desired consistency.

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water; bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti, and return the water to a boil. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spaghetti has cooked through but is still firm to the bite, according to package directions, or about 10 minutes; drain thoroughly in a colander.

Toss spaghetti into sauce, mix thoroughly, and serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes 8 servings. 


4 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

Pinch salt

1 pound ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup mascarpone or crème fraiche

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Pinch cinnamon

Powdered sugar for dusting

Fresh raspberries and whipped cream


Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Butter and flour an 8- or 10-inch springform pan; set aside.

Mix egg yolks, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add ricotta, flour, baking powder, mascarpone, lemon zest and cinnamon; blend well. In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold cheese mixture into egg whites.

Pour into prepared springform pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until center of tart springs back when lightly touched. Let cool completely; remove springform sides. Slide tart onto a serving plate, dust with powdered sugar, and garnish with fresh raspberries and whipped cream.

Makes 8 servings.


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