Dear Noelle, I don't make homemade manicotti shells. I buy my shells imported from Italy at an Italian store. But,…
Apericena, or a combined feast of aperitivo and cena, is my daughter’s favorite Sunday dinner idea. She discovered this tradition when she studied abroad during law school at Bocconi in Milan, where Aperol Spritz and buffets are plentiful on the Navigli. Spending frosty February and March evenings and then hot summer nights later in the semester at spots on the Ripa di Porta Ticinese soon became a favorite pastime of my daughter’s. She soon also discovered other aperitivo spots- from the more touristic but scenic Obika at the top of La Rinascente in Piazza del Duomo to the cool, slightly hidden Lacerba on Via Orti, where she hosted her 27th birthday party. When she returned home it soon became clear that apericena would become a constant Sunday favorite in our house- read on to learn more about this Sunday Dinner Idea, and how to incorporate it yourself!
Apericena is a Sunday dinner idea that allows you to mix your favorite things about aperitivo (or as we would say in the U.S. – happy hour)- and dinner. When Italians want to eat a bit lighter later in the evening or make an aperitivo last longer into the night, recourse is made to apericena. A mix of heavy appetizers and drinks and perhaps a gelato, apericena can also include large dishes served in buffet style or plated on a larger tagliere (a cutting or other wood board). Apericena style portions can facilitate easy dinner parties and Sunday dinners at home with your family. Especially for uncertain cooks or those of us who are still learning in the kitchen (like my daughter!), plating smaller portions in an aesthetically pleasing way or preparing parts of a menu ahead of time in an appetizer-fashion can make for easier entertaining and greater time spent with your family and friends.
Here are five recipes to get you started on incorporating apericena into your own Sunday dinner idea!
Apericena Sunday Dinner Idea #1:
Stuffed Mushrooms and Filo Dough Squares with Three Cheeses and Sun-dried Tomatoes
These recipes are from Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?, Menus 42 and 47, respectively. Stuffed mushrooms are a great start to apericena because they can be prepared in advance and served next to other traditional appetizers, like the Filo Dough Squares below. Children might especially appreciate this recipe as their own Sunday dinner idea, since stuffing the breadcrumb mixture into the mushrooms with an adult is easy and fun. The Filo Dough Squares are one of my daughter’s favorite recipes, especially because these gooey treats with cheese are excellent on Monday and Tuesday, after they are an integral part of your Sunday dinner idea. When I used to make these Filo Dough Squares for dinner parties, my children always asked me to make extra so they could have their own!
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for the pan and drizzling
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
24 large mushroom caps
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350F. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a baking dish large enough to hold the mushroom caps in a single layer, and tilt the dish to coat the bottom. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmigiano, parsley, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Distribute the stuffing among the mushroom caps. Arrange the mushroom caps in the prepared baking dish and bake until the mushrooms darken, 15 to 18 minutes. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.
Filo Dough Squares with Three Cheeses and Sun-dried Tomatoes
6 ounces Mascarpone
6 ounces Fontina, Grated
6 ounces Emmenthaler, Grated
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
16 sheets thawed Filo Dough
Instructions: In a medium bowl, combine the mascarpone, fontina and Emmenthaler. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is transparent. Add the mixture to the cheeses and mix well. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is transparent. Add the mixture to the cheeses and mix well. Melt the remaining 7 tablespoons butter in the same pan. Remove from the heat.
With a pastry brush, apply some of the melted butter to each sheet of filo, stacking 4 or more sheets of butter-brushed filo together at a time. At the long end of a stack of filo sheets, place a thin line of the cheese mixture, approximately 1/2 inch wide, across the edge of the sheet. Place a very thin line of sun-dried tomatoes on top of the cheese mixture. Roll up the stacked sheets, brush with melted butter, and set, seam side down, on a large baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining filo, filling and melted butter.
Chill the filled and rolled filo for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 375F. Cut the filo rolls into 1- to 2- inch pieces. Bake until golden and flaky, 11 to 12 minutes, and serve immediately.
Apericena Sunday Dinner Idea #2:
Bucatini with Felicia’s Pasta Sauce
I included this recipe in my second cookbook, This is Sunday Dinner, in Menu 38. As part of apericena, you can serve a smaller portion of pasta – I especially like to put this primo in a ramekin and place it as part of a buffet or decoratively serve it on a tagliere. My daughter’s sauce has caramelized tomatoes, which gives the sauce a rich texture. If you make too much sauce, you can also freeze it for another Sunday dinner. This can also be a great option (as my daughter often says!) if you plan solo apericena nights for 1 as a Sunday dinner idea, treating yourself to a banquet of your favorite recipes and celebrating with a bottle of Chianti.
1 1/2 cups olive oil
10 cloves garlic (1 1/2 bulbs)
2 (10 ounce) containers grape or cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes give the sauce a meatier and thicket consistency and taste)
Handful Sicilian sea salt, coarse, for the pasta water
2 pounds bucatini
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Instructions: Cover the bottom of a large, deep sauté pan with 1/2 cup of olive oil. Cut and devein the garlic, and then slice each clove in half. Add about 1/2 of the first garlic bulb (approximately 6 cloves) to the pan. Simmer the olive oil and garlic over low to medium heat for at least 20 minutes. Add the rest of the garlic cloves to the pan, occasionally stirring them in the olive oil with a flat wooden spatula. Allow the garlic to become golden, but be careful not to let it turn brown, which will make the garlic taste bitter. After adding all the garlic to the pan, stir the mixture thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
Cut the grape or cherry tomatoes in the first container, in half, lengthwise, and add them to the pan. With a flat wooden spatula, compress each tomato so that it lies flat in the olive oil and garlic mixture. (The seeds of the tomatoes will be pressed out of the tomato skin and meld with the olive oil.) Pour the remaining 1 cup of olive oil into the sauté pan. Cut the tomatoes in the second container in half and add them to the pan, flattening and compressing them with the wooden spatula.
Allow the mixture to simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add Lisa’s Italian Kitchen Authentic Tomato Sauce to the pan. Stir the sauce into the tomato, garlic, and olive oil mixture, and allow it to rest, still over medium heat, for 2-3 minutes. Taste, and add in sugar and salt as necessary. Allow the mixture to simmer for 1 more minute. Add the sea salt and stir it into the sauce. Set the sauté pan on a back burner over low heat. Cover the pan with a lid, and simmer the sauce on low heat for 30 minutes. Stir the sauce every 7-10 minutes.
Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Toss in a handful of coarse sea salt. Add the bucatini to the boiling water and cook as directed on the package, usually about 10 minutes). Drain the pasta.
Pour the sauce into the past pot and then add the cooked pasta. Stir the mixture so that the sauce coats each individual piece of bucatini. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Apericena Sunday Dinner Idea #3:
Chicken alla Milanese
This recipe is from Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?, Menu 17. A perennial favorite, it is a more rustic version of the classic dish my daughter loved to eat in Milan with saffron risotto, Veal Milanese. When preparing apericena the chicken can be made in advance and left to stay warm in the oven. Present the chicken as part of a buffet, or serve in small dishes.
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
8-10 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, lemon wedges
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350F. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to a large baking dish and tilt the dish to coat the bottom. On a large flat plate, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, and oregano. Lightly dredge the chicken in the mixture on both sides. Set the coated pieces on a tray. In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. In batches, cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides. As they brown, transfer the pieces to the prepared baking dish and arrange in a single layer. Bake the chicken until no longer pink in the center, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a platter and serve with lemon wedges.
Apericena Sunday Dinner Idea #4:
Classic Italian Salad
Italians usually eat their salad after the main course, as it helps digestion. As part of the apericena Sunday dinner idea, you can add the American idea of serving salad with the Chicken Milanese, or place the salad in a large serving bowl as part of a buffet.
1 package of arugula
1 package of mixed greens
2 carrots, cut using a peeler into the salad
Pinch of Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar (preferably from Modena)
Instructions: Place the arugula, mixed greens, and carrots in a large salad bowl. When ready to serve season to taste with salt, add the olive oil and vinegar, and toss gently to coat the salad with the dressing.
Apericena Sunday Dinner Idea #5:
This dessert was known among my children’s friends and was regularly requested when my children invited friends over for Sunday dinner. As part of the apericena Sunday dinner idea, it’s a manageable dessert that my daughter especially loves to make ahead and then plate individually for easy serving.
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground peeled toasted hazelnuts
1 jar of Nutella
Instructions: In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat in well. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour all at once and, using a wooden spoon (unless you have a stand mixer), mix until almost incorporated. Add the hazelnuts and mix just until smooth, being careful not to over mix the dough. Form the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 2 hours.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 10-inch circle. Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp the edge. Chill the crust while you make the filling. Preheat the oven to 375F.
Pour the Nutella into the pie plate, and use extra parts of the pastry to decorate the top of the pie. Bake the pie for 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and serve.