Dine Italian Style

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Family Features photos A nice, home-cooked Italian meal is great for a quiet date night, topped with a dessert featuring chocolate — either in the shape of a heart chocolate chip cookie of red velvet “Cupidcakes.”

Valentine’s Day is gone, but the occasional date night at home is always a nice break from the routine. Try bringing the romance of Italy home with an elegant, Italian-themed dinner-and-a-movie night. Whether you’re with a small group of friends or just with your significant other, great food, fine wines and a stirring film can make a truly memorable evening.

Start with a favorite classic Italian film and use that as a springboard for the rest of your night. Add in thoughtfully chosen food, wine and décor for the full romantic treatment.

The recipes featured here are simple, but sophisticated. Grilled Polenta with Triple Mushroom Sauce features crisp, seared polenta wedges with a zesty tomato-mushroom topping. And, best of all, it can be made ahead and finished on the grill at the last minute for an easy appetizer or side dish.

Tuscan Chicken with Garlic and Capers takes thinly-pounded chicken breasts, tosses them lightly in flour and seasonings and lightly sautés them. A savory sauce of white wine, garlic, capers, anchovies and a premium prepared pasta sauce, such as Classico, comes together quickly on the

If you love foreign films or feel brave enough to try one, go for a classic Italian film such as “La Dolce Vita.” Other romantic films that feature Italy or Italian themes include “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Enchanted April,” “Only You,” “Roman Holiday,” “Moonstruck,” and “A Little Romance.”

Italians wouldn’t think of having a meal without a glass of wine. Consider having at least one red and one white wine available to guests. Here are some food-friendly wine choices: Castello di Gabbiano Pinot Grigio, Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico, Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva, and Castello di Gabbiano Alleanza

Set the mood — Use candles — lots of candles. Candlelight is warm, intimate and definitely romantic. But be careful about using too many scented candles. Unscented candles are best for the table, since there’s no aroma to compete with the smell of your delicious meal.

If it’s warm enough, enjoy a romantic evening alfresco by watching your Italian movie outside. Set a television up on the deck or rent a projection screen for the backyard so you can dine under the stars. Strings of little white lights in the trees or around the deck add to the romantic atmosphere.

If you want to go even more casual, set up a projector and hang a sheet up between trees or from a fence. Set out blankets or tablecloths on the lawn and enjoy a romantic Italian dinner picnic style.

Tuscan Chicken with Garlic and Capers

Makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground pepper

All-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup Gabbiano di Castello or other dry white wine

2 tablespoons capers

2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, optional

1, 26-ounce jar Classico di Napoli Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce

Chopped fresh parsley, basil or oregano

Season chicken with salt and pepper and lightly toss in flour.

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until golden and no longer pink inside, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add garlic and onion to saucepan. Cook until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in wine, and cook until wine has nearly evaporated. Add capers, anchovy fillets, if using, and pasta sauce. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Return chicken to saucepan and heat through.

Top chicken with sauce and parsley or other herbs. Serve over mashed potatoes, steamed rice or cooked pasta, if desired.

Variation: Stir a few minced olives into sauce for an additional layer of flavor.

Grilled Polenta with Triple Mushroom Sauce

Makes 6 servings

4 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup butter, divided

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1, 26-ounce jar Classico di Toscana Triple Mushroom Sauce

In medium saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Gradually stir in cornmeal and half the butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 20 minutes. Mixture will become quite thick. Stir in remaining butter and cheese. Pour cooked polenta evenly into 8-inch square baking dish, lined with parchment paper. Cool completely, and then chill until firm. Slice into 12 wedges.

Place polenta wedges on greased grill over medium heat. Cook on both sides, until heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. (The polenta wedges can be heated in a skillet instead of a grill, if desired.)

In the meantime, in large saucepan, heat pasta sauce. Serve polenta with sauce over top.

For more inspired Italian dishes, visit www.classico.com.

All materials courtesy of: Foster’s Wine Estates/Heinz North America

To top off the romantic evening, offer one of these special baked goods.

Baking From the Heart

Here’s a saying that is perfect for lovers of chocolate (or any for that matter): “There’s nothing better than a good friend — except a good friend with chocolate.”

What better way to be a good friend on than by baking up some chocolate treats? A big, frosted chocolate chip Heart Cookie is a perfect way to appreciate a teacher, coach or friend any time of year. Using refrigerated dough and a heart-shaped pan mean it’s no trouble at all to make. And it also leaves time to make some gorgeous Red Velvet Cupidcakes for an extra special treat to share with a group. The color may be red, but the flavor is all yummy chocolate!

Easy Heart Shaped Cookie

Makes 12 servings

1, 16-1/2-package Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Dough (or similar

1/2 cup Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels (or similar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch heart-shaped pan.

Place whole bar of dough in prepared pan. Allow to soften for 5 to 10 minutes. Using fingertips, pat dough gently to cover bottom.

Bake for 17 to 19 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Microwave morsels in small, microwave-safe bowl on HIGH (100 percent) power for 45 seconds; stir. Microwave at additional 10-second intervals, stirring until smooth. Spread over cookie to within 1-inch of edge.

Red Velvet Cupidcakes

Makes 18 cupcakes

Cupcakes

4 ounces Nestlé Toll House Chocolatier 62% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar, broken into small pieces (or similar) 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food coloring

Cream Cheese Frosting

1, 3-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar

Assorted sprinkles (optional)

For cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Paper-line 18 muffin cups.

Microwave chocolate in small, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on HIGH (100 percent) power for 45 seconds; stir. If pieces retain some of their original shape, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until melted. Cool to room temperature.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Combine milk and vinegar in small glass measure. Beat sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl on high for 2 minutes. Carefully beat in melted chocolate and red food coloring. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with milk mixture. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling 2/3 full.

Bake for 22 to 27 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Top with sprinkles, if desired.

For Cream Cheese Frosting:

Beat cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla extract in medium mixer bowl until light and fluffy, scraping bowl occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Makes about 1-3/4 cups.

You can find more ways to bake from your heart with the recipes at VeryBestBaking.com.

From Family Features

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