My friend recently rang me in a massive panic. The girl of his (current) dreams had asked him if he would cook her dinner, and she had specified Italian food. I guess he thought he could get away with buying some ready made stuff and putting it on plates, but NO - she wanted to come round EARLY and "spend time together". He suddenly realised he would have to make good on his claims. I handed him the following recipies and apparently they went down extremely well. So here is my Italian (style) meal, for the "challenged" cook. As an aside, this is vegetarian... no chance of causing offense that way!

  • Choose a nice wine, it doesn't have to be Italian, but it should be red, or a dry white. If it is white wine, chill for at least two hours before serving. If red, serve at room temperature.
  • Candles!
  • Clean kitchen. She won't want to eat anything you make if your kitchen smells like a rubbish bin, and possibly resembles one.

Twelve hours to go

You can actually prepare this up to a day in advance, but it does need to sit in the fridge for at least twelve hours. This is best served as a starter, but can be served as a main with other "small" dishes for a tapas style meal.

You need:

  • Two medium sized sweet/ripe tomatoes per person.
  • One clove of garlic per person.
  • Four fresh basil leaves per person.
  • mozzarella (it is possible to get veggie motz. Failing this, it is very nice without the cheese so don't stress it).
  • Good quality Olive Oil.

To prepare:

  • Slice the tommies, not too thin, and lay them out on a plate or tray.
  • Crush the garlic cloves, distribute the crushed garlic evenly, and spread it onto the exposed upper sides of the tommie slices.
  • Roll one basil leaf gently between your fingers and lay it on top on a slice. If required, add fine slices of motz on top.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, and I mean DRIZZLE, not DROWN.
  • Decorate with any remaining basil. Just pop it around the edges of your plate or serving tray.
  • Stick the lot in the fridge for at least twelve hours, ignore and do nothing further. Remove and plonk on table for starters. This is a really flavoursome, easy and pretty dish, and as it requires no cooking any fool can make it!

Six hours to go

This is a great dessert. While you can make this as little as an hour beforehand it's not a good idea to make it more than six hours before the meal as the fruit goes all squashy.

You need:

  • Lots of fruit, not citrus; bananas, grapes, apples, melon, raspberries - things like that.
  • A small bottle of amaretto.

To prepare

  • Chop the fruit up into bite sized chunks, throw in bowl and mix up a bit.
  • Pour amaretto over the fruit, generously.
  • Put in fridge and ignore until ready to serve. If you are feeling creative you can garnish it with a sprig of mint or basil. However, after a few bowls of this no-one will remember, so why bother?

One hour to go

Put the oven (STOVE if you are American) on and make it HOT. It will take a while to warm up. If you are a student, and lack an oven, a grill will do nicely. Use your common sense; an oven takes about fifteen minutes to get really hot, a grill two to six.

Main dish

You need:

  • A bag of dried pasta (any kind will do).
  • Onions.
  • Mushrooms.
  • peppers (the sweet, unhot kind).
  • One egg per person.
  • Veggie or other hard cheese (Parmesan is great).
  • Olive oil.

To prepare:

  • Fill a pan up to about one inch below the top edge with water.
  • Make it boil, and I mean BOIL.
  • Add pasta but do NOT stir. When it starts to boil up turn the heat down till it stops looking like it will overflow.
  • Chop onions, mushrooms, peppers. Just chop them in a sorta pretty way, it doesn't really matter that much.
  • Add oil to a pan, put veg in, make hot until it's sizzling and spitting. Stir occasionally, so they don't burn.
  • If veg are done before pasta, just take them off the heat.
  • Pasta is done when soft (bite a bit to check). Check the packet for the cooking time if you are not sure.
  • Pour pasta into a baking dish or tray (drain water off FIRST), pour vege onto pasta.
  • Slice or grate cheese onto the whole thing.
  • Break eggs into a cup, pick out bits of shell, make a little dent for each egg, try to add one egg per dent.
  • Drizzle with oil (go easy, mostly over the eggs.
  • Stick the whole thing under the grill or into the oven, take out when bubbly and golden looking, set aside for ten minutes to cool (the eggs may be runny but will set if you leave it to cool down for a little while).

Side dish

You need:

  • One French stick, (may also be called baton, essential French BREAD).
  • Butter.
  • One clove of garlic.
  • Pepper and salt.
  • A handful of grated cheese (optional).

To Prepare:

  • Put about 50 grams (that's a quarter of an average-sized pack of butter) into a bowl.
  • Add one small pinch of salt, one small pinch of pepper (hold thumb and index finger togther, tips touching, what you can pick up this way is a PINCH).
  • Smash garlic clove up lots.
  • Mash all ingredients together till garlicky and creamy looking. If this is hard, leave the bowl on the side for ten minutes until the butter softens.
  • Cut bread into slices, about as thick as the top joint of your thumb. Cut about four per person.
  • Spread garlic butter all over slices; be really generous.
  • Lay slices out on a baking tray. Only one layer, otherwise they won't go all golden and crispy. If adding cheese sprinkle on top now.
  • When you have about ten minutes to go until serving time, pop the tray in your nice hot oven, or under your grill. Watch it like a hawk (for about seven minutes) until the slices are bubbly, golden and smell really good. Remove and serve straight away.

Serve!

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