- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Sometimes when entertaining, even my best laid plans have to be changed. That’s what happened recently.

My husband and I, who are living and working in Europe for part of the summer, asked three of his college students studying abroad to join us for dinner the following week, but within a day of issuing the invitations, I was facing several unexpected deadlines.

Galleys for my new cookbook arrived with a note urging me to return them within the week. Next a magazine food editor e-mailed a request for a last-minute story proposal needed as soon as possible.

Then two cooking schools wrote, reminding me that my fall course descriptions were due. When I asked myself if there would be time to cook even a casual meal for company, the honest response was: How?

We decided to serve our young friends appetizers, then take them to a small Italian restaurant in our neighborhood for homemade pasta and pizza.

That way I would need to spend only a little time preparing hors d’oeuvres, and our evening would not have to be rescheduled.

The plan worked beautifully. An hour before the students’ arrival, I set out bowls filled with an assortment of black and green olives along with some roasted nuts. Then I quickly assembled a plate of bruschettas.

On toasted baguette slices I mounded a mixture of fresh ricotta and Parmesan cheeses seasoned with crushed fennel seed and lemon.

I spooned a simple pesto of chopped arugula, toasted pine nuts and olive oil over the cheese layer and garnished the toasts with sliced cherry tomatoes.

With ravenous appetites, the students sampled everything enthusiastically, and when it came time to leave, there wasn’t a single bruschetta left.

I enjoyed this uncomplicated and relaxed style of entertaining so much that I plan to repeat it. The next time friends call to ask if we would like to go out for dinner, I’ll suggest they come by our house first for appetizers and a glass of wine.

Bruschettas with fresh ricotta, arugula and tomatoes

12 3/8-inch-thick slices baguette

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for brushing on bread

4 ounces ( cup) fresh ricotta

cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 teaspoon crushed fennel seed

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup arugula leaves, stems discarded

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (see note)

6 cherry tomatoes, cleaned, stemmed and sliced

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Brush bread slices on both sides with olive oil and place on foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake on rack in center position of 350-degree oven until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside to cool.

Place ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, fennel seed and lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl and mix well to combine. Divide ricotta mixture evenly and spread on toasted bread.

Place arugula in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely. Then add 2 tablespoons olive oil and pine nuts and process a few seconds more until mixture has a pesto-like consistency. Divide arugula mixture evenly and spoon over ricotta.

Slice tomatoes thinly and top each bruschetta with 2 to 3 slices. Lightly salt and pepper tomatoes. Arrange bruschettas on a serving plate. Makes 12 servings.

The bruschetta can be prepared an hour ahead; keep at cool room temperature.

Note: To toast pine nuts, place a medium, heavy skillet over medium high heat.

Add nuts and cook, stirring, until they are golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Watch carefully, since they cook quickly. Remove and cool.


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