This is a gift I have been wanting to put together for probably ten years. Now that I found the time and opportunity to do it, it was so amazingly easy! Most likely because I have spent so much time thinking about it, all the problems have been worked out. And also because I have the tomatoes all canned, the pesto all made and in the freezer, and the big plus – I harvested a nice big crop of oregano this year. You can make your Italian Feast Baskets as easy or as complicated as you want; you can buy all the ingredients at the store, or make everything, or somewhere in between. Whatever is your style.
But how is the dinner? Easy and wonderful! I gave the first basket to David to test. He enjoys cooking but likes things to be easy. He started by pouring us some chianti so we could drink wine while we prepared dinner. I read the directions out loud, and David followed them step-by-step. It took ten minutes until the sauce was ready and the fettuccine was boiling. Wow, that was fast! A couple of minutes later when the pasta was cooked, we were eating our Italian feast, and it was delicious. I think the secret is the Italian sausages.
To put together Italian Feasts for your special people, start with the baskets. I like to shop at yard sales and second hand stores for baskets; they are easy to find everywhere. Choose baskets that your items will fit in without a lot of room leftover. If you do have extra room, you can fill the underneath with any number of things – your shredded mail, storebought filler, or – the effect I especially like – brown paper bags that have been cut open, seams cut off, then crumpled.
You Will Need:
• filler if needed
• 1 pint of tomatoes in a can or glass jar
• 1 half-pint jar of pesto
• 2 links of Italian sausage
• 1 packet of Italian herb mix
• 1/2 pound of fettuccine
• cellophane bags for fettuccine
• brown paper for wrapping the sausages and the herb mix
• 1 white envelope
• plastic wrap for the sausages
• personalized labels
Buy a 16 ounce jar or can of stewed tomatoes, no salt or spices added. Or use a jar of your home-canned and place a round label on the lid and a square label on the glass. Click here for instructions on canning tomatoes.
• 1-1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
• 6 cloves fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
• 3/4 cup total, blend of olive oil and water to your taste
• 3 Tbsp pine nuts or cashews
• 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
In a blender, put basil, garlic, oil, water and pine nuts. Blend until garlic is chopped very fine. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and stir in Parmesan cheese. Pack into half-pint glass jars and place a round label on the lid and a square label on the glass. Can keep pesto refrigerated for up to two weeks before serving.
Wrap them in plastic wrap, then in brown paper (I used paper from a grocery bag) and seal with a label. Freeze the package of sausages and place in the basket at the time you give it (warning – place the label on the package BEFORE you freeze it; the labels will not stick on frozen surfaces). I used a shape 13 label and used the side text to write directions on how to prepare the dinner.
Directions to print on label:
To prepare: cut Italian sausages into chunks and saute in oil, add tomatoes and herb mix. If desired, boil 1 cup of red wine until reduced to 1/4 cup, add to meat sauce. Have the pesto at room temperature. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Serve on warm plates with meat sauce on half the pasta, pesto on the other half. Serve with red wine and green salad. Salut!
Put the Italian herb mix in a white mailing envelope, seal, trim off the top edge and fold down. You can make two packets out of one envelope by cutting it in half. Wrap the envelope in a square of brown paper and seal with an oval label.
• 2 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 8 tsp water
• 2 tsp olive oil
Beat the eggs and add the oil and water. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour into it the egg mixture. Mix well, then knead on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into four balls, let rest covered with a towel for five minutes. One at a time, roll a ball out on a floured surface until it becomes a very thin sheet. Make noodles one of two ways: use a pastry wheel to cut into strips, or roll up the dough into a log and cut it into equal-size slices, then immediately unroll the slices. For fresh pasta, cook immediately. To dry for use later, place the noodles on a cookie sheet and dry overnight in an oven set at 110 degrees (or allow the oven to come to the lowest temperature possible, then turn it off and leave the noodles in overnight). Or, hang the noodles on clothes hangers until completely dry – this usually takes about 12 hours. Be sure they are completely dry before packaging them. Package in 1/2 pound portions in cellophane bags and seal with a square label. Can be stored for up to a year if kept in a dry place.