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Give your holiday dinner party a worldly flair

Cookbook author David Rosengarten shares recipes to add French, Indian or Italian flavor to your next celebration.
/ Source: TODAY

Looking to spice things up a bit for your next dinner party? Try inviting friends over for a virtual trip to Italy or a night filled with Parisian elegance. Cookbook author David Rosengarten was invited on the “Today” show to discuss his new book, “David Rosengarten Entertains,” and to share recipes and tips that will help you throw your own theme-dinner extravaganza.

Limoncello Granita
Serves 12

Granita — flavored ice, scraped to make a spoonable dessert — is wildly popular in Italy. A form of it has long had popularity in the U.S., too; in cities all over America, many a Little Italy merchant drizzled syrup over shaved ice and called the concoction a "snow cone." That early 20th-century practice morphed into "Italian ices," still a popular American treat. The following concoction is a perfect end to your grilled-pizza party — light and refreshing, it's made with Limoncello, a sweet, lemony liqueur from the Naples region. It, too, is wildly popular in Italy; among liqueurs there, only Campari gets served more often. The granita will take about 4 hours from start to finish. It could be made the morning of the party, as it's not going to freeze rock solid; just remember to check it every hour and rake it with a fork to keep the soft, flaky consistency. If you wish, you could garnish individual servings with fresh mint and/or slivers of candied lemon peel.

3 cups Limoncello (the liqueur should be 26 percent to 28 percent alcohol) 3 cups water

Combine the Limoncello with the water and pour into a wide, shallow pan that fits into the freezer. After half an hour, the mixture should be freezing around the edges. Use a fork to stir the frozen border into the liquid part at the center. Repeat this procedure every 45 minutes or so until all of the granita is frozen. Keep scraping and breaking up any parts that are frozen solid. It will take 4 hours for the granita to freeze properly — at which time it should have a soft, flaky consistency. If you've prepared the granita before the party, keep it in the freezer in the wide pan — but keep checking it every hour or so, raking it with a fork, to make sure it doesn't solidify.

When ready to serve, spoon into serving dishes (about 1/2 cup of granita per dish). Serve immediately to beat the inevitable melting that will occur after a few minutes.

Polenta Cookies With Chopped Pistachio Nuts
Makes about 3 dozen 1-1/2-inch cookies

You may be tempted to serve these delicious, buttery cookies with the granita, but I like them much better with a cup of espresso after the granita. I think they're best just a few hours out of the oven, but they're also very good when baked the day before.

1/4 cup candied lemon peel, cut into 1/8-inch dice 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 3/4 cup sugar 1 large egg yolk 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup finely ground polenta1/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup roughly chopped unsalted pistachios

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cover the lemon peel with boiling water in a small bowl. Let it stand 5 minutes, then drain and pat the lemon peel dry with a paper towel. Set aside. (This process removes excess sugar.)

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, flour, polenta, and salt, and mix until the mixture forms a soft mass. (Alternatively, place the aforementioned ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the mixture forms a soft mass.)

Stir in the lemon peel and pistachios by hand, blending evenly.

Using your hands, take about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and form it into a 1-inch ball. Place it on a baking sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand until the cookie is about 1/2-inch thick. Continue until all the dough is used, and all the cookies are flattened. You should have about 36 cookies, each one an inch away from the next; employ multiple cookie sheets if necessary. Don't worry if the cookies are not uniformly smooth.

Bake in the oven until the cookies start to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies may feel soft, but they'll firm up as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

About espresso machines
You may well have an espresso machine that already makes you happy. If you do, simply make espresso for this party as usual. However, if you're shopping around for a home espresso maker, I'd like to point out that I've fallen under the sway of the very fine new generation of espresso machines that require only capsules, or pods, of pre-ground coffee to make espresso. The results are startlingly restaurant-like and the process couldn't be simpler!

One of my favorites is the FrancisFrancis! espresso maker, produced by the Italian coffee company Illy. (It's available in five models with five different styles, all making the same great cup of espresso.) You simply purchase Illy's E.S.E. servings (short for "Easy Serving Espresso" and known as "pods"), pop one in the machine, press a button, and 30 seconds later you have a great individual cup of espresso, topped with the lovely, rich, copper-tinged foam called crema. Espresso for 12, at this party, can easily be done in this fashion in less than 10 minutes.

Chicken, Tandoori Style
Serves 12 I adapted this dish from a recipe in a cookbook I bought in India, and using only oven and broiler, it brings my kitchen insanely close to an Indian restaurant. Since I'm this close, in fact, I've decided to go with the food coloring that Indian restaurants always use; the red-orange tones bring a Hindu kind of festivity to the dish that I think, despite the artificiality of "food color," is well worth including.

Start this dish the morning of the day you plan to serve it; it needs 7 hours of marinating.

3 whole chickens, 3-1/2 to 4 pounds each 12 tablespoons vegetable oil 6 tablespoons malt vinegar 1-1/2 tablespoons mild chili powder 1 tablespoon kosher salt 6 whole cloves Seeds from 15 green cardamom pods 4 dried red chilies, each torn into a few pieces 2 tablespoons black peppercorns 1 tablespoon caraway seeds 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground mace 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 6 tablespoons grated fresh ginger 6 tablespoons finely minced garlic 3 cups plain yogurt 2 tablespoons orange food-color powderSizzled onions for garnish (see Serving Note), optional Lemon quarters for garnish

Cut the chickens (or ask the butcher to cut the chickens) into 4 pieces each: 2 breasts without wings (save wings for another use), and 2 legs (drumsticks and thighs must remain attached to each other). You will have 12 pieces altogether. Remove and discard all skin. Slash the flesh, not too deeply, with a small, sharp knife (about a dozen small slashes, evenly spaced, on each piece).

Whisk 9 tablespoons vegetable oil, the vinegar, chili powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Place the chicken pieces in a pan large enough to just contain them in one layer, rub the oil-vinegar mixture all over the chicken, and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.

In the meantime, prepare the yogurt marinade. Place the following ingredients in a spice grinder: cloves, cardamom seeds, chilies, peppercorns, caraway seeds, mace, and nutmeg. Grind to a fine powder.

Place the spice powder in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the ginger, garlic, yogurt, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Process until smooth. Add the food color and process until blended.

When the chicken has finished its initial marinade, transfer it to a large bowl. Cover the chicken with the orange-colored yogurt marinade, stirring to make sure the marinade covers all parts. Refrigerate, covered, for 6 hours.

When you're ready to cook, heat the oven to 500°F. Place the chicken pieces on a rack or a grooved broiler pan. Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken pieces from the oven and place them under a hot broiler. Broil until both sides of the pieces are sizzling and a little brown, turning once, about 5 to 10 minutes of broiling in all. Serve immediately.

Serving Note: To serve chicken tandoori the restaurant way, sizzle some thick onion slices under the broiler along with the chicken. Serve the chicken pieces with sizzled onion and lemon wedges.

To really do it up, buy a sizzle platter at a restaurant supply store, heat it in the 500°F oven while the chicken is broiling, and place the finished chicken, onions, and lemon wedges on the hot sizzle platter for service. As you deliver the platter to the buffet table, the sound and the steam are amazing!

Special ingredients for Tandoori-style chicken
Here are some specific products that will make your chicken taste especially authentic. They are all available by mail:

Chili Powder. There are many Indian chili powders available at many levels of spicy heat. There is a good amount in the first marinade — for flavor and to set the color — but the dish should not be blazing hot. Use one of the milder chili powders, like Kalustyan's Mild Kashmiri Red Chili Powder, which is full of paprika-like flavor.

Green Cardamom Pods. Cardamom pods encase cardamom seeds, the part of the cardamom you use in cooking. I've cracked many a green pod and found a real favorite: Nirav Green Cardamom, available from Namaste. After I got to the seeds, I found them to be the sweetest, least medicinal of all the seeds I tasted. Big surprise here: They come from Guatemala!

Mace. Oh, you can use powdered mace if you wish. But it is so worth the trouble to acquire Kalustyan's Blades of Mace (Myristica Fragrans), Joyatri-India, and to grind them yourself in a spice grinder.

Orange Food Color Powder. If you wish to arrive at the precise color that you find in Indian-restaurant Chicken Tandoori, you must buy a food color specifically designed for Indian cooking. I use Preema Orange Food Color, a powder made in England and available through Kalustyan's.For more information about David Rosengarten and the Rosengarten Report, please visit his Web site at: