Salsa All'Amatriciana / All images Brian Leatart for USA WEEKEND
For other great recipes that make perfect gifts from the kitchen, check out the links below!
Pumpkin-seed dried-cherry trail mix
Basil butter (left) and Honey-walnut butter (right)
Few presents are more personal — or more delicious — than homemade edibles. Some of TV's most-watched chefs share with us how they manage to get to the heart through the stomach.
Share your favorite sauce
As a professional chef, Giada De Laurentiis, host of Giada at Home on Food Network, likes to give holiday food gifts that go beyond the norm. Take her Salsa all'Amatriciana, for example, a classic red sauce with bits of salty pancetta, which can be tossed with pasta, used as a dipping sauce for bread or served atop chicken or beef. "I like to make something that lasts longer and is a little more versatile," says De Laurentiis, who based the recipe for this sauce on a traditional one in her birth city, Rome. "The Salsa all'Amatriciana really looks so beautiful in a glass jar, which makes it a great gift." Plus, it's not challenging to prepare.
"I have friends who love meat, so the Salsa all'Amatriciana would be perfect," she says. "I have other friends who like to experiment a little more. I try to think about the things that people enjoy. That's what makes a special gift."
2 Tbs. olive oil
6 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper flakes
1 can (28 ounces) tomato puree
½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato puree, and cook uncovered over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Pour into jars, following standard instructions for processing and sealing. The sauce will last a week in the refrigerator or a month or more in the freezer.
The one people really ooh and aah over, De Laurentiis says, is her "orangecello" — her spin on the Italian lemon liqueur limoncello. "I make it with orange peel to give it a sweeter finish," she says. "It's extremely simple and an unbelievably fabulous gift because you can't buy it anywhere." De Laurentiis makes it even more special by pouring it into a beautiful glass bottle and presenting it with a tag that includes a recipe or two. (How does orangecello cheesecake sound?)
7 medium navel oranges, preferably organic
1 (750 ml) bottle vodka
2½ cups water
1½ cups sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the oranges in long strips. (Reserve the oranges for another use.) Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith and discard. Place the orange peels in a 2-quart pitcher or large glass bowl. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the orange peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, about 20 minutes. Pour the syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Strain the orangecello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the orangecello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.
Easy and versatile trail mix
One of Claire Robinson's favorite food gifts is her pumpkin-seed trail mix, which, like all of her recipes, has only five ingredients. "It's made with green pepitas," says the host of 5 Ingredient Fix (and author of the book of the same name) and Food Network Challenge, both on Food Network. "So with dried cherries or cranberries, it has a great holiday color."
Pumpkin-seed dried-cherry trail mix
2 cups pepitas (baby pumpkin seeds)
1 cup almonds
¾ cup sunflower seeds
6 Tbs. maple syrup
1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
Toss the pepitas, almonds and seeds with the maple syrup, and spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes, until golden. After the mixture has cooled, stir in the dried fruit.
Surprise them with spiced cocoa
Canadian chef Nadia Giosia, aka Nadia G, host of Bitchin' Kitchen on Cooking Channel, learned a lesson in gift-giving when she made her favorite sweet "caramel with fleur de sel, a French-style sea salt" for her aunt and uncle. "If it doesn't have red sauce," she says, "my uncle's going to be confused by it. He was like, 'What's wrong with this stuff? It's salty.' "
Needless to say, she learned gift-giving Rule No. 1: Think about the recipient. "Stick with things everyone likes, like cocoa," she says. "Just because you love salty caramel doesn't mean everyone does."
So she came up with a simple, elegant cocoa mix to suit almost every palate.
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Combine the brown sugar, cocoa and cayenne, and pour the mixture into a Mason jar. On a nice card, handwrite instructions for turning the powder into hot cocoa:
Put ½ cup milk and 2 Tbs. cocoa mix in a Mason jar, and shake vigorously (the tight seal lets you shake and combine the milk and cocoa more completely than stirring allows). Add another ½ cup milk and shake again. Pour into a pan and bring to simmer, or pour into a mug and heat in the microwave.
Butter them up
Anne Thornton, host of Dessert First on Food Network, has a gift that she says makes everyone think "you're the fanciest person on the planet": flavored butters (aka compound butters). One of her favorites is basil butter, which is equally good on bread, fish, meats and vegetables.
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 pound unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
Simply blend the ingredients in a food processor and present in a beribboned glass jar.
Another favorite gift Thornton likes to give is a honey-walnut butter, which she packages along with a loaf of homemade apple bread.
1 pound butter
½ cup honey
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup walnuts
Simply blend the ingredients in a food processor and present in a little glass jar.
Give a bundle of bark
When she was in her early 20s, Sandra Lee made candies and cookies as holiday gifts for budget reasons. "Nowadays, it's not just about saving the money," says the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee on Food Network. "It's about creating something special — everything is so commercial at Christmas."
Still, years later, her friends look forward to a bundle of her chocolate bark, which is still quite economical. Perhaps the best part is that you can customize: use dark chocolate, white chocolate or milk chocolate; and add mix-ins like walnuts, candies or chocolate chunks. "I like to improvise," Lee says. "If a recipe calls for walnuts, you can use almonds. If a recipe calls for peppermint extract, you can use marshmallow extract. My job is to show you how to make a food one-of-a-kind. A lot of people feel like this is an exact science — it is by measurement, not by flavor. You can make it personal for someone you love, because it's about the person you're giving it to."
10-ounce package of chocolate chips
1 Tb. vegetable oil
1 tsp. extract (peppermint, almond, etc.)
Melt chocolate chips in the microwave (set at 50% power for three minutes, stirring halfway through). Add the vegetable oil and extract. Stir in nuts, dried fruit and/or candy bits, and spread it out in a baking pan lined with greased foil. Let it harden in the refrigerator for about two hours; then break apart into pieces.