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Published December 04, 2012, 11:40 PM

Home with the Lost Italian: Traditional toast, beef dish great party starters

High season of entertaining has begun. This week, we’re focusing on a cocktail party with some great ideas to spice up your special event. When planning a cocktail party, we like to keep things simple and fun to ensure the food and beverage will be a success.

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

High season of entertaining has begun. This week, we’re focusing on a cocktail party with some great ideas to spice up your special event.

When planning a cocktail party, we like to keep things simple and fun to ensure the food and beverage will be a success.

But where do you start? Try to find recipes that can be prepared in advance, so that you’re not doing too much right before the party. And serve something new as a signature beverage – guests love this, and it’s a great way to get the conversation flowing.

It never hurts to have a story to share, too, so we’re going to take you on a little trip to Italy to get things started.

“Al secolo!” This is a common cheer heard among Sicilian Italians. The phrase means something along the lines of “to the century” or may you “live for a century.” It is usually exclaimed as a toast with glasses raised in celebration to commemorate a special event.

For Tony, his fondest memories of this expression take him back to hot summers in Sicily, where he spent several months during his youth visiting his extended family in the small town of Rosolini. Each visit would end with a grand feast, attended by family and friends, and the glasses would be raised (many times) throughout the evening with impassioned cries of “Al Secolo!”

Today, Tony continues this tradition both in our home and at Sarello’s, but presents the toast at the start of each evening rather than at the end.

A toast is special, a way to thank your guests for coming, to say, “I’m so glad you’re here with me.” The first thing Tony does when guests arrive is greet them with a glass of Prosecco and teach them his family’s toast.

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling white wine from the region of Veneto. Its classic flavor carries notes of citrus, almonds, honey, melon and pear, and you can find a nice variety to choose from in our local liquor stores. Clean and crisp with small bubbles, Prosecco varies from slightly dry to dry and is always well-received.

Prosecco is a friendly wine – not too big, not too small, it’s just right. Festive, fun and affordable, Prosecco can be enjoyed during any part of a meal, but we love to serve it at the beginning.

This makes it the perfect choice to serve with our featured food recipe, Blackened Sirloin with Horseradish Cream Sauce.

This dish can work as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres. It’s a great way to add some heartiness to the traditional cocktail fare.

The secret to this recipe is in how you cook and slice the meat.

Coating the steak with freshly ground pepper and searing it before roasting help create a blackened effect. Cook the sirloin to a perfect medium rare and cut the steak as thin as possible – the thinner, the better. The medium-rare temperature preserves the flavor of the sirloin, and the thin slices help ensure that every bite is tender.

This recipe can be made up to two days in advance.

We serve our Blackened Sirloin with homemade Horseradish Cream Sauce, which can also be prepared ahead of time. This simple yet amazingly delicious condiment is always a crowd-pleaser, and Tony often jokes that I serve beef only as an excuse to enjoy the horseradish cream sauce.

To serve, place the sliced sirloin on a platter and garnish with thinly sliced red onions and capers. Serve the horseradish sauce on the side.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com or http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

Blackened Sirloin

Serves 12 for hors d’oeuvres

Ingredients

2 10 ounce top sirloin steaks

1 cup fresh coarse ground black pepper (½ cup per steak)

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, (1 tablespoon per steak)

For serving: 1 red onion and capers

Directions

Lightly sprinkle meat with salt, then coat completely with pepper. Spread the pepper onto a plate or baking dish and press the steak into the pepper on all sides until coated.

Heat a sauté pan over high heat until hot, then add olive oil. Let the oil become hot, then place the steak in the pan. If your pan allows, you may cook more than one steak at a time. Sear the steak for two minutes on all four sides, then remove meat from pan, transfer to a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350 degrees.

For medium rare (the ideal temperature for this recipe), keep in the oven for three to four minutes. Immediately refrigerate until cool enough to wrap each steak in plastic, and return to the refrigerator for at least three hours, or overnight if possible. This recipe can be prepared up to two days in advance.

Two hours prior to serving, carve the meat as thinly as possible and place onto serving platter. Cover the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with thinly sliced red onions (cut into rings) and capers, and serve with horseradish cream sauce on the side.

Horseradish Cream Sauce

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients

1 pint sour cream

2 heaping tablespoons prepared horseradish

2-3 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Mix all ingredients together, and add more horseradish, lemon, salt and pepper as desired. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy with beef tenderloin, prime rib, or a great steak.

Tony’s Tip: Prepare at least two hours before serving for the best flavor. This sauce is a great accompaniment to beef and can be made several days in advance. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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