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A last-minute dinner without all the stress


For a cook, an impromptu meal, organized at the last minute, is often more enjoyable than a dinner planned weeks in advance. Typically, when I schedule a dinner party, I invite guests two weeks ahead. Then I spend several hours culling my files and food magazines for menu selections. The day before the dinner, I cook most of the dishes, and finally I arrange fresh flowers for the table and iron napkins. And, of course, there's the house to get cleaned.

Last-minute entertaining is much more spontaneous and certainly less stressful for me. This week, for example, when friends who had been searching for a new house telephoned to tell us that they had just bought their dream home, I invited them to bring photos of their future residence and come for supper the following evening.

Since I had to work the next day and had little time to spend in the kitchen, I improvised. I made mushroom and blue cheese crostini to serve with bowls of olives as appetizers; I prepared a green salad tossed in a balsamic dressing; and I arranged homemade biscotti (which a friend had brought me) on a platter to offer with coffee. For the main course, I ordered pasta entrees from a local Italian store, which sells delicious homemade pastas for takeout.

The evening was among the most relaxed I can remember. My husband and I didn't have our usual argument over who was going to straighten the house, because there wasn't enough time for a thorough cleaning. I used potted plants already on our dining table as a centerpiece, and I didn't start to cook until an hour before our invitees were due.

The crostini was a quick and successful recipe devised for the celebration and one I would enthusiastically use again when entertaining. I grilled slices of French bread, topped them with Gorgonzola cheese, and mounded them with a mixture of sauteed portobello and white mushrooms flavored with rosemary and bits of prosciutto. The crostini were prepared a half-hour ahead and then popped in the oven a few minutes before serving.

Portobello and Blue Cheese Crostini

Serves 12

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra oil for grilling bread

6 very thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), trimmed of excess fat and coarsely chopped

6 ounces portobello mushrooms, cleaned and diced into 1/2 -inch cubes

6 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, finely crushed (see Note)

12 ( 1/4 -inch-thick) diagonally cut slices from French baguette loaf

3 ounces blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large, heavy skillet until hot. Add chopped prosciutto and saute, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, several grinds black pepper and rosemary, and cook and stir until mushrooms are browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Set aside.

To grill bread, set stove-top grill pan brushed lightly with olive oil or large, heavy skillet coated lightly with olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add enough bread slices to fit comfortably in pan and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook other side until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. If needed, add more olive oil to grill pan or skillet.

To assemble, either slice thinly or crumble blue cheese. Top each bread slice with some blue cheese, then mound with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top. (Crostini can be prepared 30 minutes ahead. Arrange on baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Leave at cool room temperature.)

Bake crostini on middle rack at 350 degrees until heated through and cheese has melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and arrange on serving tray.

Note: To crush rosemary, use mortar and pestle or place rosemary in plastic bag and crush with meat pounder or rolling pin.

Pub Date: 02/22/99

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