Bake my day: No table should be without these oven-made breadsticks
After five decades of cooking professionally, one of the most important secrets I've learned for making people feel a meal is memorable -- whether it is eaten in a restaurant or at home -- is to add special little touches. Garnish a pasta dish with fresh herbs, quickly saute fresh fruit compote to serve over ice cream or alongside cake, or offer flavored butter instead of a plain spread, and your guests will be blown away by your creativity and generosity.
I think every home cook could benefit from that lesson, as the busiest time of year for entertaining quickly approaches. Just a few weeks from now, you may be throwing a Halloween party. No sooner will you clean up from that lively gathering, and Thanksgiving will be just around the corner. The entire month of December seems to bring its own round of parties, from pre-Christmas buffets to big family sit-down dinners to elegant New Year cocktail get-togethers.
So, I've been wondering if there was one simple recipe I could share that you could have on hand to see you all the way from now to the new year. When the answer came to me, it seemed both obvious and ingenious, as all such delightful additions to home entertaining should be: Prepare crispy homemade breadsticks!
Even more than a lovingly baked loaf of bread, breadsticks will win delighted reactions from your guests. They're fun to serve with cocktails, wine or beer. They make memorable additions to a buffet, and are just as welcome passed at the dinner table. And they can seem as casual or fancy as the foods they accompany and the style of your party.
Better still, breadsticks are simple to make. I base mine on the same easy pizza dough I use in my restaurants (though you could substitute store-bought, ready-to-bake dough, too). Since the sticks are so thin, baking takes just minutes, not the hour or more for a large loaf.
Best of all, breadsticks let you be creative with ease, since you can coat them with all sorts of flavorings. In the following version, I brush them with easily made garlic-chili oil before baking and dust them with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. But you could substitute plain olive oil and dustings of your own favorite spices; or roll them in sesame seeds or poppy seeds; or replace the Parmesan with other cheeses, which you could even knead lightly into the dough before you roll out and cut the sticks.
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Try them first for Halloween, adding extra garlic to keep away the vampires. After that, I'm sure you'll add them to your holiday repertoire -- and then make them a regular addition to your table year-round!
SPICY GARLIC-CHILI PARMESAN BREADSTICKS
6 ounces (185 g) Wolfgang's Pizza Dough (recipe follows), or store-bought bread dough