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When I was a girl, there were never fewer than 20 guests at Christmas. There was so much food that we'd inevitably forget to serve some of it: once we even left Aunt Millie's stuffed mushrooms sitting in the oven. Today my table is smaller and my time is tighter, so I've devised an Italian-inspired feast that takes a little more than three hours to prepare. Warm chickpeas with balsamic are a speedy first-course crostini topping, and mascarpone cream dresses up store-bought panettone for dessert. I can prepare both these recipes while the main-course osso buco braises in the oven and the barley orzotto accompaniment cooks on the stove. When dinner is served, no one would guess that I was taking it easy just a few hours before.

Michele Scicolone is the author of Savoring Italy (Time-Life Books) and the co-author, with her husband, Charles, of Pizza Any Way You Slice It! (Broadway Books).

Published December 1999
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