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Emporio Rulli bakes its panettone in the Bay Area.
A bottle of wine is always a nice gift for your party host or hostess. Or you could pull away from the pinot pack and show up with a little something different: Panettone is breaking out big time, and as long as you leave some on the shelves for us longtime aficionados, we're OK with that. For the uninitiated, panettone is an Italian sweet bread with an ethereal texture -- thanks to a laborious rising/baking process. It's typically studded with raisins and/or candied citrus, but you can also find varieties that incorporate chocolate, hazelnuts, chestnuts or liqueur. When it comes to panettone, you often get what you pay for: A $5 or $10 one will have a coarser texture and may be best toasted; a $25 version should be tender and irresistible on its own. Try Emporio Rulli's panettone, handmade in the Bay Area (locations, online orders: www.rulli.com); or the imported ones carried by La Villa Deli in San Jose (Fiasconaro, Rustichella and Le Logge brands) or PIQ Bakery in Berkeley (G. Cova brand). The NapaStyle Marinated Parmesan Dip by noted Napa chef Michael Chiarello is deliciously addictive. This blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago cheeses, garlic, chili, herbs and olive oil can be used atop bruschetta or for a dip. Besides the original version, there's one with prosciutto and another with Calabrian peppers. It's $12.95 a jar at Chiarello's NapaStyle stores in Los Gatos, Danville (Auburn James Winery) and Yountville, or online at www.napastyle.com. You won't find them advertised, but See's Marshmints are still made at this time of year for fans of those emerald-green mint, marshmallow and dark chocolate confections. (If you grew up in California, you'll remember when the See's prepacked box came with one of these fabulous candies.) For years, the company has offered them only via mail order, along with their red cinnamon counterparts. The minimum shipping rate is $7.65, so consider combining orders -- or add your voice to the growing chorus of customers clamoring at Sees.com for Marshmints to be sold again in the stores. $16 for 10 ounces. 800-347-7337; www.sees.com.
-- Linda Zavoral, firstname.lastname@example.org