Last evening we hosted an Italian dinner party for two other couples, and I’ll be working my way through the menu items over the next few posts. For many years, Italian food was a special occasion staple in my kitchen, but less so in recent years as I’ve been exploring other food traditions. It was a pleasure to return to Italian cooking; it felt like home!
I planned a menu with five courses. That’s not as ambitious as it sounds, because for the most part I was cooking food that was familiar to me. And, I used some strategies to make this dinner party easy on me, such as some cooking ahead, using a slow cooker for the stew and including a couple of menu items that took little effort. Planning ahead and having pre-minced garlic, chile and herbs set out in advance so they were to hand when I needed them was important too. I had also set out the dishes for each course on a side counter in the kitchen, and that was another big help in keeping the evening moving smoothly. Finally, it was good to have assistance with the serving; I plated the dishes and the CE served them to our guests. We were a well-(olive) oiled team, and as each course was cleared we stacked the dirty dishes neatly on a counter out of view of the dining room.
All these strategies allowed me to spend a good amount of time with our guests, enjoying their excellent company. The Culinary Enthusiast said I wasn’t in the kitchen too long at any one time, and no one was asking where I was or feeling they needed to step in to help. I was quite relaxed actually, and that’s important for making your guests feel comfortable. After all, it’s hard for your company to enjoy themselves if the hosts seemed frazzled!
Italian Dinner Party for Six
(each line was served as a separate course)
Antipasti Platter Featuring Peperonata
Pasta with Garlic, Chile and Lime
Spezzatino di Maiale (Pork Stew) With White Bean Mash
Romaine, Radicchio and Tomato Salad with Parmesan Shavings
Trio of Desserts: Panna Cotta, Amaretti and Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar
Most of the recipes for this meal came from my trusty Italian cookbook Rustic Italian Cooking by Kathleen Sloan. I’ve been turning to this book for about 12 years now, ever since I became enamoured of the Tuscan lifestyle and Italian food. I haven’t made it to Italy yet, but cooking this food is the next best thing!
As the appetizer course, served in the living room as our guests began to get to know each other, I created an antipasti platter. It included a variety of olives, mini bocconcini with olive oil and pepper, shaved proscuitto, mild Genoa salami, crostini and a bowl of Peperonata.
I made the Peperonata in the afternoon, and let it cool to room temperature for serving. It was easy to make, and is a medley of onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes that meld into each other through slow cooking, creating an almost jam-like consistency. The flavours of the vegetable ingredients were complemented by the sweet tanginess of balsamic vinegar.
I am so glad I tried this recipe. Not ony did it make an excellent topping for the crostini, but I can think of many other uses for it — as a side dish for pork or chicken, condiment-style for a sandwich and more. Today I used the refrigerated leftovers in our breakfast, but I’ll tell you more about that another time.
Peperonata (Sauteed Peppers, Tomato and Onion)
Recipe slightly adapted from Kathleen Sloan’s Rustic Italian Cooking. Serves 4 to 6. I left out one red onion and one red pepper as I didn’t need such a large quantity, and substituted a yellow pepper for green since I don’t care for green peppers. This made enough for guests to top crostini, with the leftovers being a major component of today’s breakfast.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
- 1 large orange bell pepper, cut into strips
- 2 large ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used tomatoes I froze in September)
- 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (you could also use red wine vinegar)
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 10 minutes). Add the sliced peppers and stir to coat with oil. Add more olive oil if required. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes, parsley, vinegar and salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring from time to time. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.