Cooking Italian: A Dinner Party Story

People who love to eat are always the best people, rightly said Julia Child.  I say people who love to cook for their loved ones and also who love to eat are even more supreme.  A few weeks ago, my mom threw an epic Italian dinner party at her home.  It was the kind of dinner party that with a little planning and forethought the hostess could enjoy as well.  That seems to be the problem with entertaining at times. Unless the hostess is an easy going, come what may type (or has hired an onsite caterer), dinner parties have the potential for much stress and can be slightly less than fun for the person actually hosting the event.  To be honest, most of us for everyday dinner parties (or even special event ones) cannot afford to hirer a caterer.  The bulk of the work falls on the person hosting the event.  I want to share with my readers the plan for executing an Italian dinner party at home.  I learned a few more little gems from my mom last weekend on how to plan, execute, and actually enjoy a dinner party at home.  I was very proud of her endeavor.  My mom is not the easy going come what may type, she gets nervous as most of us do at the thought of a bunch of people (even family and ones she had invited) showing up to eat dinner.  Here is what I learned from my mom’s Italian dinner party with a few pictures taken along the way.

     The number one most important thing is planning.  Even if it isn’t some elaborate celebration, the element of planning cannot be over looked.  For my mom’s Italian dinner party she had invited 8 guests, bringing the count with her and my Dad to 10 diners.  I think her menu was pretty ambitious due to the amount of food she decided to make.  Not only did she serve a main entree with two side dishes, she had 4 appetizers, a salad, and dessert.  Here is the menu she created designed by my charming husband.  The best thing about this menu was that most of it could either be made ahead of time, elements could be prepped ahead of time, or dishes that needed to be made the day of the party were fairly simple.

In my opinion only one thing really needed a lot of attention the day of and that was the risotto with the many additions of stock and constant stirring. The dishes over all may have been simple but all had wonderful flavor profiles. Plan ahead when creating a menu, pick one or two star dishes that will really shine.  These will be the dishes that require most of the cook’s time on party day but if every thing else is able to be made ahead or at least prepped ahead of time the dinner will go much smoother.
Lets examine the menu above a little further.  Breaking it down by course here is a rundown of what she did.  First the antipasti:  The anchovy butter, mozzarella bites, and marinated chick peas could all be made 1-2 days ahead.  Just before dinner, the butter was placed on the crostini and topped with cheese popping it into the oven.

My mom used pre-purchased pesto for the zucchini, cutting down on some of the prep work.  This was also made the day of but only took about 15 minutes.  Only two things, crostini and zucchini with pesto required oven time.  Risotto, chicken with green olive sauce, and broccoli rabe were all made stovetop.  Prep work for the chicken dish, including trimming the chicken breast and making the sauce was done the day ahead, as was prep for the broccoli rabe. All that was needed on party day was to cook these dishes.  The risotto was the most finicky dish.  It requires a more watchful eye and is the reason why help in the kitchen is always appreciated (see below).  I was in charge of making the salad, which was super easy. The almond cake was made the day before as well.  So even though this menu may seem a little ambitious for a group of ten, it is really doable for the home cook.  It just takes a little planning.  Choose things that share oven temps, and can also be made stovetop so it doesn’t seem like a complicated ballet in the kitchen.  Use a combination of pre-purchased ingredients and homemade ones to save time and a little sanity in the kitchen.

Along with planning ahead comes the second tip to a successful dinner party: Enlist the help of others.  As a child we sometimes say stubbornly we want to do it ourselves, a dinner party is not the time to start acting like a child again.  Enlist the help of others.  I cannot stress that enough.  There are always people to count on for help.  In fact, it has been my experience that most of the time people will offer to help before having to be asked.  If that is the case, take them up on their offer.  Ask them to make a salad, bring some wine, or if they have nothing else planned that day ask for their assistance in the kitchen.  Other people like to show off their skills too, but may lack the confidence to throw their own dinner party. Maybe they are a whiz at salad making, have ridiculous knife kills invaluable to prep work, or are a supreme lover of all things wine knowing just the right bottle to go with the main entree, chicken with green olive sauce.  Give them that opportunity and privilege, their contribution may be one of the best additions to the dinner, and it may just give them the confidence to throw their own dinner.

Help in the kitchen is invaluable, and it is ok to say you need it.  Someone has to set the table, stir the risotto, watch the delicate crostini in the oven being careful to not let them be scorched, and cook the main entree.  Then someone must take pictures of the whole event to prove to people later, yes you did in fact pull off the whole cooking an Italian Dinner for 10.

It is impossible for one person to do all that and still enjoy the day,  I will be bold here and state it is impossible for one person period. It is not a failing to admit it.  Go ahead accept help in the kitchen.  It also is a great time to bond, cooking in a relaxed atmosphere at home with family and friends, chatting, exchanging ideas, and learning.  Having extra hands in the kitchen is a blessing especially when the extra hands are attached to the ones you love.

     Here is your chance to help us all out:  Leave me a comment below telling your story, What made your most successful dinner party a success?  Did you have help in the kitchen or do everything on your own?  Was it a theme dinner party, a pot luck, an over the top or just casual affair?  Were there any crazy cooking stories along the way?  Share your funny story either if it flopped or was a screaming success!
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