When you think of Italian food, you might think of hearty, cheesy pasta dishes. Though these meals can be satisfying for dinner, they can be too heavy for a lunchtime gathering. If you're hosting an Italian lunch, think beyond the traditional pasta to uncover lighter Italian dishes that will leave your guests satisfied. Think of lunchtime classics, like sandwiches, soup and salad, and give these traditional items a decidedly Italian twist.
Welcome your guests to your Italian lunch gathering with an assortment of light appetizers. Build a cheese tray featuring cheese native to the country, like fontina, mozzarella and provolone. Offer fresh fruit with mascarpone cheese, similar to American cream cheese, as a dip. Brush small slices of fresh Italian bread with olive oil, and top them with chopping tomatoes, herbs and asiago cheese for a homemade bruschetta.
Hearty Italians soups can be ideal for a lunchtime event. These soups are substantial enough to stand alone as the main course, or a cup of soup can complement other Italian lunch dishes. Minestrone is a classic Italian soup served in Italian restaurants across the country. Recreate this hearty dish at home by adding your favorite chopped vegetables, cannelli beans, potatoes and pasta to a chicken or beef broth. Top with fresh Parmesan cheese, and serve with crusty Italian bread hot out of the oven.
Paninis got their start in Italy, but they've hit the menus in the U.S. as well. Serve these Italian creations at your luncheon. Grab small loaves of bread suitable for one person to eat--ciabatta bread will work. Fill the panini with salami and an Italian cheese like provolone and your favorite vegetables. Italians also commonly fill paninis with prosciutto. Toast the panini so that it's hot. You can even drizzle the bread with garlic for an authentically Italian flavor.
Rich entrees like baked ziti or manicotti might be too heavy for your luncheon, but you don't have to abandon classic Italian dishes altogether. Serve chicken Marsala by browning chicken and serving it in a sauce made of chicken stock, Marsala wine, mushrooms and shallots. Chicken piccata offers a lighter lemon-based sauce for the chicken, topped with capers. Serve both dishes with a side of linguine in a butter-garlic sauce.
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