Italian food is arguably one of the world’s most prevalent cuisines, reaching far beyond the borders of Italy. While different regions of the country have distinct culinary traditions, the cooking style as a whole is known for its roasted vegetables, antipastos, pastas, pizzas, gelato and other classic desserts. Entertaining with an Italian menu is as simple or as complex a kitchen experience as you desire, but either way, it’s likely to be delicious.
Bruschetta is a classic Italian appetizer consisting of sliced bread---usually a French baguette, ciabatta or Italian bread---topped with a few simple ingredients, such as diced tomatoes, chopped garlic, sliced basil, shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. It can be broiled in the oven or toasted on the grill. Toppings aren't limited to the classic tomato and basil. Bruschetta can be made with any number of ingredients, such as fontina cheese and sauteed spinach, farmer's cheese and roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers and gorgonzola and a sweeter toast of gorgonzola cheese with honey.
The antipasto platter is another traditional Italian appetizer that doubles as a meal, depending on how much of it you eat. It’s an assortment of foods, usually consisting of meats, roasted, grilled or marinated vegetables, olives and cheeses. A single platter could include marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, large green olives with pits intact, slices of fresh mozzarella and smoked provolone, and sliced Genoa salami and sopressata. Make the platter your own by combining your favorite Italian meats, olives, cheeses and vegetables. Don’t use marinated vegetables from the jar if you have time to prepare them from scratch. If you don’t, consider serving grilled vegetables instead.
Pasta to Order
Making pasta to order for guests at a party sounds like it involves a lot of time in the kitchen but with some preparation, it works more like a pasta station. Make three or four types of pasta, such as spinach and tomato ravioli, egg ravioli filled with salmon, mushroom fusilli and artichoke-flavored fettuccine. Offer as many pasta toppings as possible. Make at least two different tomato sauces ahead of time and offer additional toppings like butternut squash wedges, blanched peas and asparagus, basil pesto, sautéed mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, pitted and diced black olives, roasted garlic, toasted pine nuts, fresh ricotta, freshly grated Parmesan and gorgonzola cheeses.
Rather than making a single extravagant Italian dessert, try a few simpler dessert dishes. Poached blood oranges are full of flavor and very juicy. The oranges and their sauce make a fresh topping for vanilla gelato or ricotta ice cream. Roasted peaches drizzled with balsamic syrup is another light Italian dessert. Serve biscotti with hazelnuts and amaretti cookies for the coffee crowd. To round out the dessert choices, offer honey and figs.