A Sultry Italian Summer Meal and Tips for Hosting Large Parties

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This past weekend, Colin’s parents came to town and we wanted to make sure to have a nice big dinner with all our friends so they could meet our adopted family here in Dallas. I started scheming the week before about what kind of meal to cook that would be delicious, but not require major slaving over the stove. I knew we’d be busy with work and entertaining and driving around, and a complicated meal, especially in the heat of summer was just not going to cut it.

Some Bon Apetit magazines lying around finally triggered the right inspiration – a sultry Italian summer vacation– all on your plate. What I love about Italian food is that the real stuff, not your run of the mill alfredo or spaghetti, is so much about fresh ingredients coming together for a dance that brings out the best in each ingredient w/out hiding the natural flavors beneath too much extra hooplah.

Summery Italian foods bring to mind lots of fresh squeezed lemon and seafood. The sultry heat of summer comes in when you add a layer of varying textures to the dishes. The juxtaposition of light flavors against creamy texture; crunchy against citrusy, rich against fresh… this texture dimension is like putting a pretty girl in the right dress to turn her into a head-turner. That’s what I was searching for – dishes with va-va-va-VOOM! Sofia Loren languidly resting on a curvy serving platter ready to seduce your palate.

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And so, I pulled together this menu for 24 and executed it with some planning and quite a few helping hands, to turn into a lovely evening dinner on the roof for all our guests.

 
(Conducting a FLAVA SYMPHONY!)

Appetizers:

– Prosciutto, fig jam, cantaloupe, smoked gouda and basil bruschetta (salty, sweet, fresh, crunchy)
– Lemony white bean dip with pita chips (creamy texture + bright lemon flavor)
– Negronis (Alcohol to loosen everyone up)

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Mains:
– Slow cooker Italian pork tenderloin with tomato, garlic and oregano (rich flavor, shredded texture)
– Low & Slow roasted salmon with fresh basil pesto (silky texture + strong/bright flavor)

Sides:
– Watermelon, feta, mint salad (fresh to death w/ a touch of salty and the surprise of mint!)
– Zucchini ribbon & roasted almond salad (crunchy fresh veggies + crunchy mellow nuts)
– Garlic lemon sauteed rapini (slightly bitter greens)
– Lemon linguine (Filler upper starch for the carb lovers)

Dessert:
Blackberry semifreddo with warm blueberry sauce (tart against the fluffiest, lightest creaminess)
– Lots of limoncello! (More Alcohol. Werd.)

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Some of my lessons learned on cooking the biggest meal I have ever cooked (so far!):
– Salads are great b/c you can slice/chop ahead and easily delegate to someone to assemble
– Two main dishes makes it easier to prep two things in parallel b/c you can use different appliances in your kitchen, and also allow you to satisfy more diverse palates
– Learn to LOVE your slow cooker!
– Ask your guests to bring ICE if you do not have an industrial strength ice maker
– The hardest part was trying to multitask cook & talk to guests – minimize even MORE of the work you have to do right before dinnertime. Sauteeing the rapini and making the pasta with sauce were the things I did last, and thank goodness I had a sous-chef (Mark!) to help out at the very end.

At the end of the day, there are little things more satisfying that successfully pulling off a good meal to set of a great night with the people you love. Thank you to all my friends who brought dishes & drinks to share, carried tables & chairs, and also helped me dig out of the tornado left in the kitchen!!! You guys are amazing and are such a pleasure to serve!

Lookout for some of the recipes in the following days. First up is a Blackberry Semifreddo which blew my mind with how tasty and easy it was!! Fair warning that you may or may not find yourself face-first inside the bowl. 🙂

 

All photos thanks to Mei Chun of http://jaufoto.com

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