Italian Dinner Party: Appetizers and Cocktails

Who doesn’t love Italian food? It has become a mainstay of American cuisine and seems to be the epitome of “comfort food.”  Many classic Italian dishes can be made ahead of time which makes it perfectly suited to a dinner party for a crowd. We invited twelve friends, some old, some new, for an Italian themed dinner party al fresco.

This is the first of a three-part series. Today’s blog will cover the appetizers and drinks. Next week’s blog will address the table setting, and the following week will cover the dinner menu and recipes.

The Signature Cocktail:  Sparkling Negroni

The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail developed by a bartender in Florence in 1919 as an adaptation of an Americano.  When the bartender replaced the soda water with gin and added an orange peel zest instead of lemon, the Negroni was born.

A signature cocktail is a festive way to set the tone for the evening. Preparing the cocktail in a punch bowl or large pitcher also allows the host to make drinks ahead and not have to deal with last minute mixing.

I decided to add prosecco to the classic cocktail to cut some of the bitterness of the Campari.  Here is the recipe for a crowd.

Sparkling Negroni (Serves 12-16)

  • 1 cup Campari
  • 1 cup Gin
  • 1 cup Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 bottles prosecco
  • Orange peel zest for garnish

Mix the Campari, gin and vermouth in a punch bowl with ice. Add prosecco and gently stir until blended. Pour into glasses and garnish with sliver of orange peel zest.

I also set up a self-serve water dispenser with lemon slices and made Italian grapefruit soda and Pellegrino Italian sparkling water available as non-alcoholic drink options.

The Antipasto Board

In Italian, antipasto means “before the meal” and is typically a selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, and other finger foods intended to stimulate the appetite. Antipasto is a great choice for a crowd because it is simple to put together and can be endlessly varied, made more or less complicated depending on your preferences, time and budget.

My antipasto platter included a selection of cured meats, a hard cheese, a soft cheese, olives, pickled peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and grapes.

I used shipping tags to identify containers of avocado honey, white bean rosemary spread, and garlic mustard aioli. Guests are more likely to try foods if they know what is in them.

Condiments are a nice addition to any antipasto board to provide variety and additional flavors.  Along with a garlic aioli mustard, I added a dish of avocado honey which is particularly delicious drizzled over cheese. To complete the antipasto board, I made a white bean spread flavored with lemon, garlic, and fresh rosemary and served it with baguette toasts and crackers.  Here’s the recipe:  http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/rosemary-lemon-white-bean-dip-recipe.html

Note the interplay of colors, textures and flavors. The round, smooth, colorful grapes contrast with the crunchy linear bread sticks, while the chewy saltiness of the cured meats plays off the creaminess of the cheese.

For my table setup, I used a wine crate from Italy as a platform and tucked in fresh greenery from my yard around the perimeter for additional color and texture. Two cans of San Marzano tomatoes were used in the meat sauce I made for our dinner, and I thought the cans were so colorful and authentic looking, I decided to recycle them for table decor. A bouquet of flowers was arranged in one can and bread sticks were placed in the other.

I was delighted to find a set of rather ingenious appetizer stem holder plates online and couldn’t wait to see how my guests liked them. They have an opening for the stem of the wine glass to be inserted so that both the glass and food can be easily handled with only one hand. Guests commented on how nice it was to have a free hand and not to have to awkwardly juggle their glasses and food plates! I have a feeling these plates will make regular appearances at future parties. In case you’d like to get some for yourself, here’s a link:  https://www.amazon.com/Oenophilia-Bamboo-Hors-Oeuvres-Plate/dp/B003ZIV12K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1496155036&sr=8-1&keywords=bamboo+wine+plates+appetizer  

After our guests, some of whom didn’t previously know each other, spent a little time together sharing Negronis and antipasto, they were in a good mood and ready for the meal.  Stay tuned next week for part two in this series which will feature the table setting.

While most of our guests congregated around the appetizer table, a separate seating area was available with plenty of space to comfortably relax.

2 thoughts on “Italian Dinner Party: Appetizers and Cocktails

  1. It is easy and very healthy. Would be good spread on sandwiches or as a dip with veggies! Let me know if you try it.

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