Who doesn’t love a home cooked Italian meal? The epitome of warm & comforting. The aromas of a sauce that’s been simmering for hours, fresh basil & grated parmesan cheese have the power to draw anyone in.
I love hosting dinner parties, but I don’t want to be tied up in the kitchen once guests arrive. An Italian meal can be a perfect solution and this menu checks all the boxes:
- House smells AMAZING
- Gluten free entree
- Versatile appetizers
- Make ahead dessert
A great starter for an Italian themed dinner party is an antipasto platter (or individual platters). No big fuss, just a great assortment is all you need! ours donned some sliced fontina cheese, sharp white cheddar, marinated artichokes and banana peppers. Crackers, olives, cured meats & peppadews. Some fun additions, as in the photo below, are wrapping prosciutto around breadsticks and making your own marinated mozzarella. Having something out and ready to snack on takes a lot of pressure off of you, the host, & makes the timeline on serving the meal more casual.
Another important item to have ready to go when guests arrive is a delicious cocktail! For our Italian night in, we made Limoncello spritzers with homemade limoncello! Although limoncello normally takes 30 days (!) to infuse, our ‘Last Minute Limoncello’ is perfectly done in a whopping 2 hours with the help of one of my favorite kitchen tools, my sous vide wand. (Note that you can ABSOLUTELY purchase a bottle of limoncello at the liquor store as well:)).
- 2 Cups Vodka
- 6 Lemons – Peeled
- 1 1/4 Cups Sugar
- 2 Cups Water
- Start by setting your sous vide to 135. Alcohol doesn’t cook off until 172, so 135 is a perfect temperature for a lovely infusion
- Peel each lemon, taking care to avoid as much of the pith as possible. (The pith is the white part of any citrus fruit & is very bitter.)
- Add the lemon peels & vodka to a mason jar & submerge into the sous vide. Let it sit in the water for 2 hours.
- While the jar is in the water, make your simple syrup. Place sugar into a large saucepan & add water. simmer on medium low until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and let it cool.
- Once the vodka has been in for 2 hours, strain & mix it with the simple syrup. Allow to cool, and it is ready to use!
- For a great limoncello cocktail, pour 1.5 ounces over ice & top with 3 oz of prosecco & 3 oz of sparkling water, enjoy!
Once your guests have enjoyed some appetizers and have a cocktail in hand, you can slip away to put the finishing touches on dinner.
A sauce that can be made ahead and simmering on low until ready to serve. Delicious, creamy polenta that only takes a few minutes to finish off. I suggest, along with having the sauce simmering ahead of time, set your polenta liquid to boil.
Ragu Sauce Over Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Ingredients For Ragu
- 2 T olive Oil
- 1 lb Ground Beef
- 1 Lb Ground Sweet Italian Sausage
- 2 Carrots, Small Dice
- 4 Celery Ribs, Small Dice
- 1 Onion, Thinly Sliced
- 2 T Tomato Paste
- 1/3 Cup Dry Red Wine
- 1 Can Crushed Tomatoes
- 1 Cup Chicken Stock
- Red Pepper Flakes & Sea Salt to Taste
- Heat olive oil & add both beef & sausage. Cook them until browned. Strain out fat and reserve meat.
- Add onions, carrots & celery and cook for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
- Continue to sauté with tomato paste for 2 minutes & add wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half.
- Add crushed tomatoes & stock, season and let simmer.
For Creamy Parmesan Polenta
- 4 Cups Water
- 1 Cup Whole Milk
- 1 1/4 Cup Polenta (or Cornmeal)
- 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
- 4 T Unsalted Butter
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- Chopped Parsley and Parmesan Block for Garnish
- Bring the liquid to a boil. Gently sprinkle in the polenta, while whisking. Continue to cook, while stirring occasionally.
- After 15 minutes, check to see if the polenta is cooked to your liking. Season to taste (including adding more parmesan, if you would like.)
- Serve with Ragu sauce over, and top with shaved parmesan and chopped parsley. Enjoy.
Dark Chocolate Espresso Budino
- 8 oz Chopped Dark Chocolate
- 2 T Unsalted Butter
- 6 Egg Yolks
- 1/3 Brown Sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp Espresso Powder
- 2 T Cocoa Powder
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1 Cup Whole Milk
- 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- Mix together egg yolks, sugar, espresso powder, cocoa powder, cream, milk, salt & vanilla in a medium saucepan.
- Whisk together while cooking over medium heat until thickened.
- Strain out any cooked egg bits and stir in chocolate & butter.
- Pour into ramekins and chill at least 2 hours before serving.
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 2 tsp Vanilla
- Add all ingredients to mixer with whisk attachment (or do by hand with a whisk – will take about double the time). Whisk together until it reaches the perfect consistency. Add a dollop to the top of your budino and enjoy!