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MIdwest dinner for Italians

Hey all, I am in need of some help. I will be going to Ancona, a small town on the eastern coast of Italy, in June and will be cooking a dinner for a family of 13 italians. I really want to make them a very traditional midwestern summer dinner and here were my thoughts,

Deviled Eggs
I need something else maybe a dip of sorts

First course
Fresh tomato gazpacho
Needs something

pan fried chicken
Mashed potatoes
Sauted fresh corn of the cob?
A mixed salad

Strawberry short cake with vanilla ice cream

Not sure about availibility or ease of making this menu, any thoughts?

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  1. Onion dip with ruffles would be fun. Mini pigs in a blanket, saw this the other day on FN (Hardy Boys), cut dogs into smaller pieces and wrap with puff pastry strips. I thought Gazpacho was a Spanish dish. Not sure if fried green tomatoes are midwestern, but they are good. I like to throw my corn, husks and all in the oven at 350 for 30 min. They come out perfect with all their corny flavor intact! Just peel back the husks and the silk peels right off. What about a Jello salad?

    1. First of all, Ancona is not a small town, it's a provincial capital as well as capital of the Marche region, population 100k +.

      Deviled eggs would be fine, but bring your own mustard and paprika, if they figure in your recipe. Guacamole might be an idea. You can probably get avocados from Israel, but they probably won't be ripe when you buy them. Celery boats with gorgonzola would work. What do you normally eat?

      I'd nix gazpacho. It's not midwestern, it's Spanish and has become quite well known in Italy. Again, what do you normally eat for a first course? A three-bean salad might work, but make sure the green beans are cooked tender or the Italians won't eat them.

      Pan-fried chicken would be good, but no fresh corn. Even if you see ears (panocchie), they will make you weep for the cornfields of North America. Canned corn is OK, but not very interesting.

      Strawberry shortcake would probably work.

      I have to say, I think this is very ambitious and risks being thankless. I do modified July 4 barbecue stuff here in Rome for a gang of young and not-so-young Italian engineers and almost always have leftover cole slaw, but they do love the hamburgers and are pretty good with the potato salad. The Italian dishes go much faster. I would love for your Anconetani to see how delicious a midwestern summer dinner can be, but think about this very carefully. You're right to start early.

      5 Replies
      1. re: mbfant

        I was thinking potato salad too. I think they would balk at pasta salad. Can you buy dressing in Italy? You could use it as a veggie dip.

        1. re: ginnyhw

          Ranch dressing- the "Ranch" disappeared.

          1. re: ginnyhw

            i'm wondering if the mayonaisse-y and sweet style dressings, like for cole slaw and 3-bean salad, may flop. italians simply don't eat that way. and definitely no pasta salad. potato salad with a vinaigrette dressing maybe.

            agree about nixing the gazpacho.

            i'm not from the midwest, but are onion dip or pigs in a blanket really the highlight of that local cuisine?

            i don't know how much time you'll have between arriving and your meal, but it makes far more sense to me to head to the local markets, buy what looks best and do your midwestern twist on it.

            1. re: ginnyhw

              I'd be amazed if you can buy ranch dressing in Italy. I think it's exclusively American - you don't get it in the UK either.

              1. re: ginnyhw

                Caution on potato salad: my mom made a typical summer picnic meal as a thank-you to an Italian family who'd fed us a very nice holiday lunch - this was in a small town near Brindisi. Fried chicken, green salad and potato salad, our old family recipe of potatoes, eggs and chopped onion plus mayonnaise. The chicken and green salad were well received, but the potato salad was apparently inedible to them because of the onion. They were polite about it, but their aversion was all too obvious.

            2. Hmm. I'm not under the impression that fresh corn is very prevalent in Italy- I think that's a pretty American thing (maybe others can say for sure?). I also don't think the color would be right-- to many browns, yellows, and beiges might not look too appetizing. What about fresh peas and pearl onions? For the apps, Chowhound just had a recipe for carmelized onion dip which is a homemade spin on French Onion Dip-- might be yummy. The gazpacho doesn't strike me as quite right either, but I can't think of a great alternative that is specifically midwestern. I actually wonder if you could do a spin on the goat cheese croquette salad with fried cheese curds over salad as a first course? That would certainly be midwestern! Or maybe a plate of local cheeses and some sliced beer-poached grilled brats (not sure what your travel plans are, if transport would be feasible) with good local mustard and some pickles (kind of an American antipasto plate). A little heavy, though.

              1. I definitely see where you're going with the whole thing! My suggestions:

                Deviled eggs
                carrots and celery with french onion dip (the real stuff, not the powdered mix)

                grilled mixed veggies
                potato salad
                three-bean salad (or a layered salad, or a jello mold, or copper penny salad)
                big plate of sliced tomatoes -- this is absolutely a fixture at all summer meals in my family, and has been since my grandfather was a wee lad

                fried chicken
                burgers or brats

                Strawberry shortcake with whipped cream UNLESS you're making the ice cream yourself!

                While I love them, I think mashed potatoes and gravy are far too heavy and hot for summertime.

                Sounds like SO much fun! :)

                1. Nix the gazpacho. I doubt you'll find much if any corn on the cob worth eating: it's not only too early in the season, but it's really a North American thing to eat. Polenta is probably the most commonly found form of maize in certain Italian regions, but it would be hard to replicate the many uses of sweet corn in the American diet. (As for cornmeal: If spoonbread were midwestern rather than from the upper South, I'd suggest that, particularly the versions where egg whites and yolks are separated.)

                  Another dessert to consider would be Shaker lemon pie.

                  1. I think you really have to do the chips and onion dip (the Lipton mix kind). Oddly enough it was the first thing that popped into my mind and then a couple of other people mentioned it too. I guess you will have to bring the soup mix over with you. I'm don't know about the availability of sour cream in Italy.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: pemma

                      no sour cream, no corn on the cob, and definitely no dressing. Not likely to find bratwurst either, but regular Italian sausages are great.

                      You could bring cornbread mix. The onion dip may fall flat or may not. Tomato salad is a great idea. Crema or vaniglia-flavored gelato would be fine.

                      I would tread carefully with the Jello business. As general advice, I'd seek common ground (tomato salad, bean salad, potato salad).
                      Amazingly, I have actually heard Italians say how good they thought Pringles were, so that's safe (though I would rather see you use normal chips). Pringles are available here.

                      1. re: mbfant

                        Can you get Jello in Italy now? Years ago we had a relative there who loved it and we had to bring it over to her.

                        1. re: pemma

                          I will confess it has never occurred to me to look for Jello, but I would guess it's not available. In any case, I would not include it on the menu. The guests wouldn’t get the -- let's call it -- allusion and would just find it bizarre.

                          1. re: mbfant

                            I don't think you can generalize like that. As I said, I had an Italian relative that loved it. Maybe put some fruit in it for desert. Italians love their fruit for desert. And I don't know these people, but I'm thinking they should approach this dinner as an adventure to expose themselves to some different foods.

                            1. re: pemma

                              i'm of italian descent, have traveled to italy numerous times. saying this, i mean no disrespect, but italians, much like the french, have an inherent sense of superiority about their cuisine and way of eating. the foundation of italian cooking is the best and freshest ingredients available, prepared simply. while it may be a visual curiosity, the jello-fruit mold is not going to change their mind-set.

                              there is a reason these things aren't found in italian markets, homes or menus. supply and demand, ya know?

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                You know what's funny? Jacques Pepin loves Jello and Oreos-- read it in The Apprentice. And all countries, yes even Italy and France, have their versions of odd (to outsiders) but popular pre-packaged food items... If your guests are relaxed and have a sense of humor it will be fine. Plus it is, like it or not, a pretty American thing which it sounds like is what the OP (and we can assume she knows her guests or has a sense of what she wants to accomplish through the meal) is going for... In my experience there's a definite gap between how Europeans style their eating habits to Americans (with the goal of proving their superiority in this area) and the way they actually eat-- I've had fabulous meals in Italy and France in homes and in restaurants but I've also seen plenty of short cuts and crappy food. Their may be a bigger focus on home cooking and fresh ingredients than in the US, but it's by no means universal.

                                1. re: Procrastibaker

                                  i've met pepin numerous times, and much like julia child, he doesn't like oreos nearly as much now that they are no longer made with lard. :)

                                  agreed that there are crap food and bad/lazy home cooks the world over. however, plenty of posters on here have expressed doubt over the viability of the op's projected menu. if he/she can even find corn on the cob, it won't be worth eating, so why serve it? to prove a point?

                                  pan-fried or deep fried chicken, potato salad, cornbread, tomato salad all can be made with their local ingredients, as could a fresh fruit pie for dessert. that all sounds pretty american to me.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    I would go with a nice pork roast for real midwest chow as I know it (Iowa division), with the sides you suggest (or no potato salad, instead of it cornsticks/muffins and coleslaw) and a peach pie if peaches are available then, if not, other seasonal fruit pie - raspberry maybe? Fried chicken and barbecue (out in my opinion because of the sweet with meat issue) seem more southern to me.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      How about some kind of baked bean?

                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                        i can't imagine finding molasses over there. or her peeps wanting to eat it.

                                  2. re: hotoynoodle

                                    I am of Italian descent, too, and have traveled to Italy numerous times. I know what you mean, about the sense of superiority about their cuisine. But, if you start with the premise that they won't like anything unless it's Italian, then why bother at all?

                                    1. re: pemma

                                      that's not my premise, but i'm also not from the midwest, so don't know what's best representative of that region. however, i seriously doubt it's jello salad or pigs in a blanket.

                                      second, the op is setting themselves up to fail by seeking ingredients that may not be available and if they are will be inferior.

                                      gloppy gravies, sweet bbq sauces and heavy mayonnaise-y dressings will simply not be well-received.

                                      besides bbq (which is also southern and texan) i think of lots of farm-fresh veggies, copious amounts of pork and chicken and giant fruit pies when i think the midwest. so it strikes me strange that so many think of processed foods when planning this menu. that's exactly the type of stuff that makes many europeans stick their noses up about american food. and imo, rightly so.

                                      <shrugs> what do i know. i grew up in brooklyn.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        i agree with Hotoy's post, particularly the penultimate paragraph. the op wants to serve a traditional midwestern meal, not a "retro" meal/1950's packaged food-fest. any such traditional meal will be heavy on the vegetable sides and seasonal garden vegetables and fruits. the op would be better served buying fresh local vegetables the day of the meal and preparing them simply and seasonally, than by hauling cheap packaged foods halfway across the globe to have these foods be exhibited as what's wrong with american cooking.

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          lol, which was part of my original reply yesterday.

                        2. Another thought, if available BBQ ribs, baked beans, potato salad or three bean salad. Cornbread with corn kernals and sage cooked in, or with cheese and roasted chilies (canned green ones), I like to make a tomato, avacado, red onion, and corn salad, with a little vinegar and olive oil. Have you considered any shrimp dishes?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: JEN10

                            I didn't even think about baked beans or corn bread, but I fully agree that either or both would be great additions!

                            1. re: JEN10

                              Europeans from several different countries of my acquaintance do not like sweet with meat (as in bbq sauce) at all.

                            2. you just won't be able to get good corn on the cob, or if you can, it's a miracle and you certainly can't count on it. nix it. nix gazpacho (spanish). nix ranch dressing ideas (west coast).

                              fried chicken and mashed potatoes w/gravy, salad and shortcake are good. anything along the lines of traditional thanksgiving dinner might be a good thought. american cakes and pies are fascinating to europeans ime. use fresh bread/biscuits with whipped honey butter and available summer vegetables like summer squashes and fresh tomatoes to make the vegetable sides to fill out the menu (and lighten it) rather than packaged foods.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: soupkitten

                                Good biscuits would be something especially appropriate.

                              2. I think a bean salad with avocados and a red wine viniagrette would be good.

                                1. how about an american--or midwestern--preparation of pork. tenderloin sandwiches? ribs?
                                  bbq chops?

                                  american cocktails?

                                  1. To be honest, this project kind of scares me. Of course, what will be fresh and available in the local market will determine your final choices. That being said, off the top of my head I'd probably go with a marinated beet carrot salad on bibb lettuce, a very savory roast beef, fresh peas, sweet potato mash, and a fresh fruit pie

                                    1. I don't know how much experience you have in cooking for a group of 13 people but I would check a few logistics before planning a menu. First is the kitchen, equipments, pots and pans; then the serving ware. Are you going to get any help in preparation and the actually cooking. Nothing is worst for your guests to watch you run back and forth between courses, trying to cook and eat. These are important consideration, especially in a kitchen that you are not be familiar with. Because I worked in a restaurant kitchen for many years, I am sort of the designated cook for large family/friend gatherings. For 13 people, the oven and good size grill are your best friends. Trying to do too much on the stove top at the last minute can be difficult, especially anything requiring much attention. Your dinner is in June, a nice a time of the year and if the house has an outside grill, I would plan my menu around that. Things that can be serve room temperature will also be a big help. If you've cooked for large groups, then you know what is involved and please disregard my writing.