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Italian dinner party menu help

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In thanks to some friends for watching my dog, I'm making dinner for them. He asked specifically for recipes from "Leone's Italian Cookbook" (and provided the copy)--recipes from a New York restaurant. The book was published in the 60s after the restaurant was closed.

So, I've got a book of old recipes, knowledge that he likes alfredo sauce (which in the cookbook is simply 3/4 c. butter and 6 Tbls. Parmesan cheese tossed with fresh pasta), she can't eat shellfish and doesn't like lamb; and she likes cheap red wine and he likes beer. Ack!

I'm thinking, and would appreciate feedback, starting with bagna cauda and fresh bread, a salad with some bitter greens and a simple dressing, the alfredo pasta as a side, and zuppe Inglese for dessert.

But what would be an appropriate entree'? I don't have access to veal. Would a chicken cacciatora or a beef stew work? I'm not used to serving pasta as a side, even though I understand that is more authentic.

And, again with limited access, what might be a nice wine that would be both good for cooking and drinking?

Any suggestions are welcome.

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  1. Pollo Al Mattone (Chicken under a brick - weighted after spatchcocking) with tons of herbs, olive oil and lemon.
    Beef braised in barolo
    Pork loin "drugged" with garlic and herbs; oven-roasted
    No seafood - what about regular fish? Oven-roasted Branzino's a beautiful entree.

    It would be nice to use this as a break from your own tradition and serve the pasta as a separate course, in order to do it true justice. Plus, it's such nice theatre to toss it at table.
    Buon Appetite! Enjoy dinner.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      I'm checking the cookbook for versions of these. It doesn't have the chicken. And, unfortunately, no to seafood (which I love but she doesn't trust due to the shellfish allergy--yes, I know they are two different things, but we all have our food issues). The beef braise seems like a possibility; thanks for the ideas.

      1. re: 1cup

        If you are interested in the chicken I'd be happy to provide a recipe.

        1. re: mamachef

          Thank you. I don't think I'll use it this time round, but I'd love to try it for myself sometime.

        2. re: 1cup

          You can generally substitute either pork or chicken breast straight up for veal in a recipe like scallopini or piccata -- just pound it the same way.

          And yes, it's not authentic to serve pasta "as a side" -- in Italy it's served on its own, either a small portion as separate course (first or second) in a multi-course meal or a larger portion as a main.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            This really isn't a dinner party where separate courses would be appropriate, so I was going by what I've seen and heard about pasta not always being an entree' but served on a separate plate.

            Thanks for the tip on veal substitutes.

      2. I wouldn't serve pasta as a "side." Serve the pasta as your starter, then the main course followed by the salad, followed by dessert. An old-timey Mama Leone's antipasto to serve with cocktails might be a "relish" tray of olives and sliced pieces of fennel. I assume you're doing the alfredo sauce (you might want to cheat and look up a better recipe than that) and for the main, do some sort of chicken dish such as Chicken Marsala or Chicken Francese. Serve these with some string beans. Salad is always served after the main course, and a simple olive oil/red wine vinegar dressing would be perfect.

        6 Replies
        1. re: roxlet

          Thank you for the help with the order of the meal; I hadn't considered that. And I like the idea of the sliced fennel. It will still be cold here when I have the dinner, but fennel makes me think spring for some reason, so that would be nice.

          I thought the alfredo recipe seemed wanting, so I will probably do some research on it. But if I do stick with Leone's, at least it is simple and light vs. a cream version.

          1. re: roxlet

            If you use real Parmigiano Reggiano and butter, there is no better recipe than the original that used just those two ingredients with freshly made pasta. I almost always use dried fettucine because the fresh can so easily clump in this preparation...at least when I make it.

            1. re: escondido123

              I agree, but I suspect it may not be what he thinks of when he says he likes Alfredo sauce. But what's a little cooking education among friends! Actually, I do something very similar with just toasted sesame seed oil and Parmigiano Reggiano over hot pasta.

            2. re: roxlet

              I agree with escondido. See the info at the posted link: http://www.cookfoodgood.com/?p=210

              1. re: Wtg2Retire

                How wonderful, the real Fettucine Alfredo. Thanks, W2R.

                1cup, I would tell you to look through the book, narrow your choices down to some things you know you'll be able to make, then talk it over with your guests what entree they might like.

                Also, you've got me so interested in this, I've ordered a copy of Leone's Italian Cookbook from the library. Thanks.

                .

                1. re: Wtg2Retire

                  Thank you for the link--very interesting and helpful. I will definitely give it a try.

              2. I like your ideas of chicken cacciatora or beef stew. You could also consider a pork roulade, beef braciola, chicken/pork marsala/parmesan.

                Does she like good cheap wine, or bad cheap wine. There are some fabulous Italian wines for under $10, but if she likes bad cheap red wine, she won't like those.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                  She likes sweeter red wines. While she might like cheap, I don't. I may like inexpensive but that's different than cheap!

                  1. re: 1cup

                    Touché, 1cup, I stand corrected for sure!

                    1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                      So any suggestions? I'm leaning towards the chicken cacciatora, so what might be a good wine for that? I'm pretty ignorant of wine as I have a very low tolerance for alcohol (makes me a cheap date!), and never can finish off a bottle.

                      1. re: 1cup

                        Personally, I think a cacciatore is a good bet - relatively easy to make, lots of room for interpretation, you're not banking on nailing a sauce to make the dish work, it can be prepared ahead of time to leave you time with your guests, and it crosses the boundary of being both traditional Italian and Italian American. There's something in there for everyone to love (well, maybe not vegetarians).

                        Wine - Tough answer to a seemingly simple question. There are tons of different recipes for chicken cacciatore, starting with: does it contain a tomato product? I'm hoping to not start a raging debate on whether authentic cacciatore contains tomatoes, but I've seen recipes from credible Italian chefs both ways.

                        If it has tomatoes and the final dish seems to be a bit on the "heavier" side (lots of mushrooms [high in meaty, umami taste] and other vegetables that are assertive), then I'd go on the red side, but the lightest side of red: a pinot noir. There are very good and relatively inexpensive CA Pinot Noirs (like from Carneros). If looking for something French, then you'd be looking for a red Burgundy. If wanting to stick with the total Italian theme, The Pinot Nero is what you'd look for, but those are hard to find. An alternative, relatively light Italian red would be the Bardolino.

                        If, on the other hand, your cacciatore recipe is a little lighter, with fewer "substantial" ingredients, and the chicken flavor is more likely to really come out, then I'd go with a white, but on the heavier side of white: chardonnay. Personally, I don't like American style chardonnay - it tends to be oakey and vanilla, and you don't get much of the grape. But lots of people prefer that. I think it can be heavy to accompany food that typically takes a white wine, but for a cacciatore, either the American version or the European version of chardonnay (In France, funny enough, it's a white Burgundy; in Italy, perhaps a Soave would be nice) would work. All these could be had for relatively cheap - let's say that $15 a bottle would get you decent versions of any of these.

                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          Thank you for the great response--very helpful. The recipe does call for tomatoes but no mushrooms. Only vegetables are onions. But in addition to the cut up chicken, it does call for chicken livers and gizzards.

                          1. re: 1cup

                            Sounds like a nice recipe that will do well to bring out the chicken flavors. I could easily see serving a light red or a heavier white, and either would work very well.

                            I'll have to dig up that cacciatore recipe!

                            Have a great dinner!

                2. But what would be an appropriate entree'? I don't have access to veal. Would a chicken cacciatora or a beef stew work? I'm not used to serving pasta as a side, even though I understand that is more authentic.
                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                  Both would be fine meals.....I would suggest you simply ask your friends if they prefer chicken, beef or pork (or other) for the dinner you are preparing. There are a lot of options and recipes.....but I see this a a comfort type meal to show appreciation along the lines of rustic cooking and a long slow braise. You could make a ragout from beef oxtails or osso bucco....or pork butt. Braciole is always great.... Simple Roast/Baked Chicken on the bone with potatoes, peppers and onions is classic. I like to add Sausage links for the latter. There are versions of Baked Chicken, like Savoy with vinegar that are very good as well.

                  For boneless items, I like simple pounded chicken or pork milanese with mesculin or Broccoli Rape.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: fourunder

                    All good ideas, but most are not included in this cookbook--the parameters of the menu! But you are right about the comfort food aspect. I want it to be easy to have prepared mostly ahead of time (other than the pasta).

                    1. re: 1cup

                      Love the Chicken Marsala idea. It's "make ahead friendly" and so tasty. Serve it with his pasta request and the salad. I like the antipasti idea before dinner with olives, artichoke hearts, cheese, etc, etc. I don't think you can miss with this.

                  2. On bagna cauda - if she's a "no" on all seafood, then it seems bagna cauda would be out, given that anchovies are a main ingredient.

                    On a main - what kind of pork loin recipes are in the book? Is there a porketta recipe? A porketta is often my go-to main for serving something Italian-ish.

                    If I'm remembering right, Mamma Leone's was more "Italian American" cooking than what most would consider more authentic Italian cooking. I know, I know, these are dangerous waters. In that case, the chicken/pork Marsala or Franchese might be good options to follow a primi of Alfredo. Of course, one could make the argument that an Alfredo, given how heavy it (usually) is, wouldn't really be served as a primi, to be followed by a meat dish. Or, if it were, it should be a lighter meat dish.

                    Lastly, I'm surprised there's no chicken cacciatore in the Leone cookbook, since chicken cacciatore was pretty regularly served there. You could take some license and say that since the cookbook is based on the restaurant, then anything served at the restaurant should be "on the table".....

                    Enjoy dinner!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      There is a cacciatore recipe, which is why I was considering it. But no Marsala or Franchese. The pork recipes are very limited--a couple of chops, one crown, a ragout of pig knuckles and cabbage (no thank you), and roasted loin.

                      I really want to stick to the cookbook, even with its limitations, because of my friend's request. They watched my dog three different times in just three months, so it is the least I can do.

                      1. re: 1cup

                        Oops, sorry, I misread one of your earlier posts about chicken. My bad.

                        The cacciatore recipe might be a nice way to go, and has the advantage (over some other dishes) that it's a prepare ahead and let the oven do the work type dish (in general). This is especially important in multi-course meals, where, in theory, you're enjoying the courses as well. All the prep work could be done ahead of time, and the dish might go int eh oven before guests arrive, or at least be assembled and waiting to be ovened, so you'll only have to worry about making the pasta dish, and you'll be able to enjoy it without having to prepare the following course. Lots to be said for sounds logistics.