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Italian Dinner--Menu Help

I'd appreciate any suggestions to complete this menu. It will be a casual dinner with guests I don't know well. Salad? Appetizers? Dessert?

Roasted tomatoes and mozzarella
Roasted peppers
Roasted mushrroms with garlic and capers
Grilled bread

Homemade pasta with cheese and pepper sauce
Homemade pasta with lamb ragu

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  1. It looks like you've got appetizers covered with the roasted vegetables and olives, yes? Your pastas look great - maybe just add a simple Caesar salad and/or some sauteed spinach (I would be more creative, but since you don't know them well you might not want to make anything with unusual ingredients). Then something universally adored like tiramisu for dessert. Sounds like a great meal!

    3 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima

      I was thinking that I need a salad. Do you think I'm serving too much cheese if I serve a Caesar salad?

      1. re: DaisyM

        I think a simple green salad with a sharp vinaigrette would be good to cut through the richness of this meal. For dessert, maybe a fruit tart?

        1. re: DaisyM

          I don't think of Caesar salad as being heavy on the cheese, but if you prefer not to add more cheese to the meal I'd follow Pia's suggestion of a green salad with a nice tart vinaigrette.

      2. I assume this dinner is happening soon?? If so, I'd skip the roasted tomatoes and mozz. In favour of a Caprese Salad. Take advantage of nice fresh, in season tomatoes while you still can.

        Can you do espresso?? If so, espresso and biscotti after dinner is always fantastic.


        1. Coming from a family where many folks don't like lamb (I love lamb) I would be concerned about serving lamb to people I don't know. Also, are you serving two pastas because there are vegetarians coming?

          1 Reply
          1. re: escondido123

            We were in Italy recently and took a pasta making class. Those are our two favorite sauces that we learned. They are both terrific, but maybe you are right that lamb isn't universally loved.

          2. I would go with a salad...maybe some roasted asparagus with shaved parmigianno

            Some other appetizers or antipasti i would consider would be;

            Dry Sausage
            Seafood Salad......Grilled or Sauteed Shrimp, Calamari or Pulpo alone or combined.


            Butter Cookies

            1. I'm with the salad people. Field greens with great extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. AFTER the pasta, of course, not with. Caesar salad is not even remotely Italian.

              Not sure about dessert, but some fresh fruit, a couple of flavors of gelato, one cream one fruit, for example, plus some really good biscotti, and a nice moscato d'Asti cover most exigencies.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mbfant

                "Caesar salad is not even remotely Italian." Actually, it is "Remotely Italian." It was invented by an Italian American while working at his restaurant in Tijuana. Not sure if it was an Italian restaurant though.


                1. re: Davwud

                  I've been to the restaurant. It's Mexican.

                  1. re: perk

                    Ahhh. I couldn't find anything that said one way or the other.

                    But was it in 1924??


              2. You really need something green. If it's salad, it should be one with darker greens like spinach or arugula, not caesar, with pale romaine. But better yet, roast some broccoli. Just toss florets in olive oil with some salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and roast at 425 for about 20 minutes, turning once. Pretty hands off, so it won't be too stressful, and it's good. You could use broccolini and that would reduce the cooking time just a bit.

                1. Agree with others on the salad. This balsamic dressing on the arugula salad with shaved parmesan is very good.


                  1. interesting!!!! how many people are you serving? The traditional Italian dinner can easily last for hours, with more courses than most folks could tolerate. But there's also a shorter menu that would work nicely - check out the fabulous Lidia for some recipe ideas. here's what I'd be thinking -

                    Antipasto - keep the olives and roasted tomatoes with mozzarella - don't bother with the others, unless you're serving 12 or more people

                    Pasta - small servings of the pasta with cheese and pepper sauce or an even simpler sauce [and, unless i were serving a lot of people, i'd skip this course and save the carbs for the entree course] - you could also substitute a nice salad for this course

                    Entree - roast chicken [with lots of herbs and lemon - can be easy or complicated], roasted veggies - some folks would serve potatoes with this in addition to the pasta, but i would not because i really do try to reduce my carb intake. OR chicken scallopine or saltimbocca

                    Dessert - biscotti with fruit and/or ice cream is easy, but you could also consider a fruit crostata [easy to do ahead]

                    whatever you decide to make, relax and enjoy!!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jiffypop

                      We'll be 4 and the star of the meal is the homemade pasta. Maybe we should have a roasted chicken, too? I like the biscotti and espresso for dessert.

                      1. re: DaisyM

                        Agreed about the salad as mentioned above. I wouldn't worry about the two pastas only...I'd be thrilled to go to someone's house who is treating us to homemade pasta dishes they learned in Italy!!!

                        If you want to do a fairly easy tiramisu, use Kater's recipe I've attached (make at least 24 hrs in advance). If I can do it, anyone can! For just 4 people, I'd go with 250g of mascarpone.


                        1. re: ceekskat

                          I have to say that the pasta is fantastic. And it is fun to watch my husband make the dough by hand. (He's the talented one...I just make the sauces!)

                          1. re: DaisyM

                            With 4 people, it's really easy to go way overboard with food - no one is eating huge amounts these days [except some teenagers, i think]. With pasta as the star, consider going fairly light on the antipasto, add a nice salad. Would you consider taking your husband's gorgeous pasta and making a baked dish, like lasagna or canneloni? you could use the lamb [or whatever you substitute] ragu as the filling for either of them and it's do ahead- with fewer pans to wash afterwards.

                            no matter what, pour some nice wine and enjoy.

                      2. re: jiffypop

                        I agree on the choice of roast chicken instead of the pasta with lamb dish. I've had the combination of pasta & roast chicken many times; for some reason they're great in combination.

                      3. Hey Daisy: I think you should serve the simplest of green salads: romaine, escarole, arugula, maybe some endive and radicchio, dressed with a really plain best-quality olive oil/best quality Balsamic vinegar vinaigrette. I agree about the Caprese salad, or just a plain tomato salad; you've got all Fall to roast tomatoes, but the fresh ones are only good raw for a short while more, so why not? You might consider subbing duck in your ragu recipe just for this occasion, because some people have such a strong aversion to lamb. The cheese and peppers sauce sounds marvelous - care to share a recipe? (no worries on time frame; you're busy right now planning, shopping and cooking.) And dessert, if you want to take it easy on yourself, could be a really decent fruit gelato and some imported Italian cookies, or ice cream with any Italian liquer poured over it, also w/ imported cookies.

                        20 Replies
                        1. re: mamachef

                          Tre colore salad -- i.e., "3 color" - is a classic Italian salad, made with romaine (green), endive (white), and radicchio (red), dressed with a good quality vinaigrette. Very simple and delicious.

                          1. re: mamachef

                            The irony is that in my family, the aversion to lamb is matched by an equal aversion to duck--they only like beef, pork and light meat poultry.

                            1. re: mamachef

                              Here's the recipe....Taglionlini cacio e pepe

                              Boil fresh pasta, just before it is done put it in a warmed sautee pan with a little cooking water. Add finely grated Pecorino Romano, freshly ground black pepper, and coarse salt. Keep tossing till cheese melts, add more cheese, a little more of the water, more cheese. Serve immediately.

                              I know this sounds so simple that it can't be great....but it is! The cheese melts into a creamy, but light sauce. You must have freshly ground pepper and lots of it.

                              1. re: DaisyM

                                Thank you Daisy; sounds delicious.

                                1. re: mamachef

                                  That is a classic dish and there are videos on youtube with chefs preparing them. But none that I saw were exactly they way we learned to make it. There's no butter or oil. Just the cheese, cooking water, pepper and salt. So much more then the sum of its parts.

                                  1. re: DaisyM

                                    It's the cooking water that makes the difference, undoubtedly. Can't wait to make yours. :)

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      That's right! The chef that we took the class with really educated us about the simplicity of Italian cooking.

                                2. re: DaisyM

                                  Coarse salt is superfluous. Any salt is superfluous between the pasta water and the pecorino romano itself, which is quite salty. I've never heard of adding salt to cacio e pepe.

                                  Back to your menu. I am against the caprese. Too different from the rest of the menu, potentially too heavy. But if you've got the caprese bug, mini capresi on tiny skewers or toothpicks are fun -- use cherry tomatoes, or grape, big dice of mozzarella, and a basil leaf. I think a properly made caprese makes it look like a lot of food, while everything else you have people can just pick at in the quantities they like. Your pastas are both suitable for considering a piatto unico, absolutely no roast chicken or other true secondo is needed. You could follow the pasta with a cooked veg and that with the green salad, but really you need only the salad between lamb ragù and dessert.

                                  1. re: mbfant

                                    Caprese salad heavy?? Really??

                                    Again, fresh tomatoes are still in season. Take advantage.


                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      It is deceptively rich. Unless you do a teensy antipasto-sized caprese, if you do it right, an insalata caprese is a whole meal. Buffalo-milk mozzarella has a lot of fat. I understand not everybody can find it, but even cow-milk mozzarella is no joke. Then you have to slather it with extra virgin olive oil. And then, of course, you need good chewy bread to soak up the yummy juices. That is a lot of calories. It's fresh and summery, so it seems light, but that's an illusion. Also, something both filling and summery is not a great partner for something hearty and mountainy like lamb ragù. The way I would use nice fresh tomatoes in Daisy's meal is either cherry or grape tomatoes set out like olives to be just popped in the mouth or large salad (i.e., not too red) tomatoes sliced and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and basil after the meal or, if the call of the caprese is just too strong, I would serve the mozzarella whole with a knife for slicing and the tomatoes, sliced or whole small ones, separately, and let people compose their own, along with other antipasti, such as olives and marinated vegetables. But I don't see a full-dress caprese as appropriate with the rest of Daisy's menu.

                                      1. re: mbfant

                                        Well, I just disagree. But then, that's why where all here right. Exchange ideas.


                                        1. re: Davwud

                                          I have to agree with mbfant, I've been making caprese salad all summer and packing on the pounds each time I partake, since I was making it as just an appetizer too. It is a full meal, even if I don't serve it with bread (usually don't).

                                          I have a standard antipasta (husbands family) that is just roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, olives, capers and anchovies and that, although served with bread, is so much lighter. I've actually taken to serving a tapenade or caponata on the side and still just right before a heavy pasta and meat dinner.

                                    2. re: mbfant

                                      I stand corrected! The salt is for the cooking water!

                                  2. re: mamachef

                                    If I were a guest at this party, I'd hope for the opposite approach to the lamb ragu ... I love lamb, so if fewer people eat it, more for me, lol! I'd love the cheese and pepper sauce recipe, too - and also the lamb one, whenever there's time!

                                    1. re: SAHCook

                                      Oh, I personally am a huge lamb lover. (And duck too, for that matter.) I was just considering what might appeal to the masses more.

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        You're definitely right about that - I just met some friends at PF Changs and ordered the wok seared lamb. They all commented on how exotic it was and no one wanted a taste, lol! It didn't even taste like lamb! I'd just love be really happy to get the whole lamb dish to myself ... I'm such a good guest, right? ;)

                                      2. re: SAHCook

                                        Lamb ragu was a big hit. Here's how to make it. Sautee onions, garlic and rosemary over medium low flame till it is soft. Add diced baby lamb shoulder and some bones from lamb chops, salt and pepper.. Turn up heat till it is browned. When the liquid has evaporated, pour white wine over it. When it evaporates, pour POMI chopped tomatoes. Let it simmer till it has thickened. Remove bones. Add al dente pasta to the pan along with some of the pasta cooking water.

                                          1. re: SAHCook

                                            Let me know if you liked it. It is so simple and hearty. And if you can serve it over fresh pasta...all the better.

                                          2. re: DaisyM

                                            So glad your dinner went well! My family of four loves lamb & I look forward to trying out your recipe; thanks for sharing.

                                      3. My dad does a simple salad of romaine, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, and very good balsamic, and very good evoo, salt and pepper. Its my all time favorite!!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: mariars

                                          I made the lemoncello tiramisu from "Lidia's Italy" for a dinner party and everyone loved it. The recipe is on Epicurious [http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...] I think it would be perfect after a pasta meal.

                                          1. re: Bethcooks

                                            After considering all of your great suggestions....I'm adding a green salad with balsamic vinegar (got some amazing stuff in Italy). I'm going to add a roast chicken with rosemary, garlic and lemon. I can't get rid of the pasta with lamb ragu, because it is just so delicious. (the pasta servings will be small). I'm adding biscotti and Fran's salted carmels for dessert. One of our guests is a bariatric surgeon...and yes, I'm really worried after this meal he'll hand me his card and say, "Call me!".