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Dressing up a spaghetti dinner for a holiday party

Hi. I'm having a sit down dinner on Sunday nite for a bunch of friends and their college age children. The tomato sauce I've made is to die for as is the gorgeous tablescape I have planned. I like the idea of serving this comfort food right before Christmas...and it features sauce from our own tomatoes.

Anyway I'm struggling with how to dress up the dinner. Should I serve a different shape pasta? Serve salad as a separate course after the pasta? What about another side dish? Or maybe an appetizer course? Thanks for any suggestions and also would love recipe suggestions for an updated not too rich salad.

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  1. "Or maybe an appetizer course?" +1

    "also would love recipe suggestions for an updated not too rich salad."

    ok... skip the app and make a salad finish course...
    I recommend a winter salad such as a cabbage salad "slaw". Dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice and a crushed garlic clove or two (or three) salt and pepper. If you like, a few leaves of arugala work well in this.

    1. It may just be me but I think of spaghetti low end and crappy. Discussed this with my non American husbsbd and reaslised every crappy restaurant serves that dish and I just have a bad association of mushy spaghetti and sauce out of a can.
      I guess it's psychological. Haha. If I were trying to "dress it up" I would switch pasta and call it something like bucatini with marinara and.... Or whatever sauce u made

      1. Insalata Tricolore:

        Radicchio, endive, arugula with a light balsamic dressing and shaved parmigiano reggiano

        Spaghetti as a shape can be messy to eat for some and that would be the only reason I would consider another shape. While not traditional Italian you could do some polpettine either with the pasta or as an appetizer or even as an entree. The antipasto tray our family does usually is served on a bed of lettuce and so almost acts like an American style salad.

        16 Replies
        1. re: melpy

          Yes, a beautiful antipasto and a salad after.

          1. re: magiesmom

            Yes. Antipasto, lavish and beautifully arranged. You probably have a lovely serving dish you never use. A loaf of fresh Italian bread with a really good olive oil for dipping. AND offer two wines. One with the antipasto, and a different wine to compliment your luscious homemade sauce with the spaghetti and salad course. Buy a fine Romano and grate it fresh to offer with the pasta.

            People love spaghetti - I do. To take away the stigma it has acquired as low-end, weeknight fare, you simply need to make it the centerpiece of a meal surrounded with antipasta, wine... all the elegancies of dinner in a palazzo in Calabria.

            1. re: AdinaA

              Excellent notion.
              As Julia said, " you have to have the courage of your convictions".
              Flip that omelette, and serve that spaghetti!

          2. re: melpy

            My thought exactly about messy pasta at a nice dinner party. Also, i'm amazed at the way some grown adults who should know better eat it in public.

            1. re: WNYamateur

              I can't believe the angst over spaghetti flicking!
              The OP never said people were going to be wearing their finest garb and frankly, I'd trust that the grown ups can eat like grown ups and not uncoordinated children.

              1. re: monavano

                College age children are not guranteed to be coordinated.
                Also, if you are not in the practice of eating long noodles, even the most well mannered can have difficulties.

                1. re: melpy

                  Well, who cares if they cut it? I sure don't. It's not supposed to be a 'formal' dinner party but rather a festive, special gathering.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    But, but, if flickage causes splatter, her guests might melt!! that
                    I'd be a puddle if happened because my boobs are also known as food catchers. Name a food and I'll betcha it's met my boobs.

                    1. re: monavano

                      Mine too, but I unfashionably put the napkin under my chin, at least in informal settings. And wear dark-coloured tops.

                      Of course you could opt for deep cleavage; no problem wiping off your skin... ;-)

                  2. re: melpy

                    Oh, please! College age kids can't eat spaghetti? Were they raised by wolves?
                    College kids LIVE on noodles!

                    1. re: monavano

                      I have no problem with spaghetti. I am saying the only reason I would CONSIDER something different would be spattering.

                      1. re: melpy

                        It is a consideration if you think a guest would freak out if they got sauce on them. Or, if for some reason, a guest or guests have not mastered fine motor skills by the age of 18 years, or has been injured or has a developmental disability.
                        Then again, there's always the twirling fork!


                        1. re: monavano

                          In the event I had a person with some kind of disability that would impede eating a "sloppy" food, then I'd definitely choose a short pasta. That is common courtesy.

                    2. re: melpy

                      College age people are, by definition, adults. One can reasonably assume the can manage a plate of spaghetti.

                      1. re: tzurriz

                        I teach high school and live in a college town. You should see the antics I see.

                        There are exceptions and depends on family expecations.
                        The "kids table" at our Christmas Eve consists of people 18-26. When they get together and get a drink or two in them, or not, they can dissolve into some silliness. I have photos of them pretending to stab eachother with knives and "blowing" a condiment bottle.

                        Luckily 29 and up are at the adult table.

              2. I would use penne- it seems to hold up better when it isn't consumed immediately. I like Trader Joe's Organic penne.
                I would make a big antipasto platter using jarred and salad bar marinated veggies and some cheese and cured meats. Ina Garten and Giada D on the food network have some suggestions.

                1. Pasta: I say stick with spaghetti- since when did the classic become declasse? Penne and ziti regatte are also great and a bit neater to eat.
                  Salad- yes please! Why after the pasta though? Is this normal where you live?
                  Sides- sure! Escarole with cannelini bean or broccoli rabe.
                  Apps- sure! A simple anitpasti platter assembled earlier.

                  DH and I attended a holiday dinner last week and our host served spumoni for dessert. She simply bought the ice creams and assembled the spumoni in a meatloaf pan.
                  Buy cannolis.
                  Make tiramisu.

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: monavano

                    Yes,salad after pasta is normal where I live.

                    1. re: magiesmom

                      And where is that? What continent?
                      My general sense is that I'll serve salad before the entree in spite of whatever cuisine I'm making, be it Italian or Swiss or German or whatever.

                      1. re: monavano

                        Always salad after pasta with Italian food, here in NY. We serve it with the meat course in my family, to be eaten after the meat.

                        1. re: coll

                          Interesting! I guess salad after the entree never leaked over to the Italians in NJ!

                          1. re: monavano

                            That IS odd, because it's very popular in the Outer Boroughs. And Italy.

                            1. re: coll

                              It is certainly the Italian way to serve the salad after, but whether it's before or after is less important than that it is not serve WITH the pasta but in a different course.

                              1. re: mbfant

                                Thanks mbfant, I was actually hoping to hear from you on this. I learned to serve these kind of meals from my in laws, and they were strict about the salad and its serving.

                                I never liked salad, always had it before the meal growing up. But then I found out I looked forward to it when served after. Sort of cleanses you palate!

                              2. re: coll

                                yep, salad after the meal is the way we do it in my Italian American family in Staten Island/Brooklyn.

                              3. re: monavano

                                Jersey born and bred, and salad after Sunday dinner was a regular part of our routine.

                          2. re: monavano

                            I love broccoli rabe or broccolini with olive oil, pine nuts & shaved pecorino romano with pasta.

                            To the OP: I would add meatballs. Every year, close to Christmas, we have a simple yet lovely dinner in our dining room and it is always spaghetti and meatballs. It's tradition in our home. Don't let anyone tell you it's low end or declassé - that's absurd.

                            Here is a delicious Sicilian meatball recipe that I use often. The currants are a nice touch and add a very subtle sweetness and help keep the meatballs moist. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                            I would suggest rosso prosecco or a lambrusco secco to accompany the antipasti. The festive bubbles and effervescence will cut the fast of the salumi nicely and add to the celebration.

                            Happy Holidays!

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              +1 to the bubbly recommendations - i am a huge fan of lambrusco! Just be sure it is dry, some lambruscos are very sweet like dessert wine

                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                Yesterday, I ran in Total Wine to pick up a couple of things quickly. I don't typically shop there, but was in the area so... I asked one of the wine dudes about a few bottles of Italian wine and I found what I needed. I then asked him where the lambrusco was. He said "lambrusco?" and I said yes. He led me away from the Italy section and towards the back of the store and the next thing I knew he was pointing at the jug wine. I laughed and said, "yea, not that lambrusco". Ha! Turns out he knew nothing of lambrusco secco. I had to settle for a prosecco to pair with my coppa. :(

                              2. re: lynnlato

                                Lambrusco is much maligned, but it's really delightful!

                                1. re: lynnlato

                                  Spaghetti and meatballs is a fine dish. No, it is not a dish served in Italy nowadays; polpette are definitely Italian but would be served after the primo. I suspect emigrants from Italy to the New World were happy to have so much more access to meat that they included it with their largely meatless pasta course. Foods from Italy have evolved in both North and South America, and elsewhere, which is fine and not at all "déclassé".

                                2. re: monavano

                                  No sides (contorni) with pasta. Contorni are part of the secondo, and can be often eaten on their own, as a second course. Of course in a very informal "family-style" meal, you can do whatever the hell you want.

                                  1. re: lagatta

                                    Exactly. I don't feel at all inferior or insecure doing things as they are commonly done in America, even if it's a gaff in Italy.
                                    Couldn't care less.

                                    1. re: monavano

                                      I have several friends from Argentina, which is about the most Italian country on earth, after the boot itself. Other than dead beast, a great deal of their cooking is Italian. It has evolved in a somewhat different way that how Italian food has developed in the US or Canada, but they do tend to use more cheese and meat than would have been the case in the homeland. Simply because they have so many damned cows, and sheep in Patagonia.

                                      I only "care" if I'm making authentic Italian recipes, which I often do, as I've lived there, and also because while not a vegetarian, I don't like to eat a lot of meat, and emphasize vegetables.

                                3. Well, many people do not prefer to eat long pasta when dining out, because of its higher tendency to splatter.

                                  You need sometime cool and crispy - but NOT fussy - to complement the simple warm and gooey. I would recommend a plain green salad with torn butter lettuce, perhaps mixed with baby spinach. (Lots of people hate bitter greens like arugula, fwiw.) A simple vinaigrette; perhaps with some fresh citrus juice instead of or with the vinegar.

                                  And something fruitish to garnish the table that people can eat - I typically mound satsuma mandarins or clementines (if they are tasty) in bowls around candlesticks so that people can cleanse their palates. As host, you would eat one yourself so that people know that are meant for eating as well as for the eye.

                                  1. I would serve a meal in the Italian style . . . .

                                    Pasta is a course unto itself. . . .

                                    You could start with antipasta while people are gathering . . .

                                    Have your pasta with your sauce.

                                    A salad of shaved fennel and orange.

                                    A meat course (braciole maybe - simmered in more of your sauce if you have enough and/or want to feature your sauce twice)? with sides like broccoli rabe with sausage.

                                    Then dessert with espresso.

                                    1. Meatballs or some "meaty" roasted or grilled veggies like eggplant, portobello mushrooms, zucchini, red peppers, etc. Just thinking that college age children are often big eaters.

                                      I would stick with the spaghetti shape and keep it classic and agree with serving comfort food like this right before Christmas. Antipasto before and simple green salad after. Since some people don't like bitter greens, I would use romaine as the base for the salad and add radicchio, endive, and arugula as accents. Balsamic vinaigrette, shaved parmigiano reggiano and maybe some toasted pine nuts.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Springhaze2

                                        I like much prefer linguine to spaghetti when using that shape. I like the idea of meatballs also. Maybe a combo of ground veal and beef?

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Good point, I probably most often serve linguine rather than the thinner spaghetti. I agree with a combo of meat in the meatballs. Ground veal and beef is classic. In our house it is ground venison and ground beef. Venison from a young doe tastes very similar to veal.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I guess to some people it is lucky to have venison. For us it is about using what we have on hand.

                                            2. re: Springhaze2

                                              I prefer to leave the beef out, and do a combination of veal and pork. I'd use venison or elk or anything like that, before beef.

                                        2. Keeping your Italian theme going...

                                          Assuming you can buy good quality Italian salumi and cheese, I'd start the meal with a large platter of different sliced salamis (e.g. proscuitto, Genoa salami) and cheeses. You could add some olives and some caponata or some agrodolce cippolini onions (i.e. sweet and sour) Both of the last two suggestions are a sweet and sour preparation so you probably wouldn't serve both. Accompany with nice quality bread sticks -- rather than bread -- so your guests don't get filled up on this course.

                                          You don't mention the number of people at your party. You might want to put out multiples of these platters so the course can be served quickly to everyone.

                                          Finally, I'd definitely serve cut pasta like penne or gemelli or fusili. It is easier to serve and eat so people wouldn't worry about splatters or strands of spaghetti whipping around as they eat.

                                          1. I would use an interesting pasta shape like gemelli or cavatappi, both go well with tomato sauce. The only thing I would add is buy the best parmigiana you could find/afford.
                                            I also agree that you should start with some mezze a, meatballs, caponata, spicy garlicky broccoli rabe, roasted peppers, cheese(asiago), mortadella.
                                            You could have your salad after your main meal as the Italians do.
                                            Rustichella is my favourite pasta for a special occasion.

                                            1. I don't agree with people telling you to change the pasta shape. If you're making a spaghetti dinner, then use spaghetti. That's how I see it. If you're looking for a more "sophisticated" pasta dish, then make that instead, but then it's not spaghetti, obviously, because spaghetti uses spaghetti noodles where I'm from.

                                              Spaghetti can be cheap and gross, or it can be very good depending on how it's prepared. I say make the classic spaghetti using the best ingredients you can buy, and that to me is about as "dressed up" as it needs to get. I would include yummy homemade meatballs, too, if you weren't already planning on it.

                                              A nice salad to serve along with the spaghetti would be good. I already see that lots of posters have given you recommendations for types of salads to serve. Some good bread, either just bread with butter, or garlic bread that you make yourself would also be great. If you want to serve an antipasto platter before, I think that would be a nice addition, as well.

                                              15 Replies
                                              1. re: SaraAshley

                                                Agree- so what if there's an errant splatter, and GASP! I'd put out spoons for twirling!

                                                1. re: monavano

                                                  The spoons for twirling is an American thing that seems pointless. It actually makes a mess more likely having all that excess silverware.

                                                  See the quote in the NYT even!


                                                  "Spoons are for children, amateurs and people with bad table manners in general. "

                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                    I embrace the spoon, and I stand by it.
                                                    Yes, I'm an amateur and proud of it.

                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                      we were not allowed to even consider using a spoon.

                                                    2. re: melpy

                                                      I first learned to eat it with a spoon in Rome. At a locals mostly spot, not a tourist trap.

                                                      1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                        Really? I thought this was so borishly declasse!
                                                        Actually, I don't use a spoon to twirl, but know I have in the past, and would put spoons out just for a hoot.

                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                          But they work! I have been spritzed by fra divalo sauce that never could be extracted from a Sea Island cotton tuxedo shirt.
                                                          I have a lot of classe, even if it's all low....

                                                      2. re: melpy

                                                        I love using a spoon and find it helpful. We put out spoons ; about half our guests use them.

                                                        1. re: magiesmom

                                                          Not all of us were born Italian. The spaghetti spoon is our training wheels....:)

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            I'm still using them at 60. I love the whole endeavor.

                                                            1. re: magiesmom

                                                              Same here, and I'm a year ahead of you! Provecho.

                                                          2. re: magiesmom

                                                            I don't use a spoon but will break long pasta in half before cooking. Sacrilege I know :) I've never seen an adult have a problem.

                                                      3. re: SaraAshley

                                                        The OP specifically asked for feedback on possibly changing the pasta shape. Also, there are areas where "spaghetti" is used generically to refer to "pasta", like "macaroni" (not necessarily the OP's common usage, though).

                                                        Long pastas dressed in red sauce that are served as a large, main course, are more likely to raise splatter concerns that can spoil a holiday atmosphere. (Much like eating corn on the cob or lobster/crab in the shell during the summer.) As a host, I would consider the intimacy of the audience before proceeding with that.

                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                          Well, OP did say friends and their college age children. Eating Dungeness crab right now in the Bay Area would be considered a special meal and damn the mess :)

                                                      4. How about making a baked ziti?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: sheetz

                                                          Why are you changing her meal? She wants to showcase her wonderful tomato sauce, so let her!
                                                          Gosh, that homemade sauce would get lost in all the cheese.

                                                          1. re: monavano

                                                            I don't see anything wrong with adding cheese. Anyway she asked how to "dress it up" and that's one way to make it dressier.

                                                            1. re: sheetz

                                                              If I was adding anything to the sauce itself (unlikely), it might be more along the lines of a touch of pesto, or maybe puttanesca-ish; anything but heavy cheese. Another whole meal concept.

                                                              My favorite, easy to find (Barilla) pasta shape is Campanelle, which is like ziti but with a flair.

                                                        2. Why not dress it up with bow tie pasta? Fun, and it holds sauce well.

                                                          1. Assuming the sauce is meatless, you could grill or pan fry some Italian sausage links (mild, spicy or sweet) for those who want to add meat to the main spaghetti course. If your sauce contains meat, ignore this comment.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. I think if you get past all of the responses on whether spaghetti is messy or difficult, you should consider something unusual for the pasta itself. I've purchased pasta from Pappardelle's (in stores) and found them wonderful, tho I haven't bought any of the flat ones. Their flavors are great and they hold up well, meaning they don't bleed or break after becoming al dente. Here is a link to their flat pasta selection:


                                                              I'm very partial to their lemon garlic orzo, and chocolate gemelli is fun for a different kind of dessert served with softened ice cream, macerated strawberries and chocolate balsamic vinaigrette.

                                                              1. You should definitely have an antipasto course, which could consist of salumi, mozzarella, even burrata, and some marinated vegetables.

                                                                The salad should definitely be a separate course after. Since your pasta is meatless, the salad could be reinforced with some kind of protein (cheese?) and substitute for a main course.

                                                                As for shape, spaghetti is perfect, but if you'd like something easier to serve and eat, any other shape that strikes your fancy will do fine with a simple tomato sauce. Casarecce could be an idea. Or ravioli too.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: mbfant

                                                                  or strozzapreti - it is one of my favorite pasta names (strangled priests) - good with a tomato sauce and a fun conversation piece

                                                                  1. re: thimes

                                                                    Our Home Goods store always has interesting shapes. I recently found amatriciana pasta and made the eponymous dish with the real deal for once.

                                                                2. When making spaghetti for company (mostly my 20 something adult nephews and nieces) I serve the meatballs in sauce as a dish. And rigatoni alfredo to serve along with it. Usually a simple salad and garlic bread complete the meal. I don't know whether it constitues "dressing up" the dinner, but it is always well received.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                    How do you do a large batch of rigatoni alfredo for a dozen + diners without it getting cold by the time the last diner begins to eat.

                                                                    Non-traditional recipe?

                                                                    Alfredo in my world does not hold well. Especially made in large batches, unless made more like a mac and cheese. But then , still, it is not baked and the pasta absorbs much if not all of the moisture. Even a little cold the butter, cheese and cream congeal.

                                                                    Red tomato sauce keeps and heats all day.

                                                                    I love the combo of meat and maraina + alfredo but I;m not a calorie counter.

                                                                    1. re: jjjrfoodie

                                                                      I'd fashion a double boiler to hold the Alfredo. Maybe place plastic wrap on top in contact with the sauce as to not form skin.

                                                                    2. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                      The only problem with meatballs is that a group with university students is likely to include at least a couple of vegetarians. Yes, in that case make them a choice, and make sure there is no meat in the sauce.

                                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                                          They should mention it - you can always make them some kind of simple sauce. It isn't a problem.

                                                                    3. lots of good suggestions.

                                                                      some kind of antipasto served before or with depending on the structure of your evening sounds great. (yes i know by definition antipasto must occur before the meal or it isn't antipasto (antipasto, antipasta, antipasti take your pick)

                                                                      to minimize splatter mom used to break the spaghetti noodles in half before she cooked them. Still long but more manageable (especially when we were kids.)

                                                                      a salad is good, but being from the west it was served first or with and can either compliment or distract from the antipasto.

                                                                      i thought there was a law requiring that all pasta dishes be served with a side of garlic bread. cheesy garlic bread is also acceptable. don't breadsticks belong with the antipasto/salad?

                                                                      if you are serving a meatless sauce then I agree that some meatballs, sausage, or both make a nice addition.

                                                                      a simple vegetable (green beans? sautéed mixed veg?) is also a possibility depending on how big the party is and how long you want people eating. It can echo the antipasto or contrast with it.

                                                                      dessert? after all that pasta? LOL. the sky is the limit.

                                                                      1. Thanks to everyone for all the great ideas.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. Yes to the antipasto ideas.

                                                                          Leave the spaghetti alone- don't add heavy distracting flavors like meat or whatever. Just some fresh shredded basil ontop. Name it something fancy and italian sounding.

                                                                          This salad is my favorite right now- really beautiful and festive with hearty greens:

                                                                          1. My tomato sauce is chock full of meat, and my table is too full to serve family style (see photo below), and a buffet just didn't seem like a good idea, so I rejected the antipasti platter idea. Even though I love these and I am a pro at assembling one. So for the first course I'm going with thinly sliced gravlax (homemade), served with capers, lemons, and mustard dill sauce. Because I love it and think it will be completely unexpected as a starter for spaghetti. Next the spaghetti in all its glory, replete with long noodles. Splatter away! After the spaghetti, a salad of baby arugula, pomegranates, pears and shaved parm. Dessert will be so,something gooey and chocolate that a friend is bringing.

                                                                            Thanks so much for the help, this has been great fun Chowhounds!

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: jspragins

                                                                              Stunning table. Your meal sounds lovely. What great memories you'll build!

                                                                                1. re: jspragins

                                                                                  The menu sounds perfect and your table is gorgeous!

                                                                                  1. re: jspragins

                                                                                    Gorgeous table, fabulous menu, that should be one spectacular, memorable evening!!!

                                                                                  2. Start off with a fabulous antipasto plate.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: treb

                                                                                      OMG, have the courtesy of reading the OP's posts!

                                                                                    2. Moscato is a nice wine with desert. I agree with the meatball idea (especially if they're small....a bit more elegant) , and you can always add a bit of fried caper berries on the top for crunch....and to elevate the dish. I love arugula and shaved parmesan with a lemon flavored olive oil as a salad. so simple. so good. I certainly don't think of spaghetti as "low end". I think of it as comfort food. I think Marcella Hazan would agree. And Scott Conant's basic spaghetti and sauce is the most popular thing on Scarpetta's menu....and people
                                                                                      pay $24 for it!

                                                                                      1. Ok...just read about whipping and splattering. Really? I mean....I can spill with the best of them, but Italians have been serving these dishes for centuries....and seem no worse for wear. If you're really concerned about someone saucing him/her/self.....make sure you have big cloth napkins so they can cover up. I just have a hard time getting my head around choosing a pasta shape so that adults can stay pristine.....

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: perk

                                                                                          A little splatter? Quelle Horeur!!

                                                                                        2. I agree with using a different shaped pasta to dress it up a bit more. I use several shapes which hold the sauce very well and look pretty too: campanelle, cellentani, or farfalle. My favorite is the campanelle.

                                                                                          Good luck and have fun!

                                                                                          1. I would serve normal spaghetti pasta for a dinner that features spaghetti. Have breadsticks standing upright in jars and a big tossed green Italian-type salad. Grated Parmesan to sprinkle over. That's a fine meal---I wouldn't gild the lily. And red wine. Juice for the children. If you want to fancy up even more you could add an appetizer course of antipasto-type items, maybe on individual plates. To stay with the Italian theme, cannoli for dessert, or a fruit ice.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: Querencia

                                                                                              Have some sparkling water and lemon available for any adult who doesn't drink wine, and for sophisticated kids... (I was one, loved bitter vegetables).

                                                                                            2. Fry some eggplant. Sprinkle with minced garlic and parsley and serve atop pasta and sauce. A simple three greens salad, dressed with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar should go nicely.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: mudcat

                                                                                                Eggplant on meat sauce? That's a "yuck" for me.

                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                  I'd love to serve a moussaka or papoutsakia for posterity

                                                                                              2. I like the idea of serving this comfort food right before Christmas...

                                                                                                I really don't see why you need to feel you have to dress up what you have already considered. You have a nice table and environment appropriately decorated. You have invited the people you want to share the day with. The event sounds perfect to me as is.

                                                                                                All the suggestions are good ones, but I'll just contribute these very small thoughts.

                                                                                                Good Bread...or Garlic Bread

                                                                                                A green vegetable..., Roasted Asparagus, Broccoli or Broccoli Rabe

                                                                                                Soup...Ministrone or White Bean.

                                                                                                1. I'd just like to point out that the OP posted her menu, so these kind suggestions are somewhat mute.
                                                                                                  The table is festooned and the meal sounds lovely.

                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                                                                                        "It's a moo point, like a cow's opinion it doesn't matter" hahahaha

                                                                                                    1. I guess it's a moot point, but if I were serving something likely to splatter and stain, it would only be to people I knew well - which sounds like that's the case in the OP's situation -
                                                                                                      and invite them to dress down accordingly, or to bring an old shirt to wear over their clothes during the meal. As a guest, I'd much rather be forewarned than wear and ruin something light-colored if my food - or that of the person next to me - splattered.

                                                                                                      1. I would do a wonderful big antipasto platter perhaps with a glass of prosecco to make it more festive. And, perhaps a very festive dessert...cannoli's, tiramisu, Italian cheesecake and a sparkling brachetto, or some limoncello to top it off. Add these to a wonderful spaghetti dinner with some good bread and a decent chianti and you'll have very pleased guests I'm sure.

                                                                                                        1. How did your dinner party go??