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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!

                        http://www.amazon.com/Hog-Wild-Twirli...

                        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.