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Dec 31, 2013 07:36 AM

Italian-American Supper Club Menu Ideas

Hi Everyone,

I'm in a supper club where thankfully, everyone takes their turn seriously. Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the hosts, but always well worth the effort. Typically, the hosts choose a particular region - past ones have been Basque, Tuscany, Singapore, the Perigord - and really goes in depth. Well, my turn is in two weeks. For some reason, I have become obsessed with Italian-American Sunday sauce. I'd really like for Italian-American to be my theme. I'd like to adhere to one cookbook, but am uncertain of which one. I love Marcella Hazan's books, but do not think this would be Italian-American. I also have a Rao's cookbook and have heard the Soprano's cookbook is good, but really need guidance to do this right. I was thinking an amazing Sunday sauce, braciole (never had it!), and maybe some other items my friends and I have never tried. I was thinking less cheesy stuff, like cannelloni, etc., but perhaps that is misguided? We live in Nashville, TN, so not many true Italian-American restaurants. Bottom line, I want to do it right and really highlight the best of the cuisine.Thank you all!

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  1. Wow, it would be a meal I would like to attend for sure.

    First, I guess it depends on how far you want to go into "Italian-American" versus "Italian". All immigrant food morphs when they reach their new country, often because original ingredients aren't available - though the heart of the dish remains the same. Or do you want to do "Olive Garden" Italian American food? Though it sounds like you want to do the former - thankfully :D

    Marcella Hazan is a great resource, as is Lidia Bastianich (though she gets some bashing on this site, not 100% sure I understand why fully), and I like Biba Caggiano. Heck you could even go for Mario Batali.

    Growing up in NJ, "Italian" food was so different from family to family - often because they were either Northern or Southern Italian. So trying to pigeon hole the concept is futile - and thus I wouldn't worry about using true "Italian" resources for inspiration.

    If you're thinking Sopranos and Rao's, then you are wanting southern Italian (Naples/Sicily). Braciole is a great dish - makes a great sauce and a great meat dish all in one (very italian and very Italian-American a la Sopranos).

    And then just drop all of your final vowels when pronouncing things - which makes it all sound very Italian American (some of the pronunciations were because of southern/sicilian dialects but the tri-state area took doing that to new heights).

    Just think - lots of courses - and lots of food . . .then you sit around and talk for a while over coffee and light dessert . . . drink more coffee . . . bring out left overs for round two. That makes it very Italian-American - and wonderful.

    7 Replies
    1. re: thimes

      Wow, Thimes, this is helpful. I am very much interested in how recipes adapt in a new country. My father's side of the family is Greek, and I love how different our family's recipes are from what you would find in Kastania, where his family is from, or in a traditional Greek cookbook. So many people lambast Americanized versions of a cuisine, but I'm intrigued by it. I love what you said about growing up in NJ and the food being so different from home to home. I guess this is why I'm having a problem pinning down what I want to do. I did find a home-bound cook book circa 1968 at a garage sale from a lady in NYC that is definitely Italian-American, but have only had the chance to cook one recipe from it (it was great), but am scared to go full-force without having some security about how the other recipes will be. I have never heard of Biba Caggiano but am about to google now! I guess I am sort of thinking I am going to star in my own version of Big Night, haha. I love what you said about sitting around with more coffee, more food. Love it and I thank you.

      1. re: thimes

        Italian American cooking has a wide ranfe, from Genoese pesto and fish stew in San Francisco to Sicilian eggplant dishes in Brooklyn, and lots in between. Most typically, though, is a set of dishes and styles that blend the flavors and styles of the Italian south--Naples, Sicily, Calabria, Puglia. A Sunday ragu (see Arthur Schwartz's indispensable The Foods of Naples and Campania for many authoritative versions)--a basic variety of chuck steak, meaty pork ribs, fresh Italian sausage, and meatballs cooked for 2+ hours in crushed tomatoes makes a good start. Antipasto should be simple-some pickled vegetables, dried sausage or soppressata, a little cheese and olives. Dress hearty pasta (ziti, rigatoni, long fusilli) with the ragu's sauce, some grated pecorino, and serve the meats as a second course. Or make a pan of baked ziti with mozzarella dressed with the meaty ragu. Really splurge and have a second second course, like chicken roasted with herbs and potatoes. Some vegetables--string beans or a bitter green in garlic, a big salad, fresh fruit and dried nuts, and more cheese. Sound, simple white and red wine, like a Montepulciano or Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. Sweets if you wish-like a variety of classic cookies or pastry like sfogliatelle, pasticiotti, plus coffee, grappa, or a digestivo. You don't have to drop your vowels, either. My Brooklyn Calabrese family never did. But do whatever brings conviviality, pleasure, and satisfaction.

        1. re: bob96

          Bob96, This is exactly what I had in mind. I'm going to make braciole as one of the meats. I'm feeling like I should include octopus or a stuffed squid. Believe it or not, we have a great seafood market in Nashville where fresh fish is brought in daily from the gulf. Love bitter greens in garlic - getting hungry now! Was thinking about zeppole for a dessert, too. I am not an expert fryer so thougt it would be a good learning experience. Many thank yous for your advice.

          1. re: vasiliki

            You can also do a seafood splurge, and start with cold seafood salad, then perhaps stuffed squid cooked in a tomato based ragu, with the sauce served over linguine as a first course. You might add something like a baked fish dish (swordfish, grouper steaks, say, with a breadcrumb oreganata topping), and then some cold salad--sliced oranges and fennel and black olives would be classically Sicilian. Enjoy!

            1. re: vasiliki

              I don't know if you had your dinner party yet but I was thinking that as an Italian American I believe at many Sunday or holiday dinners that I ever attended Zeppoli for dessert was extremely uncommon. It was usually fruit followed by coffee and cookies,dessert wines, biscotti and or a cake.Now that is just my experiance ,Most time I did enjoy zeppoli were when we attended the different " festa's ".I do remember my grandmother though making us sfinge .

              1. re: scunge

                Consider zeppole di San Giuseppe, fried pastry rings filled with pastry cream served alongside sfince--also fried dough, but heavier and filled with sweetened ricotta cream--on and around St. Joseph's day in March in Sicily. "Zeppole" also can, confusingly, cover many different foods, from the savory fried yeast dough sometimes stuffed with anchovies, to sweetened pastry dough, also fried. Also variously called crispelle, crispeddi, and other names, and usually a festive dish. They're often served as a Sunday dessert during feast periods.

          2. re: thimes

            I made a little appetizer from the Lidia B. cookbook - roasted black olives with red pearl onions poached in red wine vinegar plus orange zest and olive oil. Absolutely delicious! Just from trying that one recipe and flipping through others, I can't imagine why anyone would bash her!

            I think I'm most enchanted by the Sicilian Italian-American recipes for this supper club. I checked out a Carmine's cookbook from the library and made the meatballs - wow. I'm going to try the braciole, next. Thank you for your help.

          3. Have you seen Lidia Bastianich book - ? It is a collection of Italian-American recipes and could be helpful to you. I made a few recipes from the book and they were all good. I love her TV shows and her cooking style.

            1 Reply
            1. re: herby

              Thank you, Herby! I am going to check that out. I have never cooked any of her recipes. I appreciate your help.

            2. The courses of Italian dinners are antipasto, prima piatta, seconda piatta, insalata, dolce e aperitivo. Forget the Italian-American theme. It's only spaghetti and meatballs. Do the real thing. The courses below are in order of serving.

              Vino: Wine before and after dinner.

              Antipasto: assorted cheeses, slices of cured sausages, olives, marinated artichoke hearts, etc.

              Prima piatta: Easy to eat pasta like farfalle, penne, ravioli, etc. No pasta that has to be twirled on a fork, or heaven forbid, a fork with a soup spoon. The latter is not done in the old country. Either make the tomato condiment, or buy a good one, not one with High Fructose Corn Sweetener. This 1st course is served in small amounts, not by the plate piled high with pasta.

              Seconda piatta: Braciole is a good meat dish. If you make it, buy flank steak and have the meat cutter in the market slice it into 2 thin pieces lengthwise for easy rolling to be filled and tied. Vegetables like roasted broccoli, asparagus or green beans. If your really into it, roasted Brussels sprouts are good.

              Insalata: Salad using Romaine lettuce, not iceberg, diced carrots, red onion, stuffed olives, etc. and dressed with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

              Dolce: Desserts like cakes are good like tiramisu, or maybe cannoli (it's already plural so do not add an 's' at the end of the word). These if you can find them in Grand Ole Opry country.

              Apertivi: After dinner drinks. Limoncello if you can find it.

              Buon appetito! Vivi, ama, ridi e specialmente mangia bene!

              Good appetite! Live, love, laugh and especially eat well!

              22 Replies
              1. re: ChiliDude

                <<Forget the Italian-American theme. It's only spaghetti and meatballs.>>

                Seriously?? Not only very wrong by seriously offensive.

                OP- you have gotten some great ideas already. Here are some blogs that might inspire you.






                1. re: foodieX2

                  How is this in any way offensive? I want to celebrate and enjoy with friends foods that can be identified as expressly of an Italian American tradition. This is not a party where people dress up like gangsters, if that's what you are thinking. If someone had Tex-Mex food for their supper club, would that be offensive? I'm confused by your response.

                  1. re: vasiliki

                    I believe foodieX2 was responding to ChiliDude's suggestion you throw out your Italian-American theme.

                    I am in a dinner club. We've been running for 12 years now so have covered just about every theme you can imagine.

                    One of our favorite nights was when we all got together to make ravioli...we divided up in three groups across the kitchen(with wine for each group!) andone group worked on fillings, one group on doughs, and one on sauces.Then we put the ravioli together, cooked them up, and enjoyed them together.

                    Not quite what you had in mind since it wouldn't include a Sunday gravy meal but still a lot of great fun.

                      1. re: ziggylu

                        What you are doing is following a tradition that was brought over to the US by Italian immigrants. I do not consider the wonderful activity that you participate Italian America cooking. I consider it as being true to cucina italiana.

                        I've watched my late mother-in-law make ravioli from scratch, and it was an education.

                        I thank you for not putting an 's' on the end of the word 'ravioli' which I've heard from South Philly people of Italian descent. The word 'ravioli' is already plural.

                        Buon anno! Vivi, ama, ridi e specialmente mangia bene!

                        1. re: ChiliDude

                          According to would be wrong to assume there is only one plural word for raviolo...and the *s* is acceptable.

                          1. re: ChiliDude

                            You may not like Italian American cooking, and that is fine. However, please don't insult those of us that do, or those who wish to learn more about it.

                        2. re: vasiliki

                          Foodiex2 means that crack about Italian American food being only spaghetti and meatballs is offensive. I agree.

                            1. re: vasiliki

                              No you- the person whose quote I responded to. No worries!

                            2. re: foodieX2

                              Sorry, Foodie X2. I'm still learning how to read these threads. Thank you for these blog links. This is all such awesome info. i am so excited about this.

                            3. re: ChiliDude

                              Chilidude, this is great info, but I really think exploring the Italian American tradition is quite worthwhile! Definitely more than spaghetti and meatballs. I think so many people immediately think of that, which is one reason I want to do it justice and learn more about it.

                              1. re: vasiliki

                                OK, mi dispiace! Get a copy of "My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy's Undiscovered South" by Rosetta Costantino. I think you will find it very insightful.

                                BTW, did I mention that my wife of Italian heritage and I have been married for over 5 decades? I've had an education in Italian cooking over that period of time.

                                1. re: ChiliDude

                                  Can't wait to check it out. Thank you!

                                  1. re: vasiliki

                                    il mi piacere.Your very welcome. I hope that you will find the cookbook helpful. There's history in the book as well as recipes. You will be able to impress the other members of your Supper Club with your knowledge and cooking.

                                    1. re: ChiliDude

                                      While we're correcting, and I do appreciate and agree with your point regarding "raviolo/ravioli", you should say, "you're welcome", not "your welcome"...

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        Thanks for the correction. I'm guilty of making that mistake all too often because I do not proofread well.

                                        1. re: ChiliDude

                                          Sorry. I should NOT correct people and I keep telling myself this. I've been pretty good about it lately. Your posts/contributions are great and you are appreciated here.

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            Your posts/contributions are great and you are appreciated here

                                            Especially this one....

                                            OK folks...It's capocollo, not all the other misspellings and pronounciations

                                            : 0 )

                                  2. re: ChiliDude

                                    I love Rosetta Costantino's book, but as a Calabrese 2nd generation, I appreciate her intention to cover food that is not commonly considered Italian- (or Calabrian-) American, but the traditional cooking of rural Cosenza, mostly, with dishes from other Calabrian provinces included. There are overlaps, of course, and there are more than enough wonderful recipes in her book for a great festive meal. But she never set out to do a traditional "Little Italy" cookbook. For that, Nancy Verde Barr's We Called it Macaroni is perhaps the classic.

                                    1. re: bob96

                                      I wish I could postpone my dinner - so many cookbooks to check out. Thank you. I can't wait to look up Cosenza. I see covering a province in Italy next time around.

                              2. My Sunday Sauce this time of year would include:

                                Pork Braciole

                                Country Ribs

                                Back Ribs/Spare Ribs

                                Short Ribs


                                Sausage & Meatballs.

                                My Sister-In-Law's Paternal Grandmother also had a Chicken Cut up ....and everyone who ever tasted her sauce regarded it as the best they ever had....and not just to be polite.

                                If you really want to blow their a Pork Skin Braciole, and or, Tripe.


                                3 Replies
                                1. re: fourunder

                                  Fourunder, thank you. This is so helpful. I love oxtails. I'm going to do the pork skin braciole. I have a lead on some great heritage hog skin! Many thank yous.

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    Pork skins! Fourunder, you never fail to bring up memories of childhood Holiday celebrations. First Roasted Fresh Ham, now Pork Skin Braciole. Wow. Thank you.

                                  2. "We Called It Macaroni: An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking" by Nancy Verde Barr is about the best Italian-American cookbook I have read. Barr writes about her family in Providence, Rhode Island and the recipes are both easy and satisfying. (She is also a professional, having been executive chef for several of Julia Child's TV ventures and cooking workshops in the 1980's.)

                                    You can get it via Amazon

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: penthouse pup

                                      Can't wait to check this out! Ordering today!

                                        1. re: penthouse pup

                                          I missed your post so I posted another rave for this book this a.m. A gem.