Think Italian cuisine and you envision savory flavors, hearty servings, and a big, warm hug (the culinary equivalent of one anyway)! So easy to love, such a joy to serve to guests at a party. For a special birthday gathering, then, the choice of going with Italian party fare is an easy one. The challenge lies in selecting from among so many popular dishes, appetizers, soups, salads, and desserts.
We thought we’d offer some help, then, in planning a party menu that includes the Italian food classics—which, as it turns out, are wonderfully simple to purchase and/or prepare!
Start with a Fruit, Nuts, and Cheese Platter
Greet guests at the party table with an inviting platter of gourmet goodies that are readily available nowadays at any large supermarket and, of course, any gourmet food store.
If you’re a little unsure about which of the many Italian cheeses to serve, here’s a handy listing of the most popular ones and their distinctive qualities. At least, you’ll know what pleasures await behind those romantic-sounding names!
- mozzarella – a spreadable cheese with an attractive white hue; has a mild taste with a soft, chewy texture; a key ingredient in the pizzas and lasagna we all love!
- gorgonzola – a creamy blue cheese that comes in a sharp “mountain” variety and a sweeter “dolce” variety that goes great with fruit and desserts
- parmesan – a full-flavored cheese with a hard rind, made in large wheels; best known for its grated form to top pasta dishes, but also delicious when eaten in slivers
- scamorza – a cheese with a unique jug shape because it is hung from a string while aging; traditionally served with fruit at the end of a meal
- pecorino – a salted, sharply flavored cheese that comes in 2 famous varieties: Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Toscano based on its place of origin; used for serving with desserts
Pick Your Pasta and a Fine Wine
Now we come to the main entree. Your safest choice for a party is something flavorful, filling, and a sure favorite with all—pasta! And the wonderful thing is that there’s a seemingly endless array of pasta variations to suit every conceivable taste. Allow us to share some choices (with links to their recipes) that may help you zero in on one or two. We even chose those with fancy-shaped pasta to go with the happy occasion:
- Farfalle with Spinach Pesto – a spinach-and-almonds pesto sauce paired with bowtie-shaped pasta
- Fettuccine with Artichoke Hearts – a delicately flavored artichoke and cream sauce on flat pasta noodles
- Fusilli with Fish, Tomatoes and Olives – featuring fresh tomatoes, fish such as swordfish with pasta twists
A pasta dish can actually be a meal in itself. But you could complement it with:
- a hearty soup like the famed minestrone, cipollata onion soup, or spinach soup with tortellini
- a refreshing salad, such as Caprese Salad made with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil
- a meat dish, like Veal Piccata featuring tender veal cutlets flavored with lemon, wine, and capers
- a poultry dish, such as Roast Chicken Italiano packed with fresh herbs
- a fish dish, like the spicy Mediterranean Tuna served on a bed of fresh arugula, spinach, fennel, and tomatoes
Don’t Forget Dessert with Italian Treats and Pastries!
The most exciting part of this party? Dessert, of course! We suggest the following:
Head off to the kitchen and bake up popular desserts such as Tiramisu, Italian frosted cookies, and cannoli (see images above). Serve them in dainty trays and platters together with a fine selection of teas and coffees. If you prefer something more convenient, buy ready to serve Italian amaretti cookies, Baci hazelnut chocolates from Perugina, or La Florentine almond nougat candy. Of course, you can also include a variety of yummy gelatos!
And to round out your party fare, how can you not serve a fine Italian wine? Again, how does one choose? A good wine outlet should have trained staff on hand to help you make a nice selection, whether you fancy a robust red or a dry white variety. However, try Pinot Grigio–a highly popular white Italian wine. For red, you may look out for Chianti, Amarone, Barolo, or Barbaresco.
As soon as your birthday party guests see your tempting Italian spread, all that’s left is to invite them, “Mangiare!” (Let’s eat!) Oh, and “Buon Compleanno!” (Happy Birthday!).