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La Dolce Vita: Easy Italian Dinner Party

One of my best friends from high school went to Tuscany in her 20s and met her future husband – a nice Jewish boy from Florida. Italy is like that. Its culture is predicated on love: love of beauty, love of family and friends, love of food and love of wine. Haven’t had a chance to visit? While it should be on your bucket list, the great thing about la dolce vita is that you can re-create much of what makes folks swoon for Italy at home. No, you can’t view Pisa’s famous crooked tower from your kitchen window, but you can cook a meal and open up wines for loved ones. And I am not talking Chef Boyardee-style faux Italian. Authentic Italian cuisine is united by two essential elements: olive oil and wine. Both are cooking staples, and no Italian meal is complete without sharing some vino.

I have learned that an easy Italian-themed dinner party with complementary wines keeps me out of the kitchen and in the company of friends. Sure, I know how to make homemade pasta, but does any working mom have the time? Skip the labor-intensive menu and try some of these easy dishes with tasty wines to match.

Appetizers – “Antipasti”

Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto With Shaved Parmigiano

Trim two bunches of green asparagus, blanch quickly in boiling water, then allow to cool. Wrap asparagus spears in prosciutto and arrange on a pretty platter. Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of salt, and then sprinkle with shaved Parmigiano.

Olive Bread Bruschetta With Red-Pepper Tapenade and White Bean Purée

I just buy a loaf of day-old olive bread and make my own bruschetta. Slice loaves into ¼” rounds, drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle with S+P. Bake in a toasty oven until the edges are brown, and cool uncovered. For toppings, you can make your own red pepper tapenade or buy a jar from a better grocery store. For the white bean purée, buy a can of white fagioli and purée them with olive oil, S+P and a dash of oregano or basil. Spoon toppings onto cooled olive ovals; garnish with fresh herb leaves.

Skewered Herbed Polpettini With Tomatoes and Mozzarella

I don’t have time to make my meatballs in the traditional Italian ratio of beef, veal and pork. (Hey, I’m Irish!) So I flat-out cheat: Frozen meatballs are a great timesaver. Sprinkle cooked polpettini with chopped parsley and skewer each with small cherry tomatoes and mozzarella rounds on a long toothpick. Arrange upright in small clear glasses for a pretty serving option.

Suggested Wine: La Gioiosa Extra Dry Prosecco DOCG

Salad – “Insalate”

Insalate Tricolore With Arugula, Frisée and Radicchio

Easy, colorful and less common than the basil, tomato and mozzarella combination in caprese salads. I like Matt Molina’s recipe although I go easy on the anchovy in the dressing in case guests don’t care for it. Dress the salad right before you serve it.

Suggested Wine: 2010 Terre di Terrossa Soave

Entrée – “Il Secondo Piatto”

Baked Polenta With Sausage and Tomato Sauce

Served alongside the salad, this hearty casserole is easy to make ahead of time. Bake it in a colorful ceramic dish. Polenta is something you can find in better grocery stores, so you don’t have to make your own.

Suggested Wine: 2009 Orsetto Oro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Dessert – “Il Dolce”

Cherry-Chocolate and Anise-Almond Biscotti With Vanilla Gelato

I make my own biscotti and store them – you can freeze the dough and bake some when you’re ready. Biscotti taste best when they’re nice and crunchy, not warm and mushy, so prepare them ahead of the party. Click here for a good overview and some suggested versions. Serve them with gelato and some dark-roast coffee. Dessert is done!

Suggested Wine: Villa Puccini Vin Santo (Chianti, NV)