January Dinner Party: American Italian Classics

20150110_192743In the winter months it’s nice to see something bright on your dinner plate to break up the dreariness. January’s hostess is “obsessed” with caprese salad, the basil and tomato, the balsamic vinegar and a creamy pesto on a crunchy baguette. Ok, maybe I am obsessed too.  I very much appreciate the combinations of sweet and acid, the crunch of the bread absorbing the tomato juice and vinegar. When she shared the menu for January’s dinner party I could barely contain myself:

  • Caprese salad
  • Assorted Italian meat and cheese plate
  • Salad 
  • Garlic bread
  • Baked rigatoni with vodka sauce
  • Brownies
  • Gelato

20150110_192731Appetizers frequently end up being my favorite part of my meal.  I think I like having everything together in one bite.  The caprese bruschetta paired with an awesome antipasto of Italian cheeses, soppressata, capicola, salame, mortadella, and pepperoni definitely started the evening off on a great note. I find great pleasure in being able to snack on the different combinations while having conversation and catching up.  And then that includes carbs and olive oil, it’s a big win in my opinion.

Italian means comfort food and the American versions spare nothing when it comes to the amount of cheese.  There’s something magical when it bubbles and gets a little crispy on the top.  The hostess made sure to add extra cheese and the rigatoni is hearty enough to stand up to it.  Sometimes if you use too small of a pasta it becomes almost “pie” or casserole like, you still want the individual pieces of pasta to be able to stand on their own, absorb the sauce flavors and be al dente when they are done baking. Here, the hostess mixed vodka sauce, ricotta, mozzarella with the rigatoni and then covered it with more mozzarella.

While that baked we started our salad course, because you always need a vegetable. While this might sound crazy, SALT YOUR SALAD.  I swear.  It makes something crazy happen with the dressing and the greens seem to come alive.  The leftover dressing can always be sopped up with more garlic bread. You didn’t expect this meal to be healthy did you?

20150110_202137The baked rigatoni will come out of the oven with a wave of excitement. If you’re serving this meal, as our lovely hostess did, be sure that everyone gets some of the melted cheese topping.  When I make this at home, I typically add more cheese to the new “top” and put it back in to remelt so that even the leftovers get love. Italian food balances so well- its creaminess, salty cheeses and sweet-acidic tomato sauces and baked rigatoni is the very essence of all of these combinations.  It pairs amazingly well with a cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

20150110_223437With any Italian meal, don’t forget dessert. Gelato is one of my favorite things and its diversity of flavors is a win for any particular palate. Coffee gelato with brownies is an excellent way to close an American Italian meal.  As the gelato melts, it makes a wonderful coffee cream sauce over the warmed brownie.  Add a basil leaf for a garnish and you’ve come full circle!

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