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  • Sheryl Ness

A Summer Dinner Party - Italian Style

Summer is the perfect time have an Italian style dinner party! My favorite menu starts with a Aperol spritz cocktail and little nibbles, like cheese, olives and nuts. Then, we usually continue on with fresh salads, focaccia and other breads, and finish with easy dessert, like biscotti or a jam tart. I love to end a summer dinner party with a little glass of limoncello as everyone settles in for a little time watching the fireflies flit around in the air.

In Italy, dining alfresco in the cool evening air is a common occurrence. The summer heat can be hard to take, but when the sun goes down and the cool air sets in, it's a perfect time to be out enjoying good food and great company. Why not recreate this idea wherever you are!

Invite a few friends and have them bring their favorite salad or bread, or a bottle of wine or prosecco. This way, the cooking is shared among friends. I discovered some of my favorite salad recipes this way. For more on the Italian dinner party topic, read Chapter 32. Below, I am featuring two salad recipes from the book.

Enjoy the summer. Share your ideas here. I'd love to hear from you. Cin Cin!

Aperol Spritz Cocktail (classic recipe)

4 oz. prosecco

2 oz. Aperol

1 oz. club soda

fresh orange slices or a few green olives

Creative option: Mix in 2 tsp. of Gardenaire's Rhubarb + Ginger syrup (it's a delicious twist)

Mix together the prosecco, Aperol and club soda. Stir well and serve over ice in a red wine goblet. Add a slice of orange or a green olive.

Aperol has a bitter taste, with elements of herbs, orange and rhubarb. When you pair it with the prosecco, it's a perfect balance of sweet, bitter and sparkly.

Sip on the spritz as you enjoy the nibbles before dinner starts.

Fennel Apple Salad

2 apples, thinly sliced, keep the skins on for color (I love Fuji apples for this.)

2 fennel, thinly sliced (take out the hard inner core of the fennel)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp. sea salt

1 lemon (juiced)

4 ounces Parmesan cheese (shaved into thin pieces)

Option: Add toasted walnuts over the top

Slice the apples and fennel thin with a mandolin or knife. Place in a serving bowl and mix in the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Shave the Parmesan cheese over the top and mix well. Serve immediately.

Panzanella Salad

4-5 slices of stale bread (any kind is fine)

3-4 medium tomatoes

Optional (1/2 small red onion, 1 cucumber sliced)

½ cup white balsamic vinegar (I love fig-infused white balsamic for this recipe)

3/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin)

½ tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)

¼ tsp. black pepper

10-12 fresh mozzarella balls (small pearl type, called Ciliegine)

5-6 leaves fresh basil

Cut the stale bread into small cubes (like croutons). Place the bread into a medium-sized sauté pan, drizzle with olive oil and heat over medium heat until the bread is browned and toasted. You can also toast the bread cubes in the oven on a baking sheet. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Set the bread aside and let cool.

Dice the tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers and place into a medium bowl. Add the salt, black pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and stir well. Cut or tear the basil into small pieces and add to the tomatoes. Place bowl in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Just prior to serving, add the bread cubes to the tomatoes and mix well. Cut the fresh mozzarella into halves or fourths and sprinkle over the top of the salad. Feel free to add more olive oil or balsamic vinegar if the mixture seems dry. The bread will soak up the liquid quickly. Spoon into small bowls and enjoy.

Recipe note: The fig-infused balsamic vinegar I like for this is made by Alessi. It can be found near the other vinegars in the grocery store. Experiment with other vinegar flavors if you like. The mozzarella balls (ciliegine) are usually found in the specialty cheese section packaged with water in a plastic container or shrink-wrapped to keep them fresh. If you can’t find these, simply cut 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella into small bite-sized cubes.

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