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An Italian Buffet Party in the Garden

by Lou Seibert Pappas

The harvest season is a perfect time to showcase the bounty in an autumn party with an Italian theme. The spectacular home-made pasta entree can be done a day or two in advance. Or offer the cold white bean salad as a vegetarian entree, minus the chicken strips. Make the frozen dessert up to a week ahead. The other elements are relatively fast to prepare the day of the party, or the day before.

For beverages, Italian reds are apropos, such as Paitin Dolcetto d'Alba Sori Paitin 1996, Marcarini Dolcetto d'Alba Fontenazza 1996, or Ca'del Re Barbera d'Alba 1996. Or offer a selection of California Sangiovese, the Italian chianti varietal.

Honeydew and Prosciutto

Serve wedges of melon, each topped with a wafer thin prosciutto slice or thinly sliced ham. Pass a pepper grinder. Accompany with a halved fig, draped with a sliver of prosciutto.

Antipasto Platter

Offer a selection of sliced Italian sausages, such as mortadella, gallantina with pistachios, coppa, and dry salami, and a chunk of cheese such as Asiago or a specialty goat or sheep's milk cheese. Include a choice of two of three kinds of olives and a basket of fennel, zucchini, and red peppers to slice, and marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms, if you wish.

Italian-Style Marinated Mushrooms
Makes about 1 pint mushrooms

Trim stems of 1 pound small mushrooms. Simmer for 2 minutes in 1 inch boiling salted water with 1 slice lemon; drain and cool. Place in a bowl and pour over a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally.

Leek and Zucchini Frittata
Makes 54 appetizers


3 large leeks, chopped (white part only
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium zucchini, sliced
2 bunches green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
6 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Monterey jack or Jarlsberg cheese
3/4 cup shredded Asiago or dry jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ƒF. Using a large frying pan, sautÈ the leeks in oil until soft; remove from the pan to a bowl. Add the zucchini and sautÈ until crisp tender; add the onions and sautÈ 1 minute and add to the leeks. Mix in the basil or oregano and parsley and set aside. Beat the eggs until light and mix in the sour cream, jack cheese, half the Asiago or Parmesan and the vegetable mixture. Pour into a greased 10 by 15-inch pan. Sprinkle with remaining Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until set. Cut in squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Red Pepper and Green Onion Frittata Variation: Instead of the leeks and zucchini, substitute 4 red peppers, seeded and diced, 2 red onions, chopped, and 2 bunches green onions, chopped. SautÈ as directed in the recipe for the leeks and zucchini.

Tomato-Basil and Mozzarella Salad

Thinly sliced red and gold tomatoes, arrange on a platter, top with sliced Mozzarella, and scatter over basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil.

Serves 16 (2 per person)


3 pounds chicken thighs
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground pork, veal, or turkey
1 pint (1 lb.) ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 oz.)
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Fresh Egg Noodles: follow
Herbed Tomato Sauce: follows
3 pounds teleme or Monterey jack cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Preheat the oven to 350ƒF. Place the chicken pieces in a shallow pan and roast in the oven for 35 minutes. Let cool, remove and discard skin and bones, and grind the meat. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and sautÈ the onions until limp. Add the garlic and ground pork and cook until the meat loses its pink color; let cool slightly. Mix in the ground chicken, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, salt, and nutmeg. Cover and chill, if desired.

Shape the cannelloni by placing about 3 tablespoons chicken filling in a ribbon down one side of each Fresh Egg Noodle; roll up to enclose the filling.

To assemble, pour hot Herbed Tomato Sauce 1/4 inch deep in an ovenproof shallow serving pan. Place the canneloni in the sauce, allowing a 1 inch space between each. Top the canneloni with sliced cheese, covering pasta completely. (If desired, cover and freeze at this point. Let thaw completely before reheating.) Bake in a preheated 425ƒF oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.

Fresh Egg Noodles: Beat together just until blended 2 eggs, 6 egg yolks, 1/4 cup water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Spoon 3 cups all-purpose flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the egg mixture and stir with a fork until the flour is blended in. Shape into a ball. Knead on a lightly floured board until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. For cannelloni, divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a paper thin 10-inch square Cut into 4 pieces, each 5 inches square. Cover until all the dough is rolled and cut. In a large, shallow pan, bring 1/2 inch salted water, flavored with 1 tablespoon olive oil, to a boil. Place 2 or 3 noodles in and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. With a spatula, lift from water and let drain on a towel. Repeat until all noodles are cooked. Makes 32 noodles.

Herbed Tomato Sauce: SautÈ 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or green onions in 2 tablespoons butter until limp. Add 1 can (28 oz.) pureed tomatoes, 1 chicken bouillon cube, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until reduced to about 2 1/2 cups. Melt 4 tablespoons butter and stir in 6 tablespoons flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in 2 cups hot milk and cook until smooth. Add 1 chicken bouillon cube and cook a few minutes longer. Combine sauces; taste for seasoning. Makes about 5 cups.

White Bean Salad
Makes 12 servings


1 pound Great Northern or small white beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped preserved lemon (optional)
1/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced (dehydrate in hot water to soften)
Garnish: Greens
1 cup each red and gold cherry tomatoes, halved
Optional: 4 cooked split chicken breasts, cut in 1/2-inch strips

Place the beans in a large pot, cover with water at least 2 inches above the beans and let soak for 8 hours. Drain, add fresh water, season with salt and pepper, and cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender; drain. Mix together a vinaigrette of lemon juice, vinegar, oil, mustard, garlic, preserved lemon, and onion. Toss and chill. At serving time, sprinkle with parsley and tomatoes, tuck in greens, and garnish with cherry tomatoes and chicken.

Green Beans and Pine Nuts
Makes 12 servings


3 pounds slender green beans, ends removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon or dill
6 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

In a large saucepan, cook the beans in boiling salted water until tender; drain and toss with oil, herbs, and nuts. Serve hot or chilled.

Pistachio Spumone
Makes 12-16 servings


2 teaspoons butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup pistachios or chopped blanched almonds
1/2 cup water
8 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup anise-flavored liqueur, such as Strega or Pernod
Strawberries or raspberries, about 1 1/2 quarts

Heat the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small frying pan and add the nuts; sautÈ, stirring, until the sugar melts and caramelizes and the nuts turn golden. Turn out of the pan onto a sheet of buttered aluminum foil and let cool. Break apart.

In a small saucepan, combine the remaining sugar and water and bring to a boil. Boil until the temperature registers 238ƒF on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Continue to beat and pour the hot syrup over them in a fine stream, beating until the mixture cools to room temperature, about 7 minutes; chill. Whip the cream until stiff and flavor with vanilla and liqueur. Fold the cream and 1/2 cup nut crunch onto the egg mousse. Pour into a 2 1/2 quart mold. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours. Unmold by dipping into a pan of hot water for 6 seconds, then invert on a serving platter. Return to the freezer for 30 minutes to refirm. To serve, garnish the top of spumone with remaining nut crunch. Spoon berries into a bowl and serve alongside.


Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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