Selecting a menu for a large dinner party is tricky. You don't want to choose dishes that require last-minute preparation, and you need to pick recipes that will feed a crowd (or can easily be doubled to do so) and consider the dietary needs of your guests. Luckily, the majority of my friends are adventurous eaters and while two girls don't eat meat, they do eat fish and cheese. Thus I'm serving a rustic Italian meal that's several courses long. When the party begins, plates of tomato and basil bruschetta and chicken-liver crostini will sit — ready to be devoured — on tables in the patio. I'll also set out an assortment of Italian olives, shards of Parmesan cheese, and chunks of salami.
At the table, the first course will consist of a crunchy, Italian salad with mustard vinaigrette. The second course is a decadent baked pasta dish oozing with melted cheese. For the entree, we'll enjoy a fragrant seafood stew with garlic toasts for dipping. This is a luxurious menu that's wonderful at any occasion, be it a birthday party  or simply a Saturday night, so check out the recipes and .
2 cups assorted cherry, grape, and teardrop tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for brushing
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 large loaf focaccia, halved horizontally (reserve half for another use)
1 garlic clove, peeled, halved
- Combine halved tomatoes, finely chopped onion, 3 tablespoons olive oil, chopped fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar in medium bowl; season tomato topping with salt and pepper. Topping can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally.
- Preheat broiler.
- Place focaccia half, cut side up, on baking sheet; brush bread with olive oil. Toast bread in broiler until top is golden brown, watching closely to avoid burning, about 2 minutes.
- Immediately rub cut side of bread all over with halved garlic, then cut focaccia crosswise into 4 equal pieces.
- Top toasted focaccia with tomato mixture and serve.
- Appetizers, Crostini
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb chicken livers, trimmed and patted dry
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
3 tablespoon capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup sweet (red) vermouth
1 cup chopped parsley
1 sourdough baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
1 lemon wedge
- Heat butter and oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add livers and cook over medium-high heat until undersides are browned, about 3 minutes. Turn livers over and add red-pepper flakes, capers, and 1 tsp salt. Cook until livers are just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes more.
- Increase heat to high and add vermouth. Boil, stirring, until slightly thickened and glossy, about 3 minutes. Transfer livers with a slotted spoon to a cutting board, then transfer sauce to a bowl.
- Coarsely chop livers and add to sauce. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir in parsley. Spoon onto toasts and squeeze a little lemon juice over each.
Make ahead: Liver mixture, without parsley, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Reheat, then stir in parsley, before spreading on toasts.
- Appetizers, Crostini
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce, halved, cored, and cut into wide strips
1/2 head red cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into thin strips
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup packed basil leaves, shredded
- In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, and Dijon; season with salt and pepper.
- Add lettuce, cabbage, onion, and basil; toss to combine. Serve immediately.
- Greens , Salads
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti
1/2 pound imported Fontina, coarsely shredded (2 cups)
1/2 pound mozzarella, coarsely shredded (2 cups)
1/2 pound Gruyère, coarsely shredded (2 cups)
1/4 pound Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
- Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and spread the spaghetti on a baking sheet; let cool.
- In a large bowl, toss the Fontina with the mozzarella and Gruyère.
- Spread one third of the spaghetti in the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mixed cheeses and half of the Gorgonzola over the spaghetti and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with another layer of spaghetti, mixed cheeses, Gorgonzola and salt and pepper. Top with the remaining spaghetti and mixed cheeses.
- Bake the spaghetti in the center of the oven until the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before cutting into squares and serving.
Make Ahead: The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 early in the day and covered with plastic wrap. Uncover the dish before baking.
- Pasta/Noodle, Side Dishes
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 small)
2 cups large-diced small white potatoes
2 cups chopped fennel (1 large bulb)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups good white wine
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 quart Seafood Stock, recipe follows, or store-bought fish stock
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (3 cloves)
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve the shells for the stock)
1 pound each halibut and bass fillets, cut in large chunks
24 mussels, cleaned
3 tablespoons Pernod
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Toasted baguette slices, buttered and rubbed with garlic
- Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot, add the onions, potatoes, fennel, salt, and pepper, and saute over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until the onions begin to brown.
- Add the wine and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes with their juices, stock, garlic, and saffron to the pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
- Add the shrimp, fish, and mussels, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit covered for another 5 minutes. The fish and shrimp should be cooked and the mussels opened. Discard any mussels that don't open. Stir in the Pernod, orange zest, and salt, to taste. Serve ladled over 1 or 2 slices of toasted baguette.
2 tablespoons good olive oil
Shells from 1 pound large shrimp
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 quarts water
1/2 cup good white wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme, including stems
- Warm the oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, onions, carrots, and celery over medium heat for 15 minutes, until lightly browned.
- Add the garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add 1 1⁄2 quarts of water, the white wine, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- Strain through a sieve, pressing the solids. You should have approximately 1 quart of stock. If not, you can make up the difference with water or white wine.
Makes 1 quart.
- Main Dishes, Fish