Once a year, the time comes for me to host some of my favorite friends for Bunco night. My penchant for theme parties (inherited from my very creative mother) really shows itself right about now. There’s just something about taking the menu and expanding it to color the entire evening and give one’s guests a virtual ticket to a fun escape, if only for a few hours.
This year, my plan for the balmy July evening was inspired by the panini maker my DH gave me for Mother’s Day (yes… in certain circumstances, small appliances are the way to my heart!)
So… off to Italy we go!
Outdoor tables draped with simple cotton tablecloths, scattered with votive candles and a vase of sunflowers set the scene. To greet guests before the main meal, small bowls of olives, mixed nuts and fresh cantaloupe. To drink, Prosecco in blue glass bottles and Italian sparkling water with thin slices of lemon. The soundtrack for the evening was, of course, the soundtrack from “Big Night” (a must-see!),
some Rosemary Clooney and Louie Prima.
The menu was simple. Two kinds of panini were offered. First, prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil leaves on garlic sourdough bread brushed with a homemade, garlic-laced balsamic vinaigrette. The second was a delicious broccoli rabe (briefly blanched, chopped and sautéed with olive oil, garlic and finely minced anchovies) with provolone. If you’ve never tried broccoli rabe (also known as rapini or broccolini), it is delicious and slightly bitter, but more tender than broccoli. It is actually a form of turnip green.
It lends itself to many of the applications one might use for spinach and is delicious sautéed and served with pasta and a drizzle of olive oil.
Alongside the panini was a salad of mixed baby lettuces and arugula dressed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, kosher salt and pepper.
Extra bread was brushed with the balsamic and garlic vinaigrette used on the prosciutto sandwich and then quickly grilled on the panini maker. It was of enormous help that my friend, Julie, brought her panini maker, as well.
The post-dinner treat was a trio of fabulous gelatos – Napa strawberry, white chocolate raspberry and double dark chocolate. I served small scoops in delicate, pressed-glass drinking glasses and topped each with Pizelle cookies, which were a big hit.
The kicker? We never got around to playing bunco, but we had a great night in Italy!