an italian harvest dinner

last weekend, tony and i hosted an italian harvest dinner. it was a gray, wet and windy afternoon, so it was perfect for inviting guests into our home and making them feel all warm and cozy. there were 24 of us all told, filling the house with laughter and positive energy. i arranged a cornucopia of squash, apples, pears, tomatoes and indian corn on the table, along with dozens of candles, setting the tone for the evening.

we started with a few simple appetizers set on a three-tiered plate stand on the buffet. there were green olives; oil-cured olives with garlic and rosemary; homemade pickled green cherry tomatoes; black olive tapenade; red pepper spread; artichoke bruschetta; miniature toasts and whole-wheat and sesame breadsticks. at the bar there were italian sodas and bottled water, beer and a huge bottle of amarone della valpolicella. this is an awesome wine, whose mark of distinction is that after picking, the grapes are laid out on straw mats to dry for a period of weeks. this reduces the amount of moisture in the grape, thereby intensifying and enriching the flavor of the finished product. that was soon gone and we moved onto the other half-dozen assorted bottles folks had brought with them.

for the main course, i made two hot dishes. the first was a gargantuan white lasagna. inside were layers of chicken, pesto, ricotta, bechamel and goat cheese, along with oven roasted, home-grown tomatoes. the other was a polenta torta filled with 5 types of wild mushrooms (shiitake, crimini, porcini, maitake and wood ear), marinara and fontina cheese. we had a salad with the very last of the baby lettuces pulled from the garden that morning, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. a basket of roasted garlic baguettes completed the meal.

for dessert, i had planned on making tiramisu. as i assembled the groceries for the evening in my shopping cart at the store, i couldn’t help but notice the mountain of cheese i was buying. this dessert would be way too rich after those heavy entrees! i went with plan b, which involved individual dishes of apple crisp. to cover my disappointment at not having the pre-planned dessert, i went ahead and made that as well! i made a big pot of coffee and some peppermint tea and then was finally able to sit down and relax.

it seemed like everyone had a really good time. i know i enjoyed myself thoroughly, despite the hot food not getting done on the schedule i had planned for. of course the guests didn’t notice, so what did it matter? after everyone left, tony and i loaded the dishwasher and organized a few things in the kitchen before heading off to bed. it wasn’t even that late….by having started the festivities at 4 pm, our heads were hitting the pillow at 9 pm!

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