“Under the Tuscan Sun” Themed Dinner Party

“Under the Tuscan Sun” Themed Dinner Party

Five times a year, my college friends and I have “couples dinners” at each other’s homes.  Since there are five couples, everyone hosts once a year. The goal is to ensure we gather together, despite busy schedules.

We’ve had these dinners for over 15 years and counting.  When it’s your turn to host, you determine the “theme” and core menu elements.  Other couples contribute a food/ dessert item, as the host determines.

Over the years, there have been many great dinners.  Some of the gatherings have included: movie nights, seasonal menus, sporting venues, and international/ tropical food themes.  One of my favorites was a Gilligan’s Island themed party, with guests dressing up as their favorite castaway (we had every castaway represented except Ginger) and island/ tropical food.  It was a very fun night with lots of laughs.

For this year’s dinner, I chose an “Under the Tuscan Sun” theme – inspired by the movie and book with the same name.  I’ve read the book and seen the movie several times and knew Frances Mayes wrote a cookbook, which was an outgrowth from the recipes within the book/ movie and her Tuscan travels.

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances & Edward Mayes

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances & Edward Mayes

After reviewing this cookbook’s recipes, I chose braised short ribs as the main entrée.  I’d never made short ribs, so I decided to test-drive the recipe before the dinner.  I am glad I did.  The test-drive short ribs were good, but I knew I could make a few slight changes to make them even better.

Practice round of Tuscan short ribs - served with polenta

Practice round of Tuscan short ribs – served with polenta

Shortly after I decided on the “Under the Tuscan Sun” themed dinner, I learned that Frances Mayes was launching a line of wines – “Tuscan Sun Wines” – with the debut a few days before my dinner.  What luck!  My husband was able to find the new wines at our local wine shop.  They were a nice addition to my “Tuscan-themed” tablescape.

Tuscan Sun Wines debuted a few days before the dinner - what luck!

Tuscan Sun Wines debuted a few days before the dinner – what luck!

The evening began outside on our porch, where we served our guests cocktails and appetizers.  The appetizer selection featured deconstructed bruschetta and a small antipasto.  The antipasto included chunks of Italian sharp and Parmesan cheeses, cured salami and prosciutto.

The appetizer selection featured deconstructed bruschetta and a small antipasto.

The appetizer selection featured deconstructed bruschetta and a small antipasto.

The deconstructed bruschetta is an appetizer I’ve served a few times previously and it has been a big hit!  I include charred bread, pesto, fresh ricotta drizzled with honey and freshly cracked sea salt, and slow roasted tomatoes.  Guests assemble their bruschetta as they like it – with any of the elements offered.

Slow-roasted tomatoes - one element of deconstructed bruschetta

Slow-roasted tomatoes – one element of deconstructed bruschetta

After chatting and nibbling, we asked guests to come into the dining room for the main meal.  The short ribs had been roasting for 3+ hours so the whole house smelled amazing.

I decided to replicate the “Aunt Josie Sunday Ragu” meal served at Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury.  In addition to the Tuscan braised short ribs, we made roasted Italian sausage (my dad’s homemade) and my homemade meatballs.  The three meats were paired with a beef-based risotto that Terri made.  The risotto was amazing!  I also included a simple salad, sweet roasted peppers and Italian bread.

Tuscan braised short ribs, roasted Italian sausage and  meatballs over risotto

Tuscan braised short ribs, roasted Italian sausage and meatballs over risotto

The modifications I made to the short rib recipe were, “spot on.”  The meat melted off the bones, just as the recipe said it would if cooked properly.

I asked Lisa and Sue to make dessert.  Sue made apple and raspberry crostata.  Crostata is a rustic Italian, baked dessert tart.  Technically, it’s a form of pie, but it doesn’t use a pie plate or a tart pan.  You make it directly on a baking sheet, piling fruit into the center and wrapping the crust around.  Sue’s crostata was delicious.  I just love the combination of apple and raspberry.

Apple and raspberry crostata

Apple and raspberry crostata

Lisa made a lemon cake – the recipe was from the “Tuscan Sun Cookbook.”  It had the texture of a pound cake.  Its delicious lemon flavor reminded me of a bowl of fresh lemons.

Lemon cake – the recipe is in the “Tuscan Sun Cookbook.”

Lemon cake – the recipe is in the “Tuscan Sun Cookbook.”

Despite everyone being quite full from the appetizer and meal, most opted for a “sampler plate” of dessert – a slice of each.

In the spirit of ending the meal in the “Under the Tuscan Sun” dinner party theme, we offered our guests an after-dinner liqueur of Limoncello.  It’s an Italian lemon liqueur, mainly made in Southern Italy.  In the movie, the main character, Frances, has Limoncello for the first time with Marcello in Positano, along the Amalfi Coast.

The dinner was capped off with an after-dinner liqueur of Limoncello

The dinner was capped off with an after-dinner liqueur of Limoncello

The meal was beautiful and delicious – possibly one of the best I think we’ve ever had.  My husband commented that all the items in the meal were of “restaurant quality.”  That is quite a compliment to all the cooks!

The "Under the Tuscan Sun" dinner was of “restaurant quality.”  That is quite a compliment to all the cooks!

The “Under the Tuscan Sun” dinner was of “restaurant quality.” That is quite a compliment to all the cooks!

There are several quotes from the book/ movie that stay with me long after reading/ watching.  I will share with you one of my favorites:

“Life offers you a thousand chances…all you have to do is take one.”

– Frances Mayes, Under The Tuscan Sun

 

Have you read the book or seen the movie “Under The Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes?

What’s your favorite dinner-party theme?

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