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Summer Vegetarian Italian Dinner Party

A couple of months ago, Alex and I started a regular dinner party with another couple. Every two weeks, one couple hosts and cooks dinner for the other. It has turned out to be such an enjoyable undertaking and a great chance for us all to catch up.

For this week’s dinner, I had some leftover polenta that I wanted to use up. I was picturing a caprese-style stacked appetizer in my head, but couldn’t decide on the execution so I started scouring the internet for recipes.

I didn’t find quite what I was looking for, but I did stumble across a number of other awesome-sounding Italian dishes. Soon, my simple polenta app had morphed into a full-fledged Italian dinner party.

We started the evening off with a refreshing summer cocktail—a glug of Campari topped off with a splash of Prosecco and an orange twist. The bright pink bitter bubbles were a great way to beat the early evening heat.

So was the aforementioned polenta caprese appetizer. Alex pan-fried some homemade polenta coins and we topped them with a layer of mozzarella, a slice of fresh tomato, a couple of basil leaves and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. The warm, crunchy cornmeal cakes heated up the mozzarella just slightly and the fresh tomato and basil brightened the whole dish up.

For the side, I whipped up a lemony fennel and mint salad that I based mostly on this recipe. I added some fresh orange to give the salad a little citrusy sweetness and nixed the burrata. The lemon and olive oil marinade made the fennel slightly tender, but it still retained a nice crunch.

The light, anise-y salad was a great complement to the rich main course, which featured tiny orecchiette pasta tossed with anchovy, sautéed cauliflower, leeks, zucchini and lamb’s quarters, based loosely on this recipe.

After a break to digest, we finished the meal off with a scoop of Cloverleaf vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a few raspberries we’d plucked from the garden earlier that evening. Oh, and a splash of homemade Nocino that I made last summer. Yum!

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