Patio Entertaining with an Italian Flair – For Father’s Day or Just Because

For my birthday this year (and the year before and the year before – you get the idea), we ate at Vince’s. It’s a small place in the middle of a field – literally, nothing else on the corner except a field of dried weeds. This isn’t a to-die-for Italian restaurant. The food is more along the lines of comfort food – it’s easy to imagine a round, hot-tempered but big-hearted Nonna with a big wooden spoon in her hand and an apron tied around her waist in the kitchen, lovingly cooking up food for her large brood of children, grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren. This is further amplified by our usual waiter. He’s an elderly gentleman (I would venture to guess he’s close to eighty) who walks with more of a shuffle than a step. His Italian is better than his English, which add to the ambiance of this quaint eatery. The bread is always warm and keeps coming throughout the meal. And it really doesn’t matter what you order, it comes with a side of Spaghetti.

Anyway, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it got me to thinking about a Father’s Day Menu with an Italian Flair. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea for Father’s Day, it does change things up a bit.  This menu would also be great for backyard entertaining – just a good excuse to bring people together, break bread and have a wonderful evening.

My “offering” began simple enough – a Father’s Day Barbecue with an Italian Flair. Yet as I rummaged through my recipes, a multitude of courses sprung to mind. With that, the menu itself grew until it began to take on a life of its own.

What started out as a three-course meal (antipasto, main and dessert), expanded into a six-course extravaganza (Antipasto, Primo (pasta course), Secondo and Contorno Course (meat and vegetable course), Insalata (Salad Course), Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit Course) and finally the Dolce (dessert).  I know, over the top! But what fun – hours leisurely dining as it was intended to be – savored and unhurried.

Rather than present the recipes in order of preparation, I’ve arranged them in order of presentation, beginning with the antipasto and ending with dessert. Just to widen the selection even further, I’ve included two choices of each. Make one, or both for each course if you’re feeling rather ambitious. All I can say is pick and choose from what follows whatever it is that strikes your fancy. Serve it all, or none of it. If you have a family favorite that is always a hit, why mess with perfection? What is offered here are mere suggestions. If all I’ve done is managed to inspire someone to get creative, than my job is done.

*** Antipasto ***

Once upon a time, antipasto was part of the Italian dinner table. It was that plain and simple. Nowadays, with hectic lives and more woman in the workforce, it’s no longer a part of everyday home cooking, but rather reserved for holidays, large family gatherings and special occasions. That said, it seemed fitting to include a selection of antipasto dishes for Father’s Day. The first makes for a beautiful presentation for a smaller gathering, the second will accommodate a crowd.

Asparagus - Italian Pan Grilled

Pan Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto
2 lb big asparagus
2 oz Parmesan cheese
3 oz sliced raw Italian ham (prosciutto crudo)
1½ oz pine nuts (pinoli)
½ lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper

Remove the fibrous portion from the stalk of asparagus, snapping it with your hands at the point where it breaks easily. Scrape the stalks with a vegetable peeler. Wash the asparagus under cold running water, blanch for 3-4 minutes in lightly salted boiling water. Drain and pass under cold running water. While the asparagus is prepared for cooking, heat the oven to about 400 degrees, then turn it OFF. You’ll be keeping the asparagus in a hot oven that has been turned off.

Heat a griddle or a large frying pan and sprinkle the bottom with salt. Arrange some of the asparagus in a single layer on the grid and cook at medium heat for 2 minutes per side, turning with two forks. Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining asparagus.

In a bowl, whip 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove the excess fat from the slices of raw ham prosciutto crudo and cut into strips, width-wise. Toast the pine nuts for 1 minute in a pan, without adding fat.

Remove asparagus from the oven, drizzle with the olive oil mixture, then sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the ham on the side of asparagus and serve.


antipasto platter 1Antipasto Platter
1 jar (24 ounces) pepperoncini, drained
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups halved fresh mushrooms
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 pound provolone cheese, cubed
1 can (6 ounces) pitted ripe black olives, drained
1 package (3-1/2 ounces) sliced pepperoni
1 bottle (8 ounces) Italian vinaigrette dressing
Lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, combine pepperoncini, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, olives and pepperoni. Pour vinaigrette over mixture; toss to coat.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (best). Arrange on a lettuce-lined platter and serve.


*** Primo  Course ***

primo is the first course. Typically the food is heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the course to follow. Non-meat dishes are the stable of any primo. The best examples would be risotto, pasta, soup, polenta, meatless casseroles or lasagna. The serving portions are smaller than the main, or secondo course.

This course was one of the more difficult for me to plan – I love pasta. There are so many wonderful pasta dishes to choose from. I had to keep reminding myself to think light, especially for warm weather dining. As hard as it was, I was able to narrow it down to two suggestions – one pasta and one risotto dish.

Pasta - Simple LinguiniSimple Linguine with Garlic Butter
1 Lb dry or Fresh Linguine, cooked
2 Tablespoons Butter
4-6 Cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano

Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil.

Cook linguine until done al dente – cooked but firm to the bite, about 10 minutes for dry, about 3-4 minutes for fresh.

While pasta is cooking, heat a small sauté pan, add butter, garlic and oregano. Sauté until the butter is melted. DO NOT let the garlic brown.

Drain pasta, place in a warm serving bowl. Pour butter mixture over pasta, toss to coat evenly, then serve with a little Parmesan Cheese on the side.

Mushroom RisottoMushroom Risotto
3 1/2 cups Chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mixed dried Italian herbs
6 ounces cremini mushroom, sliced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, warmed
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup fresh parsley

Empty broth into a 2 quart saucepan and heat until simmering. Keep warm.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until softened and fragrant.

Sprinkle dried herbs, followed by mushrooms; sauté until they release their juices.

Add rice and stir quickly to prevent sticking. Add warmed white wine and stir. Once the wine has been mostly absorbed, add the broth, one cup at a time, waiting until each cup of broth has been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the last one and half cups, add the spinach. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

*** Secondo and Contorno Course ***

The Secondo or Main Course is generally considered the star of the show, the most important course. Typically it consists of a meat, fish or seafood course (Secondo) and a vegetable course (Contorno) offered on separate platters at the same time.  Generally speaking, one meat course is served with one or two sides.

Again, there are so many wonderful Italian dishes to choose from, it was hard to narrow down the selection. The two I’ve chosen were picked, if for no other reason, due to the fact that they are cooked on a grill. So while the dish is Italian, the American tradition of “barbecue” for Father’s Day remains intact.

The first main course recipe is actually a meat and potato dish that is cooked and served together. This goes well with pan-seared asparagus (as pictured). If asparagus is used in the antipasto course, it could be skipped as a side without being missed.

The second main course offered is a chicken recipe that is very simple to make. It’s just a matter of marinating the chicken in Italian dressing, then cooking it on the grill.  There’s something about grilled chicken and corn on the cob that seems to naturally go hand-in-hand.

Since both the potatoes in the first dish and the corn in the second are more of a starch than vegetable selection, I’ve included a summer squash recipe that complements either of the meat courses. It’s colorful and fairly simple to make.

Pork - Grilled Pork with Potato Vesuvio with  Pan-seared AsparagusVesuvio Grilled Pork & Potato Skewers
Ingredients – Pork & Potato Skewers
1 ½-2 lbs small red potatoes (about 1 ½-inch in diameter) scrubbed
1 ½ lbs Center-Cut Pork Tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 lemon wedges

Ingredients – Vesuvio Marinade
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves, minced

Ingredients – Garnish
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Morning of:

Scrub potatoes. Place potatoes in a saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook for about 12 minutes or until almost tender when pierced with a fork.

While potatoes cook, cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Set aside until ready to use.

Peel and mince garlic, set aside until ready to use.

Place pork in a large resealable plastic food storage bag. Combine wine, oil and the garlic in a small bowl; pour over pork.

Immediately rinse potatoes with cold water to stop cooking process, drain and add to pork in bag.

Seal bag tightly, turning to coat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

Evening of:

Prepare barbecue grill for direct cooking.

Drain pork mixture, discard marinade. Alternately thread about 3 pork cubes and 2 potatoes onto each of 6 skewers. Place 1 lemon wedge on end of each skewer. Season pork and potatoes to taste with salt and pepper.

Place skewers on grid. Grill skewers, on covered grill, over medium coals 14-16 minutes or until pork is juicy and no longer pink in center and potatoes are tender; turning halfway through grilling time.

While skewers are grilling, chop garlic, parsley and lemon peel. Combine in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove skewers from grill. Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle parsley mixture over skewers.

To serve, squeeze lemon wedge over pork and potatoes. If desired, plate with pan-seared Asparagus.

Pan-Seared Asparagus
1 pound green asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
juice of 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed
salt and freshly ground black pepper

The key to this recipe is to cook the asparagus until it is nicely browned, creating a slightly smoky flavor quite unlike that of steamed asparagus.

Rinse the asparagus and trim off the ends, leaving spears about 8 inches long.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and butter to sizzling. Turn down the heat to medium and add the asparagus.

Using a broad spatula, turn the spears over from time to time until they are browned more or less evenly, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. The spears will remain mainly green, with patches of crispy brown. Check for doneness by tasting a spear. It should be tender but slightly al dente.

Sprinkle the asparagus with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates.


Italian Grilled Chicken

Italian Marinated Grilled Chicken
1 Bottle Italian Salad Dressing
3-4 Cloves of garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
8 Chicken Thighs, with skin


In a shallow baking dish, mix the salad dressing, garlic and salt. Place the chicken in the bowl, and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 48 hours to penetrate the meat fully.

Prepare the grill for high, direct heat.

Lightly oil grate. Discard marinade, and grill chicken 10-12 minutes per side, or until juices run clear.

Grilled corn with tomato herb spreadGrilled Corn on the Cob with Tomato-Herb Spread
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
4 Tablespoons seeded, finely chopped tomato
2 small garlic clove, pressed
2 Teaspoon fresh parsley, snipped
2 Teaspoon Fresh Basil, finely torn
2 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme, finely chopped
Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste
8 Ears of FRESH Corn
Sugar (if needed)

Additional Garnish
4 Roma Tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6-8 Basil leaves, cut into long strips

Heat coals for grill. In a small bowl combine butter, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil and thyme. Stir with a fork until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

Bring a pot of water sweetened with a little sugar to a boil. Shuck and clean corn. Cut off tip and ends for an even finish. Parboil corn 5-6 minutes. Remove from water using tongs and allow corn to cool. Insert corn-cob-knobs into each end.

Rub corn generously with herb butter. Wrap each ear of corn in heavy aluminum foil, making sure cob knobs are completely covered. Grill foil-wrapped corn over medium ash-covered coals for 10-12 minutes, turning frequently with Barbecue Tongs to prevent burning.

To serve, unwrap corn, place on a platter and garnish as desired with tomatoes and fresh basil.

Cook’s Notes: The original recipe came from Pampered Chef (without the additional garnish). The first time I made it, there were two problems – cooking time and taste. The corn I had purchased came from the grocery store and not from a wonderful local farmer’s market known for amazing corn, thus the corn wasn’t as sweet as it should be. If you know the grower, skip the sugar but still parboil the ears. When the corn was wrapped well in foil, the cooking time was longer than expected – nearly twice as long as was called for. By par-boiling the ears in sweetened water, these problems were solved.

Summer Squash SauteItalian Summer Squash Saute
4 to 5 Small Zucchini (About 1 Pound)
4 Summer Squash (About 1 Pound)
1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Italian Parsley (flat leaf), chopped
1/2 Red Chile Pepper, Finely Chopped (Optional)
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

Cut the zucchini and squash crosswise into 1/2 inch slices.

Halve the cherry tomatoes.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add all the squash rounds.

Cook, stirring frequently until fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

Stir to mix and continue to cook until the tomatoes soften. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.


*** Insalata (Salad Course) ***

Unlike American meals, when the salad is offered either as a start to the meal or as an accompaniment to the main meal, in Italy, the salad is offered at the end of the meal. If green leafy vegetables are served as part of the Contorno, the salad might be skipped, instead opting to serve a selection of locally produced cheeses.

caprese51Caprese Salad
3 or 4 tomatoes, good quality, such as heirloom
1 lb fresh mozzarella
fresh Italian basil (do not substitute dried)
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or good quality sea salt

Slice the tomatoes into about 3/8″ thick slices, then slice the mozzarella into the same sized slices.
Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices into a pleasing pattern on a platter or individual plates. Tuck basil leaves into the arrangement, with a few more in the center. Drizzle with oil and season with salt.

Italian Mixed GreenItalian Mixed Green Salad
3 Cups mixed salad greens – Romaine, Iceberg, Green leaf, Bibb lettuce, Arugula, Escarole and/or curly endive
1 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
½ large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

In a large bowl, combine salad greens and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley, basil and salt. Chill well. Just before serving, drizzle with oil and vinegar. Toss to coat.



*** Formaggi e frutta (Cheese and Fruit) Course ***

cheese and fruitdeli cheese and fruitThis course is purely optional. It’s simply an offering of local (or as close to local as possible) cheeses and a selection of seasonal fruits. Arrange the cheeses and fruits in an attractive way. Soft cheeses with a few crackers and small bunch of grapes and a few fruits make a nice presentation without a great deal of work. Or better still, have your local deli arrange a nice platter for you.

*** Dolce (Dessert) ***

Dolce literally means “sweet” or “luscious”. One option for dessert would be to find a good Italian bakery, pick up an assortment of pastries – especially cannoli – my personal favorite. To keep it light and refreshing, especially on a warm summer evening, something as simple as Gelato might be a welcomed conclusion. However; for those feeling the need to strut your stuff all the way to the end, Tiramisu would be a good choice for a  “luscious” conclusion to this multi-course flight of the fancy dining experience.  As would  Panna cotta. Either of these can be purchased from a good market or made from scratch.

Lemon TLemon Tiramisu
1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup cubed butter
2 oz  finely chopped white chocolate
1 tbsp finely grated lemon rind
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
24 ladyfinger cookies, 4 inch

In small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup each of the sugar, lemon juice and water over medium heat until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, flour and remaining sugar; set aside.

In heavy saucepan, heat milk over medium heat just until bubbles appear around edge; whisk half into egg yolk mixture. Whisk back into milk in pan; cook, stirring, until boiling and thickened enough to coat back of spoon, about 10 minutes.

Add butter and white chocolate; stir until melted. Strain through fine sieve into bowl. Add lemon rind and remaining lemon juice; stir until blended and smooth. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of custard; refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

In bowl, whip cream. Place mascarpone in large bowl; whisk in custard. Fold in whipped cream.

Arrange half of the ladyfinger cookies in a 13- x 9-inch glass baking dish. Generously brush cookies with half of the reserved syrup mixture. Spread with half of the mascarpone cream mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and refrigerate tiramisu for 4 hours.

vanilla panna cottaVanilla Panna Cotta Strawberry Coulis
Ingredients – Panna Cotta
1 Cup WHOLE milk
2 ½ Teaspoons unflavored Gelatin
½ Vanilla Bean or 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Heavy Cream
6 Tablespoons Sugar
Pinch of Salt

Ingredients – Strawberry Coulis
12 Oz Fresh Strawberries, hulled
5-7 Tablespoons Fine Sugar
½ Cup Water, plus extra as needed
Pinch of Salt
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
Extra Strawberries & Blueberries for garnish

To Make Panna Cotta:

For a “fancy” presentation, place 8 glasses on a baking sheet. (You will want to use short, round glasses such as Champagne coupe glasses). Otherwise, use small ramekins lined with plastic wrap. Just be sure to smooth out the wrap to ensure a smooth finish when serving.

Pour milk into medium saucepan, sprinkle gelatin evenly over top, let sit for 10 minutes.

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the tip of a paring knife to scrape out seeds. Combine vanilla seeds, pod and cream in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

Make an ice bath in a very large bowl.

Heat milk mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin dissolves and mixture registers 135 degrees, about 1 ½ minutes. OFF HEAT, stir in sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minutes.

Stirring constantly, slowly add cream mixture. Immediately transfer mixture to medium bowl and plunge into ice bath. Let mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees, about 10 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher, then pour evenly into glasses or ramekins.

Cover glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 5 days.

To Make Strawberry Coulis:

Simmer berries, 5 tablespoons sugar, water and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and berries are heated through, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth, about 20-30 seconds. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on solids to extract as much puree as possible. Stir in lemon juice and sweeten with remaining sugar to taste. Coulis can be refrigerated for up to 4 days; stir in extra water as needed to adjust consistency.

To Assemble: If Champagne coupe glasses were used, simply unwrap panna cotta and spoon 2-3 tablespoons Coulis over top. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries and serve. If ramekins were used, unwrap panna cotta, invert onto dessert plates, remove second plastic wrap. Spoon coulis over top and garnish.

Here’s to a wonderful summer filled with friends and family!

12 thoughts on “Patio Entertaining with an Italian Flair – For Father’s Day or Just Because

  1. This looks like a crazy fun and delicious day. That panna cotta looks awesome, but then again, so does everything else!


  2. I love the mushroom risotto. It has a wonderful combination of ingredients. I would love to try it one of these fine days. I have bookmarked the recipe. Thanks for sharing!!!


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