Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Italian Dinner

When something is enjoyable it becomes meaningful and is repeated. We all have dining rituals like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner or annual events marked with families, friends and food. I seem to have a lot more than most people I know. There use to be the Guy Fawkes Day Dinner, Bastille Day Picnic and the Keep Labor Day Boring Potluck There is the sometime Mardi Gras Breakfast at Brennan’s and Derby Day Party. Recently, Rib-o-rama has made the repertoire. One celebration, however, I have observed for two decades, nonstop without interruption: The Italian Dinner.

The date for this repast is not set. It occurs sometime in July or August and commemorates nothing. It came to pass in 1970 as I lusted for la dolce vita, something I’d discovered on my first trip to Italy the year before. Dinner was at 10 with course after course of exquisite food, fine wines and service as attentive as a doting aunt without her obtrusiveness. What’s more it all took place outside, on an enchanting piazza under a pizza pie moon.

So now each summer I mount the annual Italian Dinner. It’s been happening for so long that the dinner is older than many of the guests who have changed over the years as have the venues. In recent years it has taken place on Dick Wagner’s deck, overlooking his romantic gardens and Lake Monona. The menu is always different and Pan Italian (I love the food from all the regions of Italy). But one constant is the feast always begins with Bellini, a heavenly cocktail of white peach juice and prosecco – sparkling wine from the Veneto – first concocted by Harry’s Bar in Venice. It may be dining al fresco but there are no paper plates or plastic forks, but in the best Italian tradition, crisp starched linen, sparkling crystal and an abundance of cutlery. Antipasiti, pasta, pesche, i primi, i secondi, la verdure, insalata, il fromaggio, dolci e la frutta . . . the meal marches and the vino bottles pile up like lasagna. Yet, there’s always still room for a little glass of Amaro Averna or limoncello frozen in a block of ice and lots of sighs.

A cookout with bratwurst is nice but The Italian Dinner is amore.

So if your invitation to my 39th Italian Dinner got lost in the mail, I suggest you head over to Lombardino’s. The menu is seasonal, the food movingly Italian and the d├ęcor opera buffa.

Bellini Cocktail

Ripe white peaches
Peach schnapps
Chilled prosecco

Skin the peaches by dipping in simmering water for a few seconds and then placing under cold running water. Put the flesh in an electric juicer,

Put 2 tablespoons of peach juice and 2 tablespoons of peach schnapps in a tall glass and add prosecco. Stir and serve.


Scott said...

That is one big bottle of wine.

moxie said...

It needs to be the Italian diners are also big drinkers.

Anonymous said...

The first picture looks like a gathering of the, awesome pictures, the food looks delicious.

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