Hosting a dinner party can be a high-pressure situation. You need to put together the perfect guest list, make your home look presentable, choose a menu that will please everyone, and get everything on the table without looking too frazzled. It’s a tall order, which is one reason you might be tempted to stick with a tried-and-true classic like lasagna for the main dish at the next gathering you host.
Traditional doesn’t have to mean boring, though. With a little effort, you can put together a delicious lasagna dinner that will please both foodies and picky eaters. Pair your cheesy casserole with a fresh salad, garlic bread, and a classic Italian dessert, and you may just have the perfect meal.
To help you out, we’ve pulled together all the recipes you need for the ideal Italian feast, from appetizers to dessert. Some of these recipes, like a tomato-basil crostini, take just a few minutes to throw together. Others, like the lasagna and the tiramisu, require a bit more time and effort. However, the main dish and the dessert can either be prepared in stages or a day ahead of time, so you’re not trying to do too many things at the same time. Once your guests have arrived and the lasagna is in the oven, open a few bottles of wine — Bon Appétit suggests reds from Campania and Puglia to go with lasagna — and get ready to eat.
Lasagna dinner menu
- Tomato-basil crostini
- Italian salad
- Garlic bread
1. Tomato-Basil Crostini
You’ll want to give your guests something to nibble on while you’re putting the finishing touches on dinner. These tomato-basil crostini from Delish are easy to prepare and assemble — you can even make the tomato topping in advance to save time. Plus, they’re so light that people can eat a few without worrying about spoiling their dinner. For the best results make sure you use fresh, high-quality tomatoes. This recipe makes 30 crostini.
For the crostini
- 1 baguette
- ¾ cup olive oil
- Coarse salt
- Ground pepper
For the topping
- 1 pint chopped grape or cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
- Coarse salt
- Ground pepper
Directions: To make the crostini, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange baguette slices on two large rimmed baking sheets; brush both sides with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through (if undersides are not browning, turn crostini over once during baking). Let cool on baking sheets.
In a bowl, combine tomatoes, basil leaves, olive oil, and red-wine vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Top crostini with topping. Serve.
2. Italian Salad
You’ll want to start your feast out with a salad. The crisp, fresh greens and veggies in this recipe from Food & Wine make for a hybrid of a green salad and an antipasto salad. The dish will help balance out the heavier lasagna that comes in the next course. This recipe makes between 4 and 6 servings, so you’ll need to double if you’re serving a lot of people.
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 large romaine heart, chopped
- 1 small head of radicchio, halved, cored, and coarsely chopped
- ¼ head of iceberg lettuce, coarsely chopped
- 1 tender celery rib, thinly sliced
- ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup pitted green olives, preferably Sicilian
- 8 peperoncini
- 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved
Directions: In a large bowl, mash the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the mayonnaise, vinegar and oregano, then whisk in the olive oil. Season with pepper. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss well. Serve right away.
About the lasagna
Is this the best lasagna ever? You’ll have to be the judge of that, but Regina Schrambling thinks there’s a case to be made for her version, a combination to two different recipes from Italian cookbook authors. It’s made with three meats (pancetta, ground sirloin that’s shaped into meatballs, and Italian sausage) as well as fresh pasta.
“[I]ts beauty was more than cheese deep,” she writes in The New York Times. “This was the best lasagna I had ever eaten. The sauce was intensely flavored, the cheeses melted into creaminess as if they were béchamel, the meat was just chunky enough, and the noodles put up no resistance to the fork. Most important, the balance of pasta and sauce was positively Italian.”
This recipe takes 4 hours to prepare and makes 8 to 10 servings.
3. Lasagna Recipe
For the sauce
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium red onions, finely diced
- 2 large cloves minced garlic
- 8 ounces pancetta, diced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ cups good red wine, preferably Italian
- 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¾ pound ground sirloin
- ¼ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano
- 2 eggs
- 10 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, washed and dried
- 2 large whole cloves garlic
- ½ cup flour
- 1 pound Italian sausage, a mix of hot and sweet
For the lasagna
- 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 1 pound mozzarella, grated
- 16 sheets fresh lasagna noodles
Directions: For the sauce, heat ½ cup oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or kettle over low heat. Add the onions, minced garlic and pancetta, and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until the onions are wilted. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Raise heat slightly, add the wine and cook until it is mostly reduced, about 20 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pan, and add their juice. Add the tomato paste and two cups lukewarm water. Simmer for 1 hour.
Combine the sirloin, cheese and eggs in a large bowl. Chop the parsley with the whole garlic until fine, then stir into the beef mixture. Season lavishly with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix until all the ingredients are well blended. Shape into meatballs and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dust the meatballs lightly with flour, shaking off excess, and lay into the hot oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides (do not cook through) and transfer to the sauce.
In a clean skillet, brown the sausages over medium-high heat. Transfer to the sauce. Simmer 1½ hours.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Pecorino Romano, parsley and all but one cup of the mozzarella. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Remove the meatballs and sausage from the sauce, and set aside to cool slightly, then chop coarsely. Spoon a thick layer of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-12-inch lasagna pan. Cover with a layer of noodles. Spoon more sauce on top, then add one-third of the meat and a third of the cheese mixture. Repeat for two more layers, using all the meat and cheese. Top with a layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle reserved mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Lasagna recipe tips
Using fresh lasagna noodles is key to the success of this dish, according to Schrambling. These require no pre-cooking, which also makes assembling the casserole a bit easier. If you’re feeling ambitious and have the right equipment, you could even make your own noodles.
The meaty marinara takes the most time, but you can make it in advance. The perfectly balanced flavors of the slow-cooked sauce are world’s better than the jarred stuff, and your guests will notice the difference when they take their first bite.
When you take the lasagna out of the oven, let it rest for at least 10 minutes as instructed. This gives the dish time to set and will make it easier to cut neat pieces when serving.
4. Garlic Bread
Once your lasagna is in the oven, it’s time to make your garlic bread. This simple recipe from the Food Network’s Ina Garten is ready in 20 minutes and cooks at the same temperature as the lasagna, so you can stick it in the oven while the main dish bakes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
- 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 1 loaf ciabatta bread
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until minced. Add the parsley, oregano, salt and pepper, and pulse twice. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan and add the garlic mixture. Remove the pan from the heat.
Slice the ciabatta bread in half horizontally, and spread the butter on one half. Spread the garlic mixture on the other half of the bread, and put the halves together. Wrap the bread in aluminum foil.
Place the bread in the oven and bake for five minutes. Open the foil, and continue baking for an additional five minutes.
There’s no better way to close out your Italian feast than with a tiramisu. The popular coffee-flavored dessert is made with ladyfinger cookies dipped in brewed espresso and liquor, then layered with custard. It’s an impressive-looking dish that’s actually pretty easy to prepare. The cake does need to chill in the refrigerator for several hours, but the preparation takes only 30 minutes. Recipe from Epicurious.
- 2 cups boiling-hot water
- 3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
- 3 tablespoons coffee liqueur
- 4 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup dry Marsala
- 1 pound mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup chilled heavy cream
- 36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers)
- Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
Directions: Stir together water, espresso powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and Tia Maria in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool.
Beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining ½ cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.
Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly.
Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into coffee mixture, line bottom of a 13-by-9-by-3-inch baking pan with 18 ladyfingers in three rows, trimming edges to fit if necessary. Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining 18 ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan. Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with cocoa. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.
Let tiramisu stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving, then dust with more cocoa.
Tiramisu recipe tips
Making tiramisu isn’t hard — there’s no baking involved — but there are few things to keep in mind. One, the recipe calls for raw egg yolks. While your chances of contracting salmonella from an uncooked egg are relatively low, Preventio explains, you might want to consider purchasing organic, free-range, or pasture-raised eggs, since some studies have shown they are less likely to be contaminated. You can also purchased pasteurized eggs, which have been treated to kill bacteria.
Coffee is an essential part of a good tiramisu. This recipe calls for using instant espresso powder, but if you have an espresso machine at home, you can substitute two cups of fresh-brewed coffee. Some cooks also a Moka pot to make the coffee for their tiramisu.
Finally, you can make your tiramisu up to two days in advance. Just be sure to keep it chilled in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve.
After you’ve stuffed yourself at dinner, consider embracing another Italian tradition: The after-dinner digestif, an alcoholic drink believed to aid digestion. Grappa is one of the most popular. You can sip it on its own or add a bit to a shot of an espresso to make a caffe correcto. Or, you could pour out some amaro, a bitter herbal liqueur often served as a digestif. Fernet-Branca is a popular brand, though there are many others.
Bonus recipe: Caffe Correcto
The recipe for this coffee drink is from Food Network‘s Michael Chiarello.
- 1 shot espresso
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon grappa
- Whipped cream, for topping
Directions: Make espresso to the machine manufacture’s recommendation. Put 1 teaspoon sugar in the bottom of an espresso cup and top with hot espresso. Top with 1 tablespoon grappa. Top with a little whipped cream and serve immediately.