Dinner Party Themes: Ideas For The Perfect Mediterranean Dinner Party

Spanish, Italian and Greek are Mediterranean cuisines that lend themselves to entertaining. Plan a Mediterranean buffet that combines these cuisines or singles one out.

Mediterranean countries provide a variety of national cuisines that lend themselves to informal, buffet style dinner parties. Dishes typical of the Mediterranean regions of Spain, Italy and Greece are suitable for a small group of four to ten people, or for a large group. Recipes for the pastas, rice dishes, and casseroles that are at the core of these cuisines can be easily expanded to accommodate a crowd.

You can select a single country as a theme for your dinner or you can select dishes across several national cuisines. Because of similar climate and topography, the ingredients used from one country to another are similar. There are also commonalities among ingredients and seasonings that are used for each country's dishes. A primary color palette for both ingredient and decor is also suitable for all of these cuisines.

If you live in a warm and dry climate, you may want to plan your Mediterranean buffet for outdoors. If you must hold your feast indoors, use the colors in the national flag of your selected country to bring the outdoors inside to your table decor.

The bright red and yellow of the Spanish flag go well with the colorful terra cotta pottery and bright textiles of the area. The Italian flag, which is red and green with gold accents, looks great with rustic Italian pottery decorated with images in bright primary colors. The Greece flag, reminiscent of the sea and sky, provides a bright blue and white background for the earth tones of traditional Greek pottery. Of course, bright bouquets of brilliantly colored flowers, such as zinnias, marigolds and chrysanthemums, can add more sun-drenched color to your table.

Say "bienvenidos" to your guests as you welcome them with appetizers, or "tapas." Serve the tapas with sherry, wine, or beer, or, perhaps, sangria."Tapas" range from very simple items such as salted almonds, cured olives, and range to prepared dishes such as sausage or shrimp sautéed in olive oil. Cured ham, oysters, and shrimp are also served as starters.

Then, on your buffet provide a chilled gazpacho soup, a mixture of tomatoes, water, garlic, and other vegetables such as bell peppers. Accompany the gazpacho with hard rolls or French bread.

Paella, a saffron-seasoned rice dish with generous amounts of chicken or seafood, or the chicken and seafood may be mixed. Chose one of the many variations of paella from a cookbook and or from the Internet. The basic recipe involves sautéing uncooked rice, garlic and onion in olive oil until the rice is transparent. Then, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables, plus any meat or seafood is added to the mixture. Vegetable, meat or seafood broth is added to the rice and all of the ingredients are cooked covered until the rice is tender. Select a Spanish white or rosé wine to accompany the paella.

Finish the meal with cheese and a selection of fruits, or a sweet such as "flan," an egg custard with its own sauce made from caramelized sugar that turns into a syrup during the baking process. Dessert can be accompanied by a "cava," or sparkling wine.

For an Italian evening, begin your buffet with a mound of antipasti and some tomato and mozzarella salad. (Be sure to use buffalo mozzarella for this dish.). Pile mounds of salami, cheese cubes, olives and other cured vegetables on a bed or greens. Instead of the usual pasta, provide a tricolor risotto, rice cooked and seasoned so that it is presented in the Italian flag colors of gold, green and red. Arborio rice is slowly cooked with the addition of chicken broth and wine. When the risotto is nearly done, two-thirds of the rice is removed and divided into two portions. Tomato paste is added to one portion and pesto sauce is added to the other. Then, the golden risotto, red risotto (tomato), and green risotto (pesto) are presented in mounds in a shallow pasta bowl or on a platter.

The risotto is followed by the main course. Consider serving "osso bucco" (veal shanks) or chicken "cacciatore" (chicken in a tomato marinara sauce), because both are sauced and will hold well in a chafing dish or on a buffet steam table. Serve a full-bodied red wine with either dish.

Serve a simple salad of field greens with a vinaigrette dressing to clear the palate after the meat course.

Serve fresh fruit, followed by the "real" dessert, a sweet such as "zuppa inglese" and "tiramisu." Accompany dessert with a sweet dessert wine. An Italian liqueur can follow dessert.

Finally, plan a feast fit for the gods with your Greek buffet. Start with "mezedes" or appetizers. Lay out choices of Greek olives, "tzatziki" (yogurt, cucumbers, olive oil and garlic), baked feta cheese, "spanokopita" (spinach pie made with "filo" dough), and "dolmades" (stuffed grape leaves).

Set out a tureen of fragrant "avgolemono" soup, a thick chicken rice soup flavored delicately with lemon. Drizzle vinaigrette dressing over a platter of Greek salad, consisting of cucumber, bell peppers, sliced onion, tomatoes, black Greek olives, and feta cheese.

For a main course, choose an easy to serve casserole such as "pastitsio" or "moussaka." Pastitsio consists of short tubular pasta baked with a meat sauce and cheese. "Moussaka" is a mixture of seasoned ground meat and eggplant, baked with a topping of "bechamel" sauce. A surprise ingredient in both dishes is a hint of nutmeg. Serve a red or rosé wine with these entrees.

End the meal with a dessert of strong coffee and baklava, extremely sweet, rich pastries constructed from "filo" dough and nuts.

Clearly, we've just begun to explore the possibilities that Mediterranean cuisine offers for colorful and taste pleasing dinner party. Whether you choose a single country's cuisine or create an eclectic mixture of dishes, your guests will find offerings pleasing to both the palate and the eye.

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