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By Mary J. Johnson on July 12, 2022

How to Host an Italian Farm Dinner

Being an event planner, coupled with my love of cooking and entertaining, I was inspired to bring my neighbors together because my significant other and I know all the neighbors but not all the neighbors know each other. We live in an old established neighborhood on a tree lined thorough fare in the heart of the beautiful city of St. Paul, Minnesota. We live in homes built before the turn of the 20th century with an air of times gone by.

We have some new neighbors with littles and then we have some neighbors who have been here for years. I am inspired by wine country movies like “Under the Tuscan Sun” and Food Network Chef Giada De Laurentiis featuring her time on the Amalfie Coast that showcase big Italian farm dinners. I wanted to transport my guests to the Italian countryside right there in the heart of St. Paul. I wanted to immerse them in the look and feel of a big family wine country multicourse dinner.

And, with that, I decided to host an Italian Farm Dinner, outdoors on big-long tables, with table linens, sumptuous Italian food, wine, camaraderie, and conversation. I scheduled the date, the weather was beautiful, with a hint of fall in the air. I identified the neighbors about 30 in all. I created the menu and created enticing invitations.

I setup 3 banquet tables end to end with white table linens, with Pellegrino water dispersed along the table. I purchased high-end disposable dinner ware that had the look of elegance without the dishes. I belong to a wine club and selected various Italian wines from various regions of the Italian landscape and decorated the tables with vases of floral bouquets.

I created my menu. I developed a multicourse meal with appetizers, crusty bread, salad, soup, meat and vegetarian entrees and of course dessert.

I setup a side table with the buffet using crockpots, sterno heated chaffing dishes, and serving dishes. Guests were delighted. They loved the food, but the concept was even greater because I truly had given them an experience that they may or may not have ever had the pleasure to enjoy.

One of my guests said, “I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and no one has ever done anything like this before for our neighborhood”. That was all I needed, it made my day that I could do something that brought people together over delicious food and drink that transported them to Italy if even for just that moment in time in Saint Paul.

All recipes can be increased depending on how many guests you have. When you serve many courses, it is not necessary to have a portion of each for every guest as they may only be interested in a few dishes. Additionally, you can serve smaller portions if each guest has a little of each course.


Mushroom, Spinach and Ricotta Bruschetta – Inspired by, 2016

1 16 Oz. Carton Ricotta Cheese
1 Egg
Lemon Zest
Pepper to taste
3 Tbls. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Garlic Paste
Sliced Baguette
2 C. Shitake Mushrooms chopped
1 C. Fresh Spinach
¼ C. Red Blend Wine
2 Tbls. Worchester Sauce
2 Tbls. Butter
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Onion Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
Basil, cut into ribbons


1.) In a small bowl, blend olive oil and garlic paste.

2.) Brush each slice of the baguette with the olive oil-garlic paste mixture.

3.) Place brushed slices of baguette on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes or until toasted. *You can buy already sliced and toasted baguette slices in some bakery departments. You can also toast in your air fryer / toaster oven.

4.) Leave toasted baguette slices on cookie sheet, let cool and set aside. Leave oven preheated at 425 degrees

5.) In a skillet, melt 2 Tbls. Butter. Add chopped shitake mushrooms, spinach, red blend wine, Worchester sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until sauce is reduced, and mushrooms are soft.

6.) Spread a small dollop of cheese mixture on toasted baguettes. Return to oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

7.) Bake cheesy baguettes until cheese begins to brown. Do not over bake. Remove from oven. Set aside.

8.) Spoon a dollop of the mushroom mixture on top of each cheesy baguette slice.

9.) Top each bruschetta with a ribbon or two of basil.


Spinach Caprese Salad

6 Cups of Fresh Spinach Leaves
8 Oz. Pkg. Fresh Mozzarella Pearls
5- 6 Basil Leaves Chopped
12 Oz. Cherry Heirloom Tomatoes or Sprinkles
Salt & Pepper to taste
18+ Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar (Can be found at specialty stores that sell infused olive oils or William Sonoma has 25 Year Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar)


1.) Wash and dry spinach leaves. Place in bowl for tossing and serving.

2.) Drain Mozzarella pearls.

3.) Add mozzarella pearls to spinach bowl.

4.) Chop 5-6 Basil leaves. Add more or less depending on your taste. Add to spinach bowl.

5.) Cut tomatoes in halves. Add to spinach bowl.

6.) Toss spinach, mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes.

7.) Drizzle Balsamic Vinegar over salad, add a pinch of salt and cracked pepper, toss again and serve.


Italian Wedding Soup – Please note, my version is just a little different than traditional Italian Wedding Soup


1lb. Hamburger TIPS
1lb. Jimmy Dean Hot Sausage
1 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Onion Powder
1 tsp. Worchester Sauce
½ C. Parmesan Cheese
1 C. Italian Herb Panko Breadcrumbs
1 Beaten Egg

If you are eating healthier or have gluten or dairy restrictions, meatballs turn out just as well mixed with cooked lentils as the binder. You can eliminate the breadcrumbs, cheese, and egg.


8 Cups Chicken Broth TIPS
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 Tbls. Chopped Garlic
1 Medium chopped onion
1 C. Chopped celery
1 C. Chopped carrot or pre-shredded carrot
5 C. Raw spinach
1 C. Sliced mushrooms
1 Tbls. Chopped basil
2 C. Gnocci Pasta, you can purchase in your pasta aisle at your local grocery store or make from scratch. 

You can purchase already chopped mira poix (Onion, Celery, Carrot), for quicker easier preparation although, purchasing fresh and chopping yourself preserves the nutrients for a healthier version.


Traditional Wedding Soup uses Arcini De Pepe Pasta.  I prefer Gnocci because it makes it even heartier.
I usually buy my pasta rather than make from scratch for convenience although fresh homemade pasta is the best.
If gluten free or limiting starches in your diet, you may leave out the pasta all together.  The soup is still exceptional.



1.) Mix meat with seasonings and form into 1 - inch balls.

2.) Brown in a skillet until cooked about medium temperature. They will continue to cook in soup.

3.) Remove meatballs and set aside.

4). Leave grease in the skillet and add garlic, onion, celery, carrot, mushrooms, and spinach until spinach is wilted and onions translucent, and other vegetables are semi-soft.

5.) Pour chicken broth into soup pot.

6.) Add meatballs and vegetable mixture.

7.) Add chopped basil.

8.) Salt & Pepper to taste.

9.) Bring to a boil and reduce heat and cook for about an hour on low to medium heat.

10.) Add to crockpot on low for serving on buffet.

Instead of cooking soup in soup pot, you could add broth and remaining ingredients to a crockpot and cook on high for 4-6 hours and then reduce heat and serve directly from the crockpot on the buffet line with a ladle.

Eggplant Parmesan

2 Eggplant peeled and sliced in about ½ inch thick slices
2 Tbls. Olive Oil
2 Eggs beaten
2 C. Panko Breadcrumbs
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Onion Powder
½ C. Parmesan Cheese
2 ½ C. Marinara Sauce
12 Slices of Mozzarella Cheese


1.) Beat eggs in a bowl.

2.) In 2nd bowl, mix breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder and parmesan cheese.

3.) Dredge eggplant slices in egg and then breadcrumb mixture to bread and then place in skillet with heated Olive Oil. Cook for a 5 minutes on medium heat to brown, flip and repeat until all slices are crispy and browned.

4.) Grease a 9X13 casserole dish with oil or butter.

5.) Spoon a layer of marinara on bottom.

6.) Layer breaded and browned slices of eggplant to cover bottom.

7.) Place a single layer of mozzarella cheese slices on top of eggplant.

8.) Spoon a layer of marinara on top of the cheese slices, add another layer of breaded and browned eggplant, and another single layer of mozzarella cheese slices and continue to repeat until all eggplant, cheese and marinara are utilized.

9.) Heat in oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

10.) Let rest to settle and firm up. Slice and serve like lasagna.

Pasta Pomodoro

1 16Oz. Pkg of Spaghetti or Angel Hair Pasta

Published by Mary J. Johnson July 12, 2022