Donatella Arpaia’s passion for food was formed at a young age. Spending summers at her grandfather’s Italian olive farm, growing up in her dad’s restaurants, and learning from her Mama Maria were invaluable foundations of her cooking. Since opening her first restaurant, Bellini, in 1988, Donatella hasn’t stopped. The former lawyer-turned-culinary-mogul and Food Network star shares her love of cooking and entertaining with us, bringing fun, drama and personality to your table.
Summer entertaining often involves large groups, yet I love intimate summer dinner parties! It feels so indulgent to bring the good crystal and flatware outdoors, to slip on that fun dress you’ve been waiting to wear, and savor an elegant meal under the stars.
Of course, because I am a chef, I think the meal itself is very important, but it’s definitely not everything. Don’t neglect the other important aspects of making your dinner memorable. Here are my top tips (and a few recipes) for an intimate summer gathering.
Set the scene
Candles, flowers and music are the sacred trilogy to any event. Candles flickering under the stars are the easiest way to set the mood. For a modern and elegant look, choose one type of flower and arrange bunches in a beautiful vase. These yellow forsythia branches from my garden added the perfect pop of color.
If possible, set the table early in the morning. I like to mix metallics such as gold flatware with crystal stemware, and I always finish with a splash of color. For this summer soiree, I chose lavender napkins for a touch of modern elegance. Set your table apart with outdoor dining inspiration from Frontgate’s Pinterest board.
For music, create a playlist for the evening. The tempo should be upbeat upon arrival and a bit mellower when dining.
Lastly, don’t forget that you’re part of the scene. Pick out a pretty dress that’s comfortable and colorful. You’re the hostess … have fun with it!
Plan the menu
Make sure your menu is balanced. Vegetarian pasta is light and healthy, and I’ll also offer steak and seafood options to include all my guests. All of my recipes are easy, but they do require buying top ingredients.
For an added touch, why not print a menu and add a wine course pairing? It’s a great way to engage your guests in conversation. Print on parchment, and wrap in a bow.
Malfaldine with No-Cook Zucchini & Ricotta Sauce
My No-cook Pasta Sauce. That’s right! The only cooking required for this dish is boiling the pasta! The best part is that this pasta can be served hot, warm or even cold. The more it sits, the better it gets!
2 pints (4 cups) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped Italian parsley
Zest of 1 large lemon (plus juice)
1 medium green zucchini, sliced then cut into ribbons
1 medium yellow zucchini, sliced then sliced into ribbons
1½ cups ricotta
One package of Malfaldine pasta (lasagna strips)
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, parsley and lemon juice and let marinate.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a roaring boil, cook pasta and remove from heat one minute before the suggested time on the package.
Drain (reserve half cup of pasta water) and transfer pasta to a large bowl. Stir in ricotta until fully incorporated, using pasta water as needed to thin. Add the tomatoes that have been marinating. Toss again and gently fold in zucchini.
Finish with freshly ground salt and pepper and serve—hot, warm or cold. The more it sits the better it gets!
Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce
1 large bunch flat parsley, coarsely chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced (white and green parts)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 anchovies (optional), minced
⅓ cup olive oil
Crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste
40 oz. skirt steak
To make sauce, place parsley, scallions, garlic and anchovies in a bowl, and stir in olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Let sit, and allow flavors to meld together while steak cooks.
Place steak on grill and cook 6-8 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and cut into thin slices. Brush with Chimichurri Sauce and serve.
Grilled Shrimp on a Bed of Roasted Tomatoes
1 lb. large shrimp
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Wooden 4-inch skewers
Soak the wooden skewers in water for 1 hour or use metal skewers.
Whisk olive oil, salt and pepper into a bowl. Thread four shrimp onto each skewer, then brush shrimp skewers with olive oil mixture. Let shrimp marinate for 15 minutes.
Heat grill to medium. Place shrimp on the grill and cook 2 minutes per side or until cooked through.
3 pints cherry tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 package arugula
Preheat oven to 425°. Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet so that they fit in single layer. Roast tomatoes for 20-25 minutes or until soft.
Place tomatoes on a serving plate and top with arugula. Arrange grilled shrimp skewers on top of the arugula and serve.
Grilled Watermelon with Maldon Salt and Mint
Think outside the box! Grilling isn’t just for steak. Place watermelon slices on the grill, then sprinkle with salt and mint for a light and sweet end to your meal.