5 Step Dinner Party: Rustic Italian Summer

5 Step Dinner Party: Rustic Italian Summer

Thanks to reader Cari’s suggestion, I tackled an entirely new theme for this week’s party: rustic Italian. I don’t know if my menu meets authenticity standards; it’s mostly the rustic Italian of my imagination. I was excited to try two things I’d never cooked before: polenta and whole trout.


  • Appetizer of seeded bread and dipping olive oil topped with truffle salt
  • Tuscan kale with cannellini beans, lemon, garlic
  • Grilled basil polenta
  • Tomato and mozzarella salad with kale pesto
  • Baked trout in paper with lemon, garlic and fennel
  • Dessert of three kinds of gelato
Step 1: Shop
I didn’t need to buy much for this dinner. I picked up a few more tomatoes and lemons from farmer’s market ($2). At the grocery store, I bought two whole trout ($15), along bag of pre-cut Tuscan kale,  a tube of polenta and a fennel bulb ($10). Parsley, mozzarella, pesto, olive oil, cannellini beans, truffle salt and garlic were already on hand.

Step 2: Set the Table
I used a yellow linen tablecloth from Ikea that rustically defies ironing as the base. Then, made a runner from straw placemats. The pretty napkins were a project from a Ladies Activity Club party a few years ago. Quickly painted a few yellow tomatoes on placecards to boost the theme.

Instead of flowers I put basil, parsley and fennel into a mix of vases and jars for the centerpiece. I put out candles, but it ended up being too hot for them at dinner.

Step 3: Prep
Since this menu was so easy, there wasn’t much to prepare the night before. I chopped the lemon, fennel, parsley and garlic for the baked trout recipe in advance.

Step 4: Last Minute Prep
I bought a seeded baguette on the way home from working and started to prep the rest of the dinner. I’ve been getting amazing tomatoes at Farmer’s market and they’re my secret weapon for impressing guests. I leave them on the sunny counter of our kitchen where they get even more ripe and delicious throughout the week.

I’ve never cooked whole trout before and was a bit nervous about stuffing them.

Tied up the paper parcel with a bow and it was ready for the oven.

Finally, I cut up some bread and put out a dish of olive oil topped with a bit of truffle salt. Turned on an Italian playlist on Spotify and had an hour to relax before the party.

Step 5: Party
Rebecca and Derek arrived at 7:00 with their adorable baby, Emerson. I put the fish in the 350 degree oven to bake for 20 minutes and sat down to enjoy the bread together.  5 minutes before dinner, I cooked the polenta on a grill pan, sauteed the kale with lemon juice, garlic, salt and the beans, and topped the tomato salad with pesto and a sprinkling of sea salt. Time to eat!

To my surprise, the trout turned out perfectly! The recipe could have used a tiny bit more seasoning but the fish was delicious.

The kale was a last minute addition to the menu and SO good. I’d make than anytime for a quick lunch.

I think the baby liked it, too!

For dessert, Rebecca brought gelato from Holy Gelato here in the city. Strawberry in one pint and a mix of hazelnut and chocolate in the other.


Next week, I’m cooking at the beach. But what should we make for the week after? Tacos and hawaiian are two recommendations from readers already.  You can follow-along with the planning on Pinterest here

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by
There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Anonymous at 8:34 pm

    Love how you entertain! How about "roll your own" Japanese sushi hand rolls? It's called "temaki". Just prepare the rice, nori and fillings ahead of time and let the guests select the fillings of their choice! I've done it before and it was fun!

  2. bex at 4:47 am

    We were impressed by the whole thing, not just those tomatoes. You didn't even mention the special icecream spoons! xo

  3. Anonymous at 9:25 am

    oh and btw check your fb message, its hidden on your other folder. love to hear your reply!

  4. Anonymous at 1:16 pm

    Perfect! So glad that you took my suggestion!


  5. mrsem Author at 4:22 pm

    I've checked all my facebook messages (I think?) and I can't seem to find one from you, Anonymous. Can you email me directly at [email protected]?