This article, written by Mary Orlin, appears on San Jose Mercury News.
FESTA ITALIANA COCKTAIL PARTY, JUSTIN’S CATERING & EVENT PRODUCTIONS, SANTA CLARA
You’ll be ready to welcome friends and family in dolce vita style with this party plan that calls for the irrepressible strains of “That’s Amore” wafting through the air, ice cubes clinking in Negroni-filled cocktail glasses, and platters of beautiful prosciutto-wrapped figs and osso bucco bites filling the buffet.
The Italians have a saying, “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto” — which means, “Eat well, laugh often, love much.” That’s the inspiration for executive chef Justin Perez’s rustic Italian fete.
“I can envision my Italian grandmother saying, ‘Mangia,’ around the holiday table,” Justin says.
To set the scene, catering manager Michele Perez rented a wine barrel arbor from Los Gatos’ ReWined Designs and hung sparkling golden garlands, fresh greenery and purple and gold ornaments all around. Animated holiday figurines, reindeer and gold-painted pine cones added a playful holiday touch — and decorations like this serve as icebreakers, too.
“Decor should make people talk,” she says.
Candles in big glass apothecary jars, surrounded by vivid flowers and fruit — a look that Michele and Justin found on a Lake Tahoe trip — add a warm glow and enhance the decor story.
The evening’s soundtrack is just as important. Michele’s picks include Rat Pack crooners Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Stream their holiday tracks, as well as an Italian standards playlist, including “Volare” and “O Sole Mio.”
Then bring on the beautiful food. Make the tasty starters — fresh, earthy figs wrapped in lemony goat cheese and prosciutto — the day before, then slice them just before guests arrive. Arugula and lemon zest spirals add pops of color.
You may think of osso bucco as sit-down fare, but Justin fills individual ramekins with his mother’s osso bucco, a rustic but luxurious dish that will satisfy the hungriest merrymakers. The recipe may look daunting, but you can braise the veal shanks and stir up the saffron risotto a day or two ahead of time.
At party time, shake up classic Negroni cocktails, and you’re ready to toast your guests. Cin cin!
View the recipe for Negroni Cocktails
View the recipe for Prosciutto Wrapped Figs with Lemon Goat Cheese
View the recipe for Osso Bucco Bites with Saffron Risotto