Casual Italian Buffet Menu

Everything you need for an Italian spread that can be prepped ahead! Here is how  you can relax and enjoy your guests the day of your party. 

Even though I know I can’t hurry spring, by March my mind still wants to try. So I was thinking about lemon-y, lamb-y things for my lunch guests but when I saw the weather forecast was -13 degrees Celsius and potentially snowy I had to give up on the crocuses and spring-y things.

It worked out well in the end!  This buffet was a real hit with everyone. And I can attest to enjoying the leftovers (amidst a roaring snow storm)!  Here are the recipes and scheduling suggestions that will allow you to prep many of the dishes ahead of time so you can enjoy your guests the day of!


Easiest Appetizer Tarts Ever

Cheesy Pull-Apart Eggplant

Slow Cooker Tuscan Sausage Tortellini Soup

Copy Cat Olive Garden Bread Rolls

No Knead Rosemary Garlic Bread

Green Salad with Copy Cat Olive Garden Dressing

Mushroom Marsala Lasagna

or Cheater Meat Lasagne

Wine Pairing Suggestion

We had this with Fantini Farnese Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2015 with the tart and eggplant appetizers. It won a gold medal at the MUNDUS VINI competition in Germany. There are thousands of  European wines judged by international judges. This is a medium to full bodied wine, dark plum in the glass, fruity on the nose.  The alcohol level weighs in at 13% so it is a bit hot on the palate, which is fine with the appetizers. Cherry notes on the palate, tannins are slightly grainy.

This wine has enough substance to complement the food and it is perfect for serving a crowd @ $13.95 per 1500 ml. (START THE CAR!  Ikea joke)  Note the wine often scores gold for previous vintages. The 2016 won silver so look for the 2015 if it is still available.

—LCBO#: 512335  $13.95

You could definitely serve this with all the dishes in the buffet but if you want to try something weightier check out the Barberas below.



Panettone – I happened to have a store bought panettone- the yummy one with lemoncello custard in it so we had that for dessert. Sorry no recipe here!

You can also offer espresso coffee or Liquid Cake (coffee).


The Day Before Your Party

  • Prepare and assemble the lasagne. This Mushroom Marsala Lasagne is full of flavor and can be prepared and assembled the day before you plan to serve it.  It is a winter lasagne because it uses celery root to thicken the white sauce.  Celery root is available late fall through winter in Ontario.  It will take about 1 to 1 1/2  hours in the oven the day of your party.

mushroom-marsala-lasagne If you are making this in season when celery root is not available then you could make the  ‘Cheater Meat Lasagne‘.   I buy a frozen premade lasagne.  Our President’s Choice brand often has a huge tray of meat lasagne on special for $10-$12 dollars.  I jazz it up with extra meat sauce and cheese topping and it always gets rave reviews.  You can make the meat sauce and grate the cheeses the day before you plan to serve it.  The day of the party you take the frozen lasagne out of the freezer about 2 hours before you plan to serve it.  Let it rest on the counter for 1 hour, add the extra toppings and it will take about 1 to 1 1/2  hours to heat through in the oven.



  • Prep the Green Salad with Copy Cat Olive Garden Dressing.  Clean and chop all the salad ingredients. Put a square of paper towel in the bottom of a large plastic bag or right in your (covered) serving bowl if you have room in the fridge. Just remember to take the paper towel out before you toss the salad!  Add the salad ingredients, except for croutons, but do not mix. Put the lettuce in and just dump the other ingredients on top.  Mix the Dressing ingredients in a separate sealed jar. Store the salad ingredients and dressing in the fridge overnight.


And here is the yummy, creamy dressing…..olive-garden-salad-dressing

  • Prep the ingredients for Easiest Appetizer Tarts Ever.  Take puff pastry out of freezer and move to your fridge to defrost overnight.  Grate or crumble the cheese you will use. Store the cheese separately.  Chop the onions, roasted peppers and onions, combine them in a container and store in the fridge.


  • Prepare the Cheesy Pull-Apart Eggplant.  Score the eggplant, grate the cheese.  Brush the pesto in the eggplant crevices and fill with grated cheese.  Fold the foil up around the eggplant leaving some clearance between the top of the eggplant and the foil.  Store in the fridge overnight.
  • Brown the sausage, onions and garlic for the Slow Cooker Tuscan Sausage Tortellini Soup and store in a container in the fridge overnight.
  • Prep the buffet area and/or table if possible.  If you have a separate eating area you can set your table the day before.  I put a tablecloth on the dining room table, set out the plates, utensils, salt and pepper, wine glasses, water glasses and napkins. I have a couple of choices of where to set up the food line so I can usually put out my cloth for the buffet and pull out the serving dishes and utensils I want to use.  (If you will need those spaces for your family activities then you can only prepare your table and buffet area the day of the party.)
  • Select your wines and set them out with the wine opener so you are ready to uncork and serve the next day.

The Day of the Party

  • You probably don’t need to make both the rolls and bread so you could choose whichever one you prefer.
  • Prepare  the Copy Cat Olive Garden Bread Rolls.   These will take at least 3 hours to prepare, allow to rise and bake. You will need your oven for you lasagnes during the last hour and a half so start the rolls at least 4 1/2  hours before you expect our guests.
  • Prepare the No Knead Rosemary Garlic Bread.  This recipe will take about 2 hours and ten minutes start to finish. Again – you will need your oven during the last hour and a half for the other recipes so start this at least 3 hours and 45 minutes before you expect our guests.
  • After your dough is ready and rising put the soup ingredients in the slow cooker and turn it on high. It will be ready about 3 hours after you turn it on but can easily hold on warm for a few hours more. So start the soup and then you can ‘fuhgeddaboudit’!
  • If you were not able to set up your table the day before do it now and get your serving platters and utensils and trivets ready.
  • Assemble the Easiest Appetizer Tarts Ever.  Position your puff pastry dough on baking sheets with parchment paper or a pizza stone.  Brush with olive oil and distribute cheese and toppings evenly over the pasty.  Stick in the fridge til you are ready to bake them.
  • Bake the bread and/or rolls according to the recipe instructions. They should be coming out of the oven 1 1/2 hours before you expect your guests. After 5 or 10 minutes move them to your serving basket.
  • Position the racks in your oven so you will be able to bake the lasagne on the lower rack and heat the eggplant and tarts on the upper rack.
  • Put the lasagne  and the eggplant package in the oven when the bread comes out ie about 1 1/2 hours before you plan to serve.
  • After 1 hour remove the eggplant from the oven. Do not unwrap yet. Let it rest in a warm spot. I use the top of my stove. Remove the foil cover from the lasagne so it can brown. You will need to turn the oven temperature up to cook the puff pastry tarts.  Add them to the oven on the upper rack. They will need about 18 minutes to cook.
  • Take the salad ingredients and dressing out of the fridge while the tarts are baking. Shake the dressing now and again just before serving.
  • Uncork the wine while the tarts are in the oven.
  • When the tarts are ready remove them from the oven and let them rest a few minutes.  At this point your lasagne should be piping hot and browned on top so you can reduce the oven to the lowest temperature just to keep it warm.
  • Unwrap the eggplant and put it on a serving platter. Cut the tarts into serving size pieces and plate on your serving tray.
  • Your guests are probably arriving just about now.
  • Offer them wine and invite them to help themselves to the tart and eggplant appetizers.
  • When you are ready to move on to the ‘main’ event, put out the bread/rolls,  toss the salad with the croutons and dressing and add it to the buffet table; move the slow cooker to the buffet with a ladle, cut the lasagne into serving size pieces and place on a trivet on the table.
  • Invite guests to help themselves!

Other Wine Suggestions

Campomoro Barbera Piemonte 2013 (Italy)

476259   Score 92    $16.95

The 2013 Barbera Campomoro is a delicious entry-level red. Pliant, intense and rich – but never heavy – the 2013 offers terrific quality for the money. Sweet floral notes add freshness to the red cherry and plum flavors. Drink this juicy Barbera over the next handful of years. Drinking window: 2015-2020. Score – 92. (Antonio Galloni,, Dec. 2015)

Olim Bauda Barbera D’Asti Le Rocchette 2012  (Tasted)      We served this full -bodied, high alcohol Barbera D’Asti with the soup, salad and lasagne. The food helped to offset the high alcohol (15%) on the palate and it withstood the strong flavors in the various buffet dishes. There is a bit of herbalness on the nose.  The palate has an earthiness to it with berries, cherries and a hint of licorice.  Long finish. Score 91 $26.95

The 2012 doesn’t show any availability in Ontario but if you can access another vintage or have it in you cellar -lucky you!

 Other Similar Choices

Paolo Conterno Bricco Barbera D’alba 2014, Doc 

$19.95 (744714)

 John Szabo of Winealign call this ‘Classic, tart red fruit flavoured, high acid, low tannin barbera, juicy and ready to join at the table with some rustic tomato-based pasta or grilled sausages.’

Nuova Cappelletta Barbera Del Monferrato 2013, Doc

$16.75 (719518)

Floral, plummy and spicy on the nose with considerable raspberry tones. The palate offers equally rewarding notes of raspberry, nutmeg, cedar, cassis and violets in a finely balanced package. Medium bodied, with good accord between the acidity and tannins, this is an excellent choice for simple meat stews or mushroom risotto. Free sulphur: <6 mg/L. (VINTAGES panel, Sept. 2012)

Ascheri Barbera D’Alba DOC

LCBO description:  Youthful ruby with purple highlights; blackcherry, plum and cedar aromas; dry, medium bodied; blackberry and cherry flavours with balanced acidity and tight tannins in a medium length finish.

—LCBO#: 219790  $14.95

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