Welcome to Make/Buy/Zhuzh, a series where we plan a dinner party with three components: one thing you make from scratch, one thing you buy straight off the shelf, and one thing you accessorize to completion.
Because I am a former Bon Appétit editor, people expect a lot when they come to my house for dinner. But the thing is, I don’t really like to cook. I like to host, and I like to eat. But as a usually-flying-by-the-seat-of-pants kinda gal, I find that the calculations and time required to plan a menu and spend my day chopping and mixing are too much for my hot-and-sleepy brain to handle.
So what’s my go-to lazy outdoor entertaining plan when I need a break from burgers on the grill? An interactive Italian feast featuring a DIY spritz bar and the world’s best frozen pizza, of course.
Make: I may not love cooking, but I do love composing, which is to say, throwing a bunch of things that play nice together in a bowl and calling it done. And for that, nothing beats an XL Italian salad (there are banana peppers! there is pastrami! It’s basically a meal in and of itself!).
This, to me, is the ultimate dish for feeding a crowd when it’s 87 degrees outside and one’s lanternfly-battered body is crying out for vegetables… but also a little bit of processed meat.
Here’s my strategy, which you can follow exactly or just use for inspiration: Whisk together 1 cup olive oil, ½ cup red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp mayo, 1 tbsp Italian seasoning, and 2 tsp minced garlic (dry or fresh). This is your dressing. Then, chop up two heads of iceberg lettuce and toss in 8 oz sliced salami (cut into bite-sized strips), 8 oz pre-shredded mozzarella, 1 onion (any kind, sliced thin), 1 tomato (any kind, cut into bite-sized wedges), 2 cups pitted olives (any kind, but I favor Castelvetranos, and feel free to slice them for maximal diffusion), ½ jar pickled banana peppers (drained and chopped bite-sized), and some croutons (make ‘em yourself from stale bread cubed, olive-oiled, and baked — or buy a bag, no judgment here). Toss it all together and boom! The perfect Italian salad. It will serve about eight, which I deem the ideal dinner party size.
Buy: Talia di Napoli pizza, made by hand in Naples and shipped to the U.S., is the only frozen pizza I’ve ever tasted and actually mistaken for restaurant pizza. Like, it’s so much better than other frozen pizzas it deserves its own freezer case. I’m a big fan of the simpler flavors: double cheese margherita or the classic mozzarella pie, which is made with locally sourced Neapolitan water (like New York City tap water for bagels, it’s said to make a difference in the dough’s consistency), cheese and fresh basil from Campania, and olive oil from Puglia. The pizzas are flash-frozen seconds after emerging from the brick oven to preserve their flavor and texture. Pop a few of these in your oven for 12 minutes at 425 degrees, then go ahead and tell your guests you made them from scratch. You can find them available for delivery on DoorDash at DashMart and Sprouts, among other grocers.
Zhuzh: An Aperol Spritz is the ultimate summer cocktail, don’t @ me. But you know what’s even better? An over-the-top DIY spritz bar featuring mix-and-match sparkly things, liqueurs, and garnishes.
Cocchi Americano, Campari, Aperol, some fun pét-nats, and fresh herbs like basil and mint (keep them in a glass of cold water like a bouquet for freshness) are a nice starting point, but you can and should go crazy. Frozen berries and grapes instead of ice cubes? Yes. Gummy bears? Why not!
I like to throw out a variety of mismatched glassware, some jiggers for measuring, a few cans of sparkling water, and a sign inscribed with the golden ratio of spritzing: 3 parts sparkling wine, 2 parts liqueur, 1 part sparkling water. Then station an ice-filled cooler next to the bar, ask guests to bring a bottle of their own favorite sparkler or liqueur (vermouth, creme de cassis, the list goes on), and let the zhuzh multiply with every new arrival — and zero additional hosting duties.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Stylist: Mary Rupp
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros