Hosting the perfect pasta party
by Jannifer Ruple

When it comes to feeding a hungry crowd, there aren’t a lot of foods that fill the bill as well as pasta. Loved by kids and adults alike, pasta is one of those versatile foods that can be customized to satisfy all tastes including meat lovers and veggie lovers. Why not plan a party where your guests can create their own masterpieces with a build-your-own pasta buffet? From choosing the shape of pasta and the type of sauce to their favorite toppings – it’s all about personalization.

Here are some ideas and sauce recipes to help you plan the perfect pasta party.

It’s all about the base.
Serve two types of pasta – one long-stranded pasta such as spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or bucatini and one shaped pasta such as penne, farfalle (bowties), rigatoni or conchiglie (shells). Cook the pasta to al dente, which is Italian for “to the tooth,” meaning the pasta should be cooked until tender, but slightly firm. Drain the pasta, place into a serving bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.

The sauces.
Include two or three sauces on the buffet to choose from such as marinara, a tomato-based sauce; Alfredo, a creamy sauce made with butter and Parmesan cheese; and pesto sauce, which is generally made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. A bottle of good quality extra-virgin olive oil is a nice addition to the buffet for guests who prefer no sauce.

The accouterments. The sky’s the limit here. Include a couple of meats such as meatballs, crumbled Italian sausage, and grilled chicken. Set out bowls of toppings – chopped fresh basil leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, boiled shrimp, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, olives, and sautéed bell peppers and onions.

The drinks. A variety of beverages such as   S. Pellegrino sparkling water with lime wedges, fruity Italian sodas, and a couple varieties of wine will ensure there’s something for all tastes.

The décor.
Fill large baskets with market goodies such as loaves of crusty bread, packages of dried pasta, canned Italian tomatoes, fresh herbs and wine bottles. A red-checkered table cover and classic candle in a Chianti bottle will set the mood.

Wine-themed candle holders add a soft glow to the buffet.


For the centerpiece, fill a large basket with greenery, faux fruit and wine bottles.

Marinara Sauce
¼ pound pancetta (Italian bacon), diced

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Fresh basil, chopped

Fresh oregano, finely chopped

Pinch of sugar (optional)

In a large saucepan, cook the minced pancetta until browned, but not crispy. Add the onion and the garlic and cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the canned tomatoes and about one-half can of water. Cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. Add the fresh herbs. Continue to cook for 20-25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If sauce seems slightly acidic, add a pinch of sugar.

At this point, you have two options. If you like a thicker, chunkier marinara, you can leave it alone. If you want a smoother marinara, process in a food processor or with an immersion blender. 

(Recipe by Liz Donaldson, Assistant Chef at Walt Churchill’s Market, Maumee)

Alfredo Sauce
1 stick butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups heavy cream

1 ¾ cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

½ cup fresh Italian parsley, minced

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and then sauté the garlic. Add the cream and heat through on medium-low heat. When hot, add the cheese. Heat for about 10 minutes until it thickens. Add the parsley.

(Recipe by Liz Donaldson, assistant chef at Walt Churchill’s Market, Maumee)


Drizzle pasta with olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.


Guests can create their own masterpieces with a
build-your-own pasta buffet.

Basil Pesto
1 cup basil leaves

1 cup flat-leaf parsley

¾ teaspoon garlic sea salt

¼ cup pine nuts

¾ cup Parmesan cheese

¾ cup basil-infused olive oil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the pesto, pulse first five ingredients in a blender or food processor. Slowly add basil olive oil.

(Recipe from Ashleigh, owner of Bumble Olive Oil Company)