Ideas to Host Your Own Pasta Bar – Buffet Party Menu

Ideas to Host Your Own Pasta Bar – Buffet Party Menu

Hello friends! This Pasta Bar post is a little overdue and I am hoping that it answers a majority of the questions I have received in regards to the Pasta Bar Party I posted about a couple weeks ago.
We love to entertain frequently and my husband will be the first one to say I sometimes have a tendency to over-think parties and make things a little harder than they actually need to be. I kind of enjoy that part of the planning (in a weird sort-of way), however, I let most of that go as we quickly put together this impromptu playoff game day party. There are a few things that made this party easy and simple for us – those primarily being pre-packaged store purchased food and the ability to pre-assemble a majority of the dishes ahead of time.

This casual party was planned for 12 adults. I liked the idea of a grab-and-go table for watching the game and the mini appetizer dishes worked perfectly for that.
The original post can be found here: Italian Pasta Bar Party Table
Antipasto Tray
Antipasto,  the first course of a formal Italian meal, simply means before the meal. Traditionally antipasto includes cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses, and pickled meats and vegetables – however pick and choose items that you think your guests will enjoy the most.
We had two trays set up on cake stands for our table. Each tray contained:
A Round of Cheese – smoked gouda and roasted garlic
Sliced Mini Dry Salami
Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Flatbread
The bamboo picks were layered with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and sliced mozzarella cheese sticks – you know, the string cheese kind – remember, we were going for quick and simple here. To fancy them up a bit the picks were served in tall shot glasses.
Bruschetta right from the jar was spooned into mini dishes and served with slices of fresh baguette bread. We used la piana tomato and garlic bruschetta.
And the last ‘appetizer type’ dish was mini cheese tortellini {cooked and chilled} served on bamboo picks with basil pesto.
Main Dishes
Pasta Noodles and Sauces
Pasta bars can be set up a few different ways. The best option for your event will depend on the number of guests, other dishes served, and the amount of time you want to spend attending to the food during the party. A pasta bar is generally made up of three different components: sauce, noodles and toppings.
For this party I opted for what I think is the easiest method. The pasta sauces were kept to temperature by placing them in crock pots on the table.  We served two different sauces – tomato basil and vodka sauce. Other options to consider are alfredo, carbonera, bolognese or plain marinera.
The pasta noodles were cooked al dente as the guests arrived.  Before placing them in the serving bowls they were drained and tossed with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil – This prevents the pasta from becoming a big gob and sticking together.  Colorful and unique shapes of pasta make the bar fun and interesting – and don’t forget to pick up a gluten free option to accommodate guests with any special dietary needs.
The idea behind serving the pasta this way is the heated sauces will be warm enough to heat the noodles once they are tossed together, even after the noodles cool. This method is ideal if your guests will be consuming the pasta shortly after it is served – just keep in mind the recommended safe food handling guidelines. (As always, perishable food should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F). Be sure to keep this in mind as the party rocks on — and when in doubt, throw it out. – USDA)
I was kind of skeptical of this method at first thinking someone would complain of cold pasta, however, this worked wonderfully. The sauces were held in the crock pots at a temperature a little warmer than normal and as the guests were ready to create their own pasta dishes – everything was warm and fresh.
Another option for serving the noodles, is serving them in a chafing set up. Cook the noodles just under al dente, drain, and place in a heated chafing dish with a minimal amount of heated water.
In addition to the sauce, other pasta toppings can include ground beef, sausage, meatballs, chicken breast strips, roasted vegetables, or sautéed onions and peppers.  These can all be pre-cooked and held to temperature in crock pots or chafing dishes.
Oh, and don’t forget the fresh grated parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
Another convenient main dish addition to a pasta bar is Spagetti and Meatball Cupcakes.
The full recipe can be found here: Spagetti and Meatball Pasta Cup Recipe
These can easily be made ahead of time and re-heated in the oven right before the party.  We placed them right in square glass tasting bowls for easy transporting.
Italian grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese tortellini soup was also served as one of the main dishes.
The soup was an incredibly easy packet mix from World Market. This was literally thrown together minutes before the party as you just add water and tomato sauce and let it simmer.
The Italian grilled cheese sandwiches were assembled the night before and then buttered and cooked on  a griddle as we were boiling the noodles – right as the guests arrived. The warm soup was a perfect companion to the sandwiches as they cooled on the table. Again, I was a little worried but it all worked out perfectly. As the party went on a few guests did pop the soup in the microwave to warm it up to temperature – though this was after the initial food serving.
The full recipe can be found here: Italian Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe
Another easy dish to fill the table is Meatball and Tortellini Skewers. The pre-cooked meatballs were just browned in the oven and topped with a single cheese tortelli noodle. The cooking and prepping were done ahead of time then they were re-heated prior to guest arriving. For the party the skewers were served on mini appetizer spoons with a touch of warmed marinera sauce and fresh basil.
To utilize the rest of the cheese tortellini we made two mini dishes by simply tossing the pasta with different sauces.
The first was tortellini tossed with basil pesto topped with fresh shredded parmesan cheese.
The remainder – tortellini tossed with marinara and also topped with fresh shredded parmesan cheese.
Other Sides & Breads
To fill the remainder of the party table a few additional sides were prepared.
Baked parmesan crisps are quick, easy and can be made ahead of time.
Full recipe can be found here: Baked Parmesan Crisps Recipe
For a fun presentation the crisps were nestled in some dried green peas.
Italian Phyllo Sticks were also made ahead of time.  I’ll be sharing this recipe later in the week.
Store purchased packaged foods are a great way to fill in open spaces on any party table. These torino thin breadsticks were inexpensive and kept with our party theme.
Fresh sliced Italian bread was also purchased from the store, sliced and tucked in among the other goodies on the table.
Normally I would consider the dessert just as important as the main course, however, since this was more of a game watching, grab and go, snacking- type party I just decided to add a few desserts right to the main table.
To keep it simple many of the items were simply purchased right from the store ready to go like these dulce de leche pizzelle cookies.
Biscotti is another great packaged addition to a pasta table. It comes in several different varieties – we chose almond and almond with dark chocolate biscotti.
And we could not keep enough of these mini cream puffs on the table. These are the store bought kind found in white tubs in the frozen section.
These chocolate tiramisu-like cups were the only dessert requiring any actual work. They were simple to assemble and made the day before the party. I’ll be sharing the semi-homemade recipe later this week.
One Big Tip – If you are using the mini appetizer dishes for a party be sure to have a large tub or bowl  set up and readily available for guests to toss the empty dishes into. To make clean up easier, once the party is over, squirt some dish detergent into the vessel, fill it water, and let it sit for awhile to break up any caked on food.
A couple of things I discovered as I ‘let go a little’ for this party:
1) I always tend to calculate the food I need to prepare by having enough servings of EVERY single dish for EVERY single person. Although this party was a small gathering it did prove to me that you do not need to go that overboard. This particular party table was planned for 12 adults and we still had left overs.
2) The mini appetizer dishes make a great table presentation. Anything portioned out and stuck it its own dish adds a bit of fancy to the table – even if it is just pasta or a single meatball. Guests actually thought I went the extra mile but there was not a lot of effort put into portioning out the servings.
3) I admit I was a little worried that all the food for this party was going to be cold as I normally serve everything in chafing dishes or crockpots – it is one down side of using all the mini serving dishes. I do have to say though everything was perfectly fine. The pasta dishes were honestly great even after the initial warming – and the heated sauces were available for any of the guests that wanted to add a little warmth. A few guests did warm the soup in the microwave – after the initial serving – buts that is it.
I usually sink a lot of time into trying to make everything just right for a party, however, when it comes down to it, no matter what you end up with the day of the party, simply gathering friends and family is what it is all about – and if you have guests like ours any type of food you decide to serve is just the icing on the cake.


  1. This is SO awesome Stephanie Lynn! Wow, I’m captured by each detail. I ALWAYS love your style in everything you do. This is a new favorite of mine. <3

  2. i’m hungry!!!!!

  3. I’m loving this idea! Thanks for sharing.
    ‘hugs from afar’

  4. Love this! I want to tell you this in italian: “Molto brava!”

  5. This is an amazing party. So many wonderful party ideas! Love the idea of pasta on a stick and the spaghetti and meatballs cupcakes…yum!

  6. Just ran across your post and so glad I did! I’ve been collecting the mini tasting dishes for a few years now but haven’t used them yet. I was having a hard time thinking what types of foods to serve in them because, like you, I was worried everything would get COLD while guests sampled all the items. I’m liking the idea of a pasta party and the ideas you’ve shown. Thanks for taking the time to share!


  7. Perfection, Stephanie Lynn!! We love to entertain, and everyone always loves the assortment of small plates! I, too enjoy going overboard with the details, but sometimes simplicity wins out! Thanks so much for putting this together for us!

  8. wow! these are amazing ideas!

  9. uhm…uhm…uhm…maybe do you like Italian food???

    my compliments for your wonderful blog

    many hugs


  10. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!! everything looks so good – I love the various cheese used unfortunately my Italian son-in-law is allergic to cheese so it’s a no-no to serve!! However, I do love the idea of the spaghetti muffins I just might make some for hubbie for the Superbowl! and of course the bruschetta TFS your ideas!! great blog

  11. This is gooing to be one fantastic party!! Everything looks great anfd the food ideas are terrific. Love the spaghetti muffins! Very good.


  12. what an awesome job you did Stephanie! beautiful! just beautiful!!! 🙂

  13. This is GREAT! Loved how you broke down everything – including taking the time to edit the photos so the item you were talking about POPPED! Thanks sincerely for your time and effort. I know how time consuming blogging can be and you really went above and beyond to share all of the details! Thank you!! This will be a favorite post of mine for a long-time coming!!

  14. Oh my gosh, I’m DYING to have a party now! I have a thing that at kiddie parties (we have REALLY young ones), adults should be able to eat real food- and with one hand. This is perfect! Oh, and your pictures with the b&w, and color highlights are great. Love your blog!

  15. What an AMAZING party! I am pinning this! It makes me want to host this same party! Life to the full, Melissa

  16. WOW! You know how to throw a party! So many great choices.

    It looks like you put a lot of time and planning into this party for 12 (and planning is the key to any successful party or event).

    My company makes appetizers for busy people and you have inspired me to look at some new additions to our already large selection. I especially like the Meatball and tortellini appetizer because it is easy preperation and anyone can do it (with the right ingredients).

    Thanks Stephanie!


    Rosana Santos Calambichis

  17. I love all the amazing photos and ideas. It inspires me to plan an Italian themed Christmas Eve celebration this year! “Under the Table” – are you perhaps a DMB fan?

  18. My husband and I are thinking about doing a pasta bar for his ordination party this summer, and, while we’re looking at more like 300-400 people, I got some great tips from this post! Thanks!


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