A friend of mine recently got married, so we decided a celebratory dinner party was definitely in order this past weekend.

After telling me her new husband was half Italian, well, that settled it. Italian food seemed like an absolute no-brainer, and since it’s my favorite food ever, too, I was pretty excited to plan the menu.

Now after years and years of dutifully watching the Food Network, I’ve picked up a few helpful entertaining tips along the way. One of my all-time favorite cooks, Ina Garten (a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa), always recommends keeping the menu simple, never trying a recipe for the first time on your unsuspecting guests, and if all possible, making a few things ahead of time.

Well, I got two out of three right (tsk, tsk), and everything turned out okay.

I don’t know why, but I love the challenge of navigating uncharted waters whenever I’m having guests over. Whether it’s a birthday celebration, a wedding shower, or Thanksgiving, I like the adrenaline rush of whipping up something I haven’t even tried before.

As a result, I have two new recipes I’m thrilled to add to my regular repertoire…an incredible caramelized pancetta and fennel salad (I know it sounds a bit weird, but trust me, it kicked me out of a major salad rut) and for dessert, a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe for Semifreddo with oh-so-heavenly NUTELLA swirled in.

For the record, a Semifreddo is a semi-frozen Italian dessert that’s somewhere in between a custard and gelato. What made this a must-try for me, besides the aforementioned Nutella was the biscotti crust.

To give it a bit of a Southern flair, I used butter pecan biscotti instead of the recommended almond, and that’s a decision I won’t regret anytime soon. While it tasted great on its own (even better when dunked in a caramel macchiato), it was absolutely delicious in this dessert.

And even though you whisk and whisk and whisk until your biceps feel like they should be triple their size, the end product was well worth the effort. When it’s like 1,000 degrees during the Texas summer, having a cold dessert totally hit the spot, too.

Plus, you can make it ahead, a total bonus, which made the cooking for the major event far less stressful because I knew the dessert was already done.

I think the Barefoot Contessa would be proud (fingers crossed, anyway).