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Make entertaining easy with make-ahead penne alla vodka and chocolate cupcakes

Anthony Contrino whips up easy Italian recipes perfect for a birthday party or entertaining friends.
/ Source: TODAY

Throwing a party is fun, but the trick to a truly successful event is having a menu that works for everyone. Ahead of his 2-year-old niece's birthday, Anthony Contrino shares some of his favorite recipes for entertaining a big crowd with even bigger appetites. On this week's episode of TODAY All Day's "Saucy," the chef and food stylist is whipping up his creamy baked penne alla vodka, hoagies with sweet Italian sausage, peppers and onions. For dessert, he makes moist chocolate cupcakes topped with an irresistible chocolate-hazelnut buttercream.

Vodka sauce? Amazing. Baked ziti? Amazing. Baked penne alla vodka? Mind blowing! This is my new go-to for parties since you can prepare it in advance and cook it right before serving. This hot, bubbling entree is full of creamy, salty Italian flavors.

Easy Sausage and Peppers

Easy Sausage and Peppers

Anthony Contrino

This is one of those recipes that’s exactly what it says it is. There are no extra bells and whistles here, well, aside from the bell peppers. It's just really good sweet Italian sausage, peppers and onions all piled onto a soft roll. This dish is simple, delicious and it's always a party hit.

I’m not usually a chocolate person, but these cupcakes are the exception. The moist cake combined with the decadent and velvety buttercream is a match made in heaven. Anyone who enjoys chocolate-hazelnut spread, the combo of which hails from a town in Northern Italy called Torino, will fall in love with this perfect party treat.