The emphasis for a masquerade party should be on decadent food presented in easy-to-manage, bite-size portions. Historically, the masked carnival ball was the last chance to indulge in certain delicacies before the self-restraint of the Catholic pre-Easter fasting period of Lent. The food should match the spirit of excess accordingly. While guests aren't necessarily going to be eating while wearing their masks, the food should recreate the golden era of masked balls, drawing on influences from Renaissance Italy and France, but also acknowledging the New Orleans revival.
Look for opportunities to pack as much flavor and texture into the smallest servings. Grilled mushrooms stuffed with garlic butter, crab puffs or vol au vents, avocado-wrapped in prosciutto, and gourmet cheeses such as Roquefort and Camembert all deliver exquisite flavors. Olives, too, have the sensual quality a masked ball demands. Either serve large, stuffed olives sprinkled with herbs on cocktail stick skewers or blend to make a tapenade to spread on crostini.
In homage to the Venice carnival, put your own spin on Italian classics. Revelers eat frittelle in abundance. The fried or baked doughnut fritters are a close cousin of the beignet, but with added raisins and pine nuts, while castagnole are simple deep-fried flour balls dusted with powdered sugar. For a novelty item, try galani, in which lasagnalike sheets of pasta, cut into ribbons, are deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Light Main Courses
Because an authentic masquerade ball exploits low, candlelit lighting for dramatic effect, main courses need to be easy to navigate and free of surprises. A mushroom or chicken risotto needs close attention to cook, which isn't convenient for a busy host, but the final result is rich and filling and holds together better than a straightforward rice or pasta dish. Likewise, salmon en croute has the lightness of salmon with the richness pastry and requires little attention once it's in the oven. For a buffet, chicken or lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables are easy to assemble and easy to manage, oozing luxurious flavors.
Chocolate and cream provide the best foundations for masked ball desserts, their velvety richness the perfect way to round off a sensual menu. For a simple dessert, serve individual ramekins filled with chilled chocolate mousse, or go a step further and caramelize the crust of a creamy custard into creme brulee. For a real centerpiece, rent or borrow a chocolate fountain machine and entice guests to dip fresh strawberries into its melted chocolate. To bring a New Orleans Mardi Gras touch to the party, prepare a king cake, with brioche dough braided with cinnamon and decorated in purple, green and gold icing.