The southern Ivrea-Verbano Zone of the Italian Western Alps contains a huge mafic complex that intruded high-grade metamorphic rocks while they were resident in the lower crust. Geologic mapping and chemical variations of the igneous body were used to study the evolution of underplated crust. Slivers of crustal rocks (septa) interlayered with igneous mafic rocks are concentrated in a narrow zone deep in the complex (Paragneiss-bearing Belt) and show evidence of advanced degrees of partial melting. Variations of rare-earth-element patterns and Sr isotope composition of the igneous rocks across the sequence are consistent with increasing crustal contamination approaching the septa. Therefore, the Paragneiss-bearing Belt is considered representative of an "assimilation region" where in-situ interaction between mantle- and crust-derived magmas resulted in production of hybrid melts. Buoyancy caused upwards migration of the hybrid melts that incorporated the last septa and were stored at higher levels, feeding the Upper Mafic Complex. Synmagmatic stretching of the assimilation region facilitated mixing and homogenization of melts. Chemical variations of granitoids extracted from the septa show that deep septa are more depleted than shallow ones. This suggests that the first incorporated septa were denser than the later ones, as required by the high density of the first-injected mafic magmas. It is inferred that density contrasts between mafic melts and crustal rocks play a crucial role for the processes of contamination of continental magmas. In thick under- plated crust, the extraction of early felsic/hybrid melts from the lower crust may be required to increase the density of the lower crust and to allow the later mafic magmas to penetrate higher crustal levels.