If there’s one thing Italians know well, it’s that no social gathering of family & friends is complete without plenty to eat and drink.
Like most cultures around the world, a traditional Italian dinner party is all about connecting with friends and loved ones over your shared passion for quality food. In fact, the Italian word for bread, pane, derives from the Latin “panem”, which forms the root of the word “companionship”. Throughout history, breaking bread has represented the connections we form with our fellow man.
In the spirit of spending time with your loved ones, we’ve assembled a guide for hosts who are passionate about Italian food. Our cosy Italian dinner party recipes and tips will ensure you host the perfect social gathering in true Italian style.
1) How to style your Italian dinner party
La tavola – the table
The foundation of an authentic Italian dinner party is how you arrange your table. Wine, still & sparkling water should be ready on the table, with everyone facing and adjacent to a fellow guest. A relaxed tablecloth and empty plates should be set in advance. This leaves plenty of room in the middle of the table for guests to self-serve from large plates of food – no pre-portioning allowed at an authentic Italian feast! Couples should be seated next to one another, with warring family members placed on opposite ends (or facing one another if you’re worried things might get a bit dull).
2) What serve when your guests first arrive
In Italy, it is tradition that before a hearty meal, an aperitivo is served. Usually a drink and a small bite (known as stuzzichini), the aperitivo is designed to stimulate a diner’s appetite. The term aperitivo stems from the latin root “aperire”, meaning “opener”.
But the aperitivo is so much more than a mere first act. It is a moment, a ritual perhaps, observed for centuries by Italian natives,who understand the importance of leisure, of savouring the smallest of occasions, unfettered by urgency. A signifier of the day drawing to a close, an aperitivo is best enjoyed in good company.
Antipasti is essentially the English equivalent to “nibbles”. This usually involves some cured meats & hams known as salumi, Italian cheese, grissini, olives and bread. If you're unsure of what authentic Italian meats to serve here, we've got you covered - just be sure to add our charcuterie platter to your next order. To serve antipasti in true authentic Italian style, serve on wooden chopping boards with small bowls of extra virgin olive oil and delicious Parmesan cheese for your guests to tuck into whilst they wait…
3) What drinks to serve at your Italian dinner party
Ill vino - the wine
To celebrate in true Italian style, each course should be complemented with an enticing wine. The general rule is that red wine should be served with red meat, whilst white wine is typically served with chicken or fish. Discover more about regional Italian wines with our various wine guides, from Tuscan classics to Veneto's finest.
Alongside your water and wine, be sure to honour the Italian tradition of the aperitivo. For a classic and beloved Italian aperitivo, why not serve a Spritz? Fancy something a little stronger? Opt for the Florentine-favourite, the Negroni.
Don't forget your digestivo e caffe too!
4) What's on the menu at your Italian dinner party
Il cibo – the food!
A typical Italian dinner party menu, including the aperitivo and antipasti, comprises of between 5 and 8 courses: il primo, il secondo, contorno e insalata, il dolce, formaggi e frutti and, finalmente, caffe e digestivo.
Wondering what on earth you’re going to prepare for this extravagant multi-course Italian dinner menu? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! (Or you can always cheat - after all, our authentic Italian dishes are perfect for a pasta dinner party! Our pasta dishes are ready in under five minutes, and make for the perfect il primo course. We’ve even covered your antipasto needs with our charcuterie platter, and our curated weekly cocktail makes for the perfect aperitivo or digestivo moment.
Il primoYou might be surprised to hear that in Italy, pasta is usually served in small portions as a starter rather than a main course. Of course, you can serve any type of pasta you like – though fresh pasta is recommended as you can cook this in minutes and avoid keeping your hungry guests waiting!
If you’re wondering which pasta to pair your sauce with, you can check out our pasta pairing guide.
We recommend opting for a pasta dish that complements the flavours of your main course. For something more summery & light go for something like our tagliatelle al limone or delicious ravioli with truffle butter. But to complete your cosy dinner with the ultimate feast, treat your guests to some deliciously creamy carbonara paired with a crisp Vermentino or try our signature beef shin ragù with fresh pappardelle coupled with a rich Tuscan Chianti.
Meat & fish is the typical choice for il secondo in Italy, cooked using subtle flavours and seasonings to avoid making the meal troppo pesante – too heavy! A classic secondo dish could be roast lamb or chicken, perfectly finished with a sprinkle of fresh rosemary and thyme. A large piece of grilled fish drizzled in olive oil is also a known crowd-pleaser. But no secondo can be complete without…
Contorni is Italian for “sides” or “accompaniments”. The word “contorni” literally derives from the word “contorno” meaning “contour” or “outline.” The term refers to how these sides add shape and definition to the main meal.
Contorni usually consists of a mixture of cooked vegetables & roast potatoes. That being said, if you’re looking for something lighter during the warmer months, serve some lightly-grilled vegetables such as asparagus or courgettes dressed in extra virgin Italian olive oil.
If your contorni doesn't contain leafy green vegetables, a simple salad may be served at this point of the meal, though this is not essential. Our Evangelists swear by an uncomplicated salad of leafy greens in good quality olive oil, with a touch of salt and pepper.
Formaggi e Frutti
Towards the end of a meal, an optional selection of regional cheeses are served, alongside complementary seasonal fruits.
La ciliegina sulla torta (the cherry on the cake) to your Italian feast! If you’ve got room for more (bravissima!), there’s no better dessert than a deliciously indulgent tiramisù served with fresh fruit.
Caffe e Digestivo
In lieu of (or in addition to!) il dolce, Biscotti or cantucci dipped in vin santo are a classic Italian digestivo, a perfect finishing touch to your decadent Italian meal. Other sippable liqueurs like Sardinia’s beloved mirto, or the classic limoncello, are great digestivos.
Just make sure you’ve got the caffe staple, espresso, ready to stop yourself sinking into a food coma.
5) Divertiti – have fun!
This is an Italian style dinner party after all! So make sure you relax and enjoy yourself – and get the others to do the washing up! Buon appetito!
Do you have any fun hosting tips, or ideas about what to serve at an Italian dinner party? Share with us on Instagram at @pastaevangelists!
At Pasta Evangelists, we bring a taste of Italy to your kitchen. Prepared using the freshest ingredients, our gourmet pasta dishes are perfect for those looking to enjoy restaurant-quality meals, delivered to your door, and ready in under five minutes. Order from our weekly menu today, and we’ll offer you 25% off your first delivery - simply enter the code BLOG25 at checkout.