If there’s one thing Italians know well, it’s that no social gathering of family and 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 become synonymous with forming connections with others.
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.
Get the inside track from an Italian native, our Head Chef Roberta, in the video below, then read on for our top dinner party tips.
Italian dinner party decorations
La tavola – the table
The foundation of an authentic Italian dinner party is how you arrange your table. Wine, still and 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).
What to serve when your guests arrive
In Italy, it’s traditional that before a hearty meal, an aperitivo is served. Typically made up of a drink and a few salty snacks (known as stuzzichini), the aperitivo is designed to stimulate a diner’s appetite. The term aperitivo stems from the latin ‘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 and hams known as salumi, Italian cheese, olives and grissini (breadsticks) or bread. To serve antipasti in true Italian style, arrange everything on wooden chopping boards with small bowls of extra virgin olive oil and hunks of parmesan cheese for your guests to tuck into whilst they wait.
What drinks to serve at your Italian dinner party
Il 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. If you’re serving pasta at your Italian dinner party, check out our pasta and wine pairing guide.
The perfect Italian dinner party menu
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, to finish, 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.
You 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 and light go for something like our tagliatelle al limone or delicious ravioli with truffle butter. For something warm and comforting, 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 and 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, finished with a sprinkle of fresh rosemary and thyme. A large piece of grilled fish drizzled in olive oil is also a crowd-pleaser. But no secondo can be complete without some suitable contorni…
Contorni is Italian for ‘sides’ or ‘accompaniments’. The word ‘contorni' literally derives from ‘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 and roast potatoes. That being said, if you’re looking for something lighter during the warmer months, serve some lightly-grilled vegetables like asparagus or courgette dressed in Italian extra virgin olive oil.
If your contorni doesn't feature leafy green vegetables, a simple salad may be served at this point of the meal, though this is not essential. Our Head Chef Roberta swears 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, you could choose to serve an Italian cheese board, alongside some seasonal fruits.
Caffe e digestivo
In lieu of (or in addition to) dessert, sippable liqueurs like Sardinia’s beloved mirto, or the classic limoncello, are great digestivi. Even if you don’t have room for dessert, do as the Italians do and add a little liqueur to your post-dinner coffee – we love a drop of Amaro or Fernet Branca in ours.
Divertiti – have fun!
This is an Italian dinner party after all! So make sure you relax and enjoy yourself – and get the others to do the washing up. Buon appetito!
An Italian dinner party, delivered to your door
Feeling inspired to host an Italian party, but not keen on all that cooking? You could always cheat. Our restaurant-quality fresh pasta boxes can be delivered across the UK, then prepared at home in minutes – ideal for an authentic (but stress-free) Italian dinner party. Alongside a host of authentic pasta dishes, we’ve got your antipasti needs covered with our Italian charcuterie and cheese selections. And of course, our menu always features plenty of seasonal sides and decadent Italian desserts.