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.

italian dinner

Jesus Christ showing us how it’s done in Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper

Like most cultures around the world, sharing a meal is one of the core foundations of spending quality time with the ones you love. In fact, the Italian word for bread, pane, derives from the Latin “panem”, which forms the root of the word “companionship”, showing how the most basic form of human connection was conceived around the idea of breaking bread as a means of bonding with fellow man.

So, after a glorious weekend of feasting in Napoli with the Pasta Evangelists team this weekend, and in the spirit of spending time with your loved ones, we’ve narrowed down the basic rules for hosting the perfect Italian dinner so you can enjoy your next social gathering in true Italian style.

Rule number 1: La tavola – the table

The foundation of the Italian dinner party. Wine, still & sparkling water should be ready on the table, with everyone facing and adjacent to a fellow guest. A chequered tablecloth and empty plates should be set in advance, leaving 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).

Rule number 2: Il vino – the wine

The type of wine you choose will depend on what you are serving for each course, though whichever you decide we recommend decanting the wine in advance to ensure it is well aerated before you begin your feast. The general rule is that red wine should be served with red meat, whilst white wine is typically served with chicken and fish. If you’re planning on going all out – you could even serve Spritz for a classic Italian aperitivo. How to make an aperol spritz

Rule number 3: Il cibo – the food!

An Italian dinner typically comprises of 5 courses: l’antipasto, il primo, il secondo, contorno and, finalmente, il dolce.

If you’re wondering what on earth you’re going to prepare for this extravagant 5-course Italian dinner menu, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! (Or you can always cheat and order one of our pasta dishes here – we won’t tell!) (Pasta Evangelists menu).

L’antipasto

Antipasti is essentially the English equivalent to “nibbles”, usually comprising of delicious cured meats & hams known as salumi, Italian cheese, grissini, olives and bread. To serve these in true authentic Italian style, display these on wooden chopping boards with small bowls of good-quality extra virgin olive oil and hunks of Parmesan cheese for your guests to tuck into whilst they wait…

Il primo

You might be surprised to hear that pasta is usually served as a starter as opposed to a main course in Italy. Served in small portions, 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 pairingguide

We recommend opting for a pasta dish that complements the flavours of your main course and serving light, simple flavours such as spaghetti al pomodoro or a few spinach & ricotta ravioli dressed in olive oil. With three courses to go, you need to ensure you’ve got plenty of room for…

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Il secondo

Meat & fish is the typical choice for il secondo in Italy, cooked using simple flavours and seasonings to avoid making the meal troppo pesante – too heavy! A classic secondo dish could be roast lamb or chicken seasoned with fresh rosemary & thyme or a large piece of grilled fish drizzled in olive oil. But no secondo can be complete without…

I contorni

Contorni is Italian for “sides” or “accompaniments”. The word “contorni” literally derives from the word “contorno” meaning “contour” or “outline”, alluding to its purpose of giving shape and definition to the main meal.

Contorni are usually a mixture of cooked vegetables & roast potatoes, though simply grilled vegetables such as asparagus or courgettes dressed in extra virgin Italian olive oil are a perfect alternative for something lighter during the warmer months.

Il dolce

La ciliegina sulla torta (the cherry on the cake) to your Italian feast! Biscotti or cantucci dipped in vin santo are a classic Italian digestivo that’s perfect if you’re looking for a bite of something sweet to complete your decadent Italian meal. If you’ve got room for more (bravissima!), there’s no better dessert than a deliciously indulgent tiramisù served with fresh fruit.

Whichever you choose, just make sure you’ve got the espresso ready to stop yourself sinking into a food coma.

Rule number 4:  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 tips for hosting the perfect dinner party? Share your comments below!