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, 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 Italian dinner party recipes and tips will ensure you host the perfect 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. 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 at an Italian dinner party

Rule number 2: 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 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!

A typical Italian dinner party menu comprises of 5 courses: l’antipasto, il primo, il secondo, contorno and, finalmente, il dolce.

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 – after all, our authentic Italian dishes are perfect for a pasta dinner party!) (Pasta Evangelists menu).

L’antipasto

Antipasti is essentially the English equivalent to “nibbles”. This usually involves some cured meats & hams known as salumi, Italian cheese, grissini, olives and bread. 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…

Il primo

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 pairing guide

We recommend opting for a pasta dish that complements the flavours of your main course. Treat your guests to some light and tasty morsels 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 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…

I contorni

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.

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, a perfect finishing touch to 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 any fun hosting tips, or ideas about what to serve at an Italian dinner party? Share your comments below!