Italians wrote the book on family-style eating, drinking and entertaining. No matter where in the world, an Italian get-together features a few common denominators: an emphasis on family, the honouring of traditions, fresh, delicious food, lively discussion—and lots and lots of Italian wine.
Imagine yourself at the table, surrounded by everyone you love, a meal spread out, wine glasses full, conversation flowing, laughter free. This is how you entertain Italian-Style. These are memories ready to be made, and we want in on that action.
So we asked Beppe D’Andrea, Global Brand Ambassador for Ruffino Wines for his advice on celebrating Italian-style. Our question: How can we re-create Big Night’s grand banquet in our own homes? Easy. Just follow these home entertaining tips.
GO BIG OR GO HOME: HOW TO ENTERTAIN ITALIAN-STYLE
Start with Wine
In Italian culture, wine is viewed as sustenance. While Italians don’t drink it like water anymore, they do consume about 10 gallons per person per year. So no party is complete without a great selection of vino. The old rules of pairing white wine with fish and red wine with meat no longer apply, so drink what you—and your guests—will love.
Try: Chianti from Italy’s Tuscany region. It’s a medium bodied, well balanced wine that’s approachable and aromatic making it the perfect pairing with any type of cuisine. Stock up on the 2014 Ruffino Chianti DOCG ($14.95) or Ruffino Riserva Ducale ($25.00). If you prefer white, have a look at our guide to winter whites.
Translate Italian to Local
Each region in Italy features a different flavour and style of cuisine. Recipes from the north include more butter or cream, while southern specialties use the ubiquitous tomatoes, garlic, and basil we generally associate with Italian food. But no matter what, when you entertain Italian-Style always cook with fresh, local, high quality ingredients. So, when planning your menu, keep in mind what’s available around you. Hit up a Farmer’s market or local producer and swap in locally sourced ingredients.
Try: Getting inspired by traditional Italian holiday dishes like fresh pasta, risotto, fish, charcuterie, cheeses and bread. Seek out what’s in season around you. For winter, think beets, brussels sprouts, parsnips, sweet potatoes, pears and squash.
Keep it Simple
Don’t get stuck in the kitchen! You don’t have to show off to make an impact, and even the most basic pasta with olive oil tastes better when it’s eaten in the company of friends and family. Serving a six-course meal or trying new elaborate recipes won’t make your holiday feast better. It will, however, make it more stressful. The best celebrations are when the hostess is at the table enjoying her guests. In fact, sometimes less is more. Great food doesn’t have to be complicated.
Try: Simple pastas, a beautiful salad or soup, slow-roasted meats, make-ahead desserts. Feel free to ask guests to bring a dish, too.
Serve Family Style
There’s nothing quite as joyful as the buzz you get from serving informally. Instead of plating individual dishes for each of your guests, bring your holiday meal to the table on large platters, so your guests can serve themselves. This way, everyone can take as much as they want and the interactive nature of the passing of the plates will just boost the fun factor.
There’s Never Too Much Food
An Italian table always groans with food. Traditionally, a meal includes antipasto (appetizers), primo (first course–like pasta), secondo (second course–like meat), and contorno (salad or vegetable), followed by cheese, fruit, dessert and espresso. A traditional 4-course meal might seem daunting, but no matter what you choose to prepare, don’t forget: Make sure there’s enough extra for hungry guests, doggie bags, or leftovers.
Try: A big pot of minestrone soup, a charcuterie platter, large pans of lasagne, meatballs, or roast chicken, and a cheese platter.
Set the Stage
The very nature of the Italian dinner table is loud and lively, so don’t expect a sedate dinner party. Keep in mind that the goal of a family feast is to share and enjoy each other. The food, wine, and conversation should be front and centre, not elaborate decorations. Keep the atmosphere casual, comfortable, inviting and friendly, so your guests feel welcome and at home.
Try: Small, subtle seasonal centrepieces such as pine needles and candles trailing along the length of the table.
Take Time to Enjoy
La Vita Italian—The Italian Life– means living to eat and not eating to live. For Italians, food and wine are not simply for sustenance, but rather for an occasion. Bottom line: Meals are a chance for family and friends to spend time together. A true holiday feast can last for several hours, and is an opportunity to live in the moment and take the time to savour the finer things in life like good food, a good Chianti, and the greatest of company.
Leave the Dishes for Later
Feel free to clear the table of the dinner dishes, but don’t leave your guests to clean up your kitchen. Instead of working at the sink, savour the time you have with friends and family. The mess will still be there when they’re gone. In fact, Italians often go for a passeggiata–a leisurely stroll–after a meal. This social ritual brings generations together and gets everyone up and moving when they’re full. If it’s too cold or your guests aren’t up for a walk outdoors, crank up the tunes for a dance party or pull out some board games.
Try: Making serving and cleaning easy by hiring kitchen help if you have a large crowd, using disposable plates and cutlery, or enlisting guests to clear, scrape and stack plates and get the leftovers packed up and in the fridge. Are you ready to host your own Italian-style dinner now?