How to Host an Italian-American Dinner Party

A Satisfying Menu for Any Occasion

friends having a dinner party
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Italian-Americans are known for dinner parties that are veritable feasts, often comprised of six or seven courses including meats, pasta, fresh vegetables, fruits, and desserts.

The table is set with linens and a jar of crushed red pepper flakes, grated cheese, fresh Italian bread and red wine take pride of place.

The atmosphere is convivial and the conversation is lively and often lasts until the wee hours. 

A Typical Italian Meal

  • Antipasto or First Course: The first course is an appetizer spread or antipasto of meats (prosciutto, salami, and ham), marinated vegetables, cheese such as provolone and mozzarella, and roasted red peppers. 
  • Primi Piatti or First Plates: First plates are typically pastas or starches like gnocchi, risotto, raviolilasagna or manicotti, or a rustic tart, vegetable flan, or very occasionally, soup like pasta e fagioli.
  • Secondi Piatti or Main Course: Second plates or the main or meat course can range from fish to pork, rabbit, beef, veal, chicken, lamb and goat appearing in meatballs, sausage, and braciola. 
  • Contorno: Vegetable side dishes like sweet potatoes, stuffed artichokes, salad and string beans are common accompaniments to a meal.
  • Dolce: Sweets or dessert finish the meal and can be as extravagant as tiramisu, pannacotta, cannoli, rum baba, pignoli cookies, pastries, and gelato or sorbetto or as simple as fresh figs, seasonal fruit, and nuts in the shell.

Setting the Stage

To set the stage for an Italian feast, you need only a few simple ingredients:

  • A simple white tablecloth
  • A basic red table wine
  • Grated cheese
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Good-quality Italian bread
  • A bowl of extra-virgin olive oil for dipping
  • Perhaps an Italian opera playing in the background
  • And, most important, good friends and family

The Menu

This sample menu will delight your friends and family with authentic Italian flavors. Feel free to substitute dishes or expand the menu based on your taste.

  • Italian bread and deli meats 
  • Stracciatella Recipe: Soup made with chicken broth, eggs, and cheese
  • Lasagne al Forno Recipe: Baked lasagna with ground beef, prosciutto, and porcini mushrooms
  • Pollo alla Cacciatora con Funghi Recipe: Chicken cacciatore with mushrooms
  • Roman-Style Artichokes Recipe: These crispy fried artichokes can be served as a side dish or appetizer
  • Salad: Torn lettuce with a dressing made from 3 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar that has been blended with 1 crushed garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a pinch of Italian dried herbs to taste.
  • Fruit: Bowl of fresh, seasonal fruit, and a bowl of unshelled nuts (don't forget the nutcracker)
  • Migliacci Recipe: Naples-style lemon ricotta cake is similar to an American-style cheesecake
  • Ginette Recipe: Sweet cookie rings with lemon frosting
  • Cannoli Recipe: Traditional fried pastry tubes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese
  • Red table wine