How To Host The Perfect Italian Dinner Party

We’ve got the recipes, phrases and cultural insights you need to throw a deliciously awesome Italian dinner party.
Italian Dinner Party

With seemingly endless restaurant options, you could easily go out for a nice Italian meal pretty much anywhere in the United States. But wouldn’t it be fun to mix things up and host your own Italian dinner party? Invite your friends (and family, if you’re feeling brave), cook some of our recommended recipes and try your hand at a few Italian phrases for a truly authentic evening.

Drink (Aperitivo): Negroni

Italian dinner party Negroni
Photo: Emrys Horton

Before you sit down for your meal, it’s a common tradition for Italians to enjoy an aperitivo (which roughly translates to “opener”), a pre-meal drink to stimulate your appetite. Usually this consists of a wine or light cocktail that is somewhat bitter. We suggest making a Negroni, named after Count Camillo Negroni, who allegedly asked for his Americano cocktail to be made stronger at a bar in Florence. An Americano contains Campari (a bittersweet, red liqueur), sweet Vermouth and club soda. In a Negroni, the club soda is swapped out for gin.

Appetizer (Antipasto): Bruschetta

Italian dinner party bruschetta

Antipasto means “before the meal,” and traditional Italian meals begin with this course. The goal of antipasti (the plural form) is, much like the aperitivo, to whet the appetite and awaken the senses before your meal. It’s generally something not too filling but flavorful, like this authentic bruschetta recipe, which is essentially grilled bread with tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil on top.

First Main Course (Primo Piatto): Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Italian dinner party gnocchi

In the traditional Italian meal structure, there’s a primo course and secondo course. Primo typically features a non-meat dish, and it wouldn’t be very authentic to have an Italian dinner without some form of pasta, whether it’s spaghetti pomodoro, penne alla vodka or lasagna. So we’ve chosen a delicious gnocchi alla Sorrentina recipe, which consists of pasta dumplings made with potatoes, topped with tomato sauce (prepared in the style of Sorrento, a town in southern Italy) and mozzarella cheese. We’d recommend making the gnocchi by hand if you have the time. It’s worth it!

Second Main Course (Secondo Piatto): Ossobuco alla Milanese

Italian dinner party Ossobuco

Next comes secondo, the course in which you’re more likely to see meat dishes like veal, chicken, beef or seafood, depending on the region of Italy. Try making this delicious veal recipe from northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Ossobuco alla Milanese is a veal shank cut into a thick round. It’s often served with tasty Milanese-style risotto. Are you full yet?

Dessert (Dolce): Tiramisu Torta

Italian dinner party tiramisu
Photo: J Bizzie | Flickr

Hope you saved room for dessert, or dolce in Italian! Perhaps the most quintessential of all Italian desserts is tiramisu, a decadent treat made with mascarpone cheese and espresso-dipped cookies. This scrumptious recipe is for a tiramisu torta (cake), which combines ladyfinger cookies dipped in coffee and cocoa powder with a filling made from egg yolks, mascarpone cheese, sugar, heavy whipping cream and sweet wine. Yum!

Key Italian Phrases

I’m hungry — Ho fame

I’m full — Sono sazio/a

Please — Per favore

Thank you — Grazie

You’re welcome — Prego

Enjoy your meal — Buon appetito

It’s delicious! — È delizioso!

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