Food & Drink

How To Host The Ultimate Dinner Party

By Clare Acheson
2nd Dec 2015

Fashion. Design. Food. At The Urban List, we admit that when it comes to these things, Italians Do It Better. In collaboration with Peroni, our latest series celebrates entertaining and teaches you how to be the perfect host - the Italian way.  

The art of hosting the dream dinner party is a difficult skill to hone, but once you nail it, it’s the life skill that just keeps on giving. While we’re usually all about the food, there are a tonne of tiny touches that come together to make for a memorable evening. We’ve dusted off our table linens and polished up on our aperitivo skills to bring you the ultimate dinner party tips - the Italian way…

#1: Set The Scene

While many Italian touches can be a bit of a cliché (you’ll want to avoid that red and white checkered tablecloth!), a couple of subtle touches are definitely a plus.

The Table Linen

Keep things minimal and modern—linen napkins in dove grey or another stylish neutral will place the focus on the food. As for a tablecloth, only use one if absolutely necessary: Think casual chic, not stuffy fine dining.

The Crockery

Perfectly matched crockery is only essential when it comes to certain items: Match your dinner plates and glassware, but complement them with rustic dipping bowls, wooden boards and mismatched side plates for an authentic, carefree feel. Try to stick to a colour theme—blue, tan and neutral glazes are great for mixing it up.

The Flowers

Simple blooms in a neutral colour are a fantastic way to add some greenery without the table feeling like your Nana’s lounge room. Lilies are always a stunning choice - just make sure you’ve removed the pollen heads before placing them on the table. Feeling zesty? A bowl of lemons and figs is the perfect decorative non-floral feature.

#2: #AllTheAperitivo

Although borrowed from the French, aperitivo is, quite literally, ‘the opening’ of any dinner party that’s worth attending. Once you’ve stashed everyone’s coats and texted that one friend who ALWAYS shows up late, you should be focussing on ensuring that no guest is to be found empty-handed or empty-glassed. Pop a beer or a bottle, plate up some nibbles, and make sure to kickstart the conversation with absolutely anything other than, ‘So, nice weather, hey?’

The Drinks

Bellinis and Italian beers are what both you and your guests should be sipping. Make sure everything is well chilled prior to everyone’s arrival, and take the ‘less is more’ approach to quantities—Peroni Piccolas are the perfect pre-dinner beer, and peach and prosecco Bellinis should be served in petite flutes.

The Nibbles

Juicy olives, fresh ciabatta, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, and even a few bruschetta topped with ripe roma tomatoes and basil are all you need to start. Remember, there’s salumi, pasta and cannoli to come!

#3: Primo: The Proof Is In The Prosciutto

When it comes to the first official course, the ‘primo’, it’s ALL about finely sliced meats, mouth-watering fresh fruit, and bite-size morsels. Sharing spreads are the way to go; pile everything onto a wooden board and encourage your guests serve themselves, with a gentle reminder that there are many more courses to come.

The Meats

If you’re going to go for broke on anything for your DIY menu, the prosciutto is where it’s at. Serve wafer thin slices of this Italian delicacy alongside salumi (remember: not everyone likes their meats peppery, so make sure there’s a milder choice too), and speck for a trio that will impress even the pickiest of meat snobs.

The Fruits

Fresh, ripe figs and grapes go down a treat with cured meats. Make sure you’ve picked up your fruit fresh that day - especially when it comes to figs - and ask for sweeter varieties to offset the saltiness of your cured meats.

#4: Pasta Is Prima

Ditch the pizzas and opt for a variety of sumptuous pasta dishes served with leafy salad for the main course. Showcase your cooking skills with a few different pasta styles and sauces, and let guests serve themselves for an intimate family-style vibe that’s all about sharing incredible food, delicious drinks, and good times you’ll remember for years to come.

The Pasta

There’s no question: Top quality, handmade pasta is the most luxurious basis for any self-respecting Italian dinner party. Whether you’re serving it with seafood, Bolognese or a vegetarian-friendly mushroom and garlic sauce, always cook it al dente—‘to the tooth’—so that it is cooked through but still firm.

If you’re making gnocchi from scratch, make sure you’ve perfected it at least three times before making it for guests. Nobody likes over-worked, rock solid gnocchi - or over-cooked gnocchi that’s turned into a starchy pulp!

The Garnishes

Cracked black peppercorns, a little olive oil, and freshly shaved parmesan are all you need to garnish. If your pasta dishes are feeling a little colourless, a fresh leaf or two of carefully placed basil provides a pop of colour.

The Salad

The golden rule of Italian salads? Keep it simple. A light vinaigrette and some fresh leaves tossed together in a wooden bowl is all you need.

The Drinks

When it comes to matching drinks to dishes, our tastebuds would agree that a crisp Italian beer pairs with just about anything! If you’re catering to red wine drinkers, we’d recommend a tasty bottle of Sangiovese; it’s a fruity and bold style that makes a statement without being too heavy-hitting.

#5: Cannoli, Gelato, Biscotti… La Dolce Vita!

Dessert is a festival of flavours, with smaller morsels for those who’ve maxed out on savouries, and a liqueur to finish (…or fuel?!) the evening’s festivities. Sweet tooths, get ready!

The Cannoli

Cannoli are an Italian delicacy that come piped full of sweetened mascarpone, topped with crushed pistachios, and served with a scoop of gelato. While making both from scratch can be a pain, you can find great cannoli at any self-respecting Italian dessert bar, and the creamiest handmade gelato at some of the city’s best gelaterias. Don’t scrimp on the pistachios either! Make sure you pick up some unsalted or candied varieties for finishing touches.

The Biscotti

These twice-baked almond biscuits are the perfect light bite for those who fancy a sweet treat, but can’t handle an entire plate of gelato and mascarpone richness. Biscotti are best when dipped into a glass of a delicious drink to soften them. As for what should be in the glass…Well, we’ll answer that next!

The Digestives

Whether you’re serving an Italian sherry or desert wine, lemoncello or espressos, a final tipple and a toast to long life is the cherry on the cake of an epic Italian dinner party. Salute!

#6: Find Your Italian Flair

Classic flair with a little new-wave styling thrown in for good measure is the only way to achieve Italian style in a dinner party setting. Say ‘yes’ to a classic loafer or espadrille sandal, and ‘no’ to the head-to-toe Euro-logos.

Heiress Glamour | Margherita Missoni

Granddaughter to the founders of Italian label Missoni, Margherita Missoni typifies the next wave of Italian cool. Opt for a Missoni jumpsuit or maxidress, and team it back with something gold and glamorous for a touch of luxury.

The Jumpsuit | Missoni Elisabetta Jumpsuit from Net A Porter

The Jewellery | Marc By Marc Jacobs Bracelet from Shopbop

The Sandals | Tory Burch Sandals From Shopbop

Gentleman Chic | David Gandy

While not born in Italy, David Gandy’s laidback Italian-influenced chic sums up the ideal guys’ look for a summer dinner. Make like the world famous Dolce & Gabbana icon with a cotton twill blazer, some chino shorts, and a pair of classic suede loafers.

The Jacket | Club Monaco Ecru Cotton Twill Blazer from Mr Porter

The Loafers | Gucci Horsebit Suede Loafers From Mr Porter

The Shorts | Polo Ralph Lauren Twill Chino Shorts From Mr Porter

Plan your very own Italian experience with the help of Peroni and The Urban List. Search in our directory for premium grocers, bottle shops, delis and more.

Image credit: Michelle Jarni for The Urban List

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