What You Need to Create an Italian Dinner Party
There’s something about Italian food that immediately imparts the feeling of togetherness. Just looking at a spread, or even a menu instantly make you want to sit at the table for hours indulging in foods while sharing stories and memories with family and friends. Just think back to an Italian dinner you’ve enjoyed in the past. Does it not bring to mind lively gatherings with family and friends, or a romantic dinner for two? You’ve no doubt seen it in the movies; from the spaghetti in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, to Clemenza’s sauce in The Godfather, to the immigrant brothers of ‘Big Night’ just trying to make it. Major motion pictures reflect the importance of the bond of family and togetherness through the laughter, tears and meals shared.
When Santa Barbara Catering Company started planning for a special Italian and wine inspired dinner, it was an easy task for the team. From dreaming the menu to the cooking process, Santa Barbara Catering created an authentic Italian family style dinner in an iconic Arizona outdoor venue space.
This past spring, our Executive Chef Becky McIntyre collaborated with the events team at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona to create an unforgettable night amongst the desert landscape of central Arizona hosting “The Seasonal Table,” a dinner series that took place in the middle of the blooming gardens. This three-part series whisked our diners away on something of a food flight, with stops in Tuscany, Argentina & Catalonia on the fourth Thursday of the month. Our guest’s first stop had them take part in a one-of-a-kind Italian dinner, expertly paired with complementary wines. While their mouths and stomachs were being entertained by the taste of Italian flavors, the guests ears and eyes were treated to the sights and sounds of the Arizona Opera; Sarah Tucker, Andrew Stenson, and Cody Martin performing throughout the evening.
Family Style Menu for Italian Dinner Party
Putting together a multi-course meal is a lot of work, and can tend to get a bit pricey once you start pairing it with wines…but can you really put a price tag on an unforgettable gathering? Executive Chef Becky’s knowledge of the region of Tuscany, the foods local to the land, and the wines made in the region help to start the planning of a beautiful dinner menu for the guests.
It is well known that Italy’s national food is pasta, but that’s not the extent of what this great “boot” has to offer the culinary world. Italian food is so much more than just pasta, wine, and breadsticks.
Below is a perfect reflection of an Italian inspired family style dinner. These courses are perfect for your next elegant event, or a dinner party at home. As you’ll see below, you may have to reconsider what you think of as “Italian”.
To get everyone together around the table for conversation and introductions offer course one as a family style appetizer.
Charcuterie & Cheese
with Seasonal House Made Jam, local olives, pate
*Displayed on wood cutting boards
Local Queen Creek Olive Oil
with House Made Focaccia and Crostini
*Placed at each place setting so Oil doesn’t stain you favorite table linen
Wine: Zardetto Prosecco
*Served in a Flute
Second Course: The Primo
We often think of pasta as a “main dish” but traditionally this is served as the first dish of the evening. Unlike the traditional pastas of Italy, Chef Becky prepared Pappardelle, a wide-flat pasta noodles, similar to fettuccine. The name derives from the verb “pappare”, meaning to gobble up.
Porcini Mushrooms, Artichoke, Sausage, Oven Cured Tomato
Wine: Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva
Third Course: The Contorno
Contrary to most coursed dinners, this Tomato Salad is placed in the middle of dinner service,
allowing guest a small break from the heavier dishes.
Traditional Italian “Bread” Salad
with Fresh Tomato, Cucumber, Onion
Shaved Parmesan, Oregano Vinaigrette
Fourth Course: The Secondo
Finishing off the dinner with an entrée portion, this course was served family style, so guest can serve themselves sizeable portions. No one likes to be wasteful especially with a Porterhouse Steak.
Bistecca all Fiorentina
Porterhouse Steak Cooked Medium Rare
Served with Italian White Bean Puree,
Seasonal Arizona Produce and Chianti Reduction
Fifth Course: The Dolce
Tuscan Apple Cake
with Vanilla Gelato and Queen Creek Blood Orange Olive Oil Powder
Pairing Wines for your Italian Dinner
After planning the food for your Italian inspired dinner party, be sure you have the correct wine pairings to compliment. It doesn’t always take the most expensive wines for the best taste, just the ones that pair perfectly allowing the flavors of the dishes to work with one another instead of having a clash inside your mouth. It does take a little research if you’re not already familiar with wine pairing, especially with signature Italian flavors. If you’re having a hard time finding the wines we have paired above, or would prefer to go another route and need a little help, pop over to Tuscany Tonight with an easy to use wine pairing guide.
Setting the mood for your Italian Dinner Party
The nice part about hosting an Italian wine dinner is it’s not so much about the presentation, or décor of the table seating, but rather the flavors of foods, wine, the company and atmosphere. To create an ambiance, we suggest playing Great Italian Operas at a soft, comfortable volume. To be sure that conversations flow and people are in a more comfortable setting, use seating that allows everyone to interact, and sit together. Tables arranged in a “U shape” or square allow for a majority of the guest to converse with one another.
For table decor, stay simple. For this particular event, the decor was inspired by a Tuscan garden setting. Light linens with natural decor will give a feeling of home and comfort. Decorate the table with candles and a few simple greenery arrangements. We suggest live rosemary and oregano herb pots, as they give off a distinct and fresh aroma; an alluring sample of what’s to come with the Italian menu. Herb pots also make for a great take-home gift for your guest. Fresh multi-colored heirloom tomatoes also make for a nice centerpiece. Just keep in mind there’ll be a few family-style dishes stacked on large serving platters, as well as all those wine glasses so be sure to not overcompensate with decor.
In order to execute a delicious Italian dinner, don’t focus on using items exclusively from Italy. Instead do as the Tuscans do and use local and fresh items when necessary. Chef Becky used as many food items she could from overseas but then sourced out what she lacked from local Phoenix farmers and vendors such as the Queen Creek olives and oils. Using fresh herbs and produce will give your food an explosion of mouthwatering flavor. Don’t be afraid to try different recipes. Our Chef has been practicing for some time now, so our menu above isn’t necessarily beginner’s level. Remember the internet is teeming with recipes for all skill levels. Or, give Santa Barbara Catering a call instead, so you can kick back and enjoy your big night in Little Italy.