The festive season has kicked off and will be around for the next few months. The twinkle of the fairy lights and the warm feeling of celebration are in the air. Its an apt time to indulge the family in an evening of Italian food and wine. The great thing about Italian cuisine is its ability to scale up into an elegant, sit down affair or to cater for a more relaxed, easy going gathering for friends and family.
While the food is key to the success to any party, an ideal ambience certainly helps. For an elegant sit down meal, use white pasta plates and bowls against a brown table with off white-golden napkins. Complete the look with a small flower arrangements to brighten things up. Candles burning in empty Chianti bottles are ideal to create atmosphere. Set Andrea Bocelli or Luciano Pavarotti to play softly in the background for a great setting to an Italian themed party.
A distinctive feature of a true Italian meal is the number of courses that causes one to linger over the table for hours together, savouring the food, company and conversation. Therefore when planning such a meal, prepare moderate quantities of food to satisfy a diner over the span of 3-4 courses. An authentic Italian meal begins with the Antipasti; a platter of crusty bread, some cheese, shavings of prosciutto, briny capers, spiced olives, roasted peppers or maybe a light Carpaccio, fried zucchini flowers, an assortment of Bruschetta or salads like Panzanella, Insalata Caprese to name a few.
This is followed up by the Primo; the first course of the actual meal which is typically a small serving of pasta, gnocchi, rice or polenta. Wow your guests by serving up a gnocchi or polenta dish instead of pasta. Or impress them with an impeccable risotto. Elevate the entire experience by serving up a matching wine.
Once this course is relished, present the secondo; which is a small serving of fish, chicken or meat that is often grilled and served without a sauce. Some excellent options would be a tender, fragrant Osso bucco, a chicken, pancetta and bean stew, Porchetta or Cacciatore.
Lay out simply cooked, seasonal vegetables to accompany the secondo. This vegetarian course is called the contorno and can be stuffed artichokes or peppers, eggplant caponata or even wilted greens with garlic.
Once this course is polished off and your guests are reclining in their seats, bring out the dolci or desserts. Typically a bowl of fresh, seasonal fruit, chocolate or nut biscotti or Savoiardi biscuits is served with amaretto or another dessert wine. Yet on occasion the Italians also make a variety of plated desserts like tiramisu, panna cotta. Another great ending to a fabulous meal is the affogato; a bowl of vanilla ice cream doused in freshly brewed espresso.