Fabulous food, friends, fun and those all-important finishing touches – how to host a dinner party the San Daniele way.
The next time you feel like inviting friends and family over for a meal, don’t just throw any dinner party – host a gathering with Italian flair.
As well as serving delicious food, your party should be all about making your guests feel at home and providing the sort of atmosphere that encourages great conversation and conviviality.
THE TABLE SETTING
We don’t stand on ceremony or bow down to pretension in the north-east of Italy, so keep your table setting simple but elegant. You don’t need to use a tablecloth if you have a lovely solid wood table, for example, but if you do want to use one, a tablecloth with a great story behind it will make for an interesting conversational icebreaker – in Italy we love telling and hearing stories. So if you bought your tablecloth on a special beachside holiday or if it was a wedding gift, then take this opportunity to show it off. Make it a talking point along with any other table decoration you choose – such as using flowers from your garden to form an attractive centrepiece or a pair of candlesticks passed down from generation to generation in your family.
When your guests begin to arrive, serve them a drink such as the iconic Negroni, the classic Italian aperitif made from one part gin, one part semi-sweet vermouth rosso (red) and one part Campari, garnished with an orange peel. If you want to provide some nibbles, then some bowls of olives will be ideal.
We love drinking wines from our very own Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, such as a dry, white Friulano (also called Sauvignon Vert) or a Pinot Grigio, both of which go really well with Prosciutto di San Daniele. Just as the micro-climate in the Friuli region is perfect for naturally air-curing our prosciutto, so the soil in the region is perfect for wine making. The Friulano is the most famous wine of our region – its delicate aroma of almonds is the perfect balance to our prosciutto. If you love red, then go for a light Pinot Noir, and, of course, there’s always prosecco!
Most Italian meals are ‘family style’ with big serving dishes overflowing with food placed in the middle of the table and side plates for bread. They’re also leisurely, lengthy affairs, with multiple courses and lots of time between dishes to digest both the food and the conversation – portion control is all-important during an Italian dinner party – so don’t expect to wave goodbye to your guests until the small hours, long after the last drop of digestif has been sipped.
What you may know as appetizers are called antipasti in Italy and are served before the main meal. You’ll want to whet appetites without giving your guests so much food that they can’t face the several courses to follow, so a bruschetta – lightly grilled bread topped with tomato (pomodoro) and fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil – would be perfect.
The ‘first dish’ of an Italian meal follows the antipasti and is bigger than a starter but not too big that you won’t have room for the secondi piatti. The primi piatti typically consists of a pasta dish, so consider spaghetti pomodoro (spaghetti with a fresh tomato dressing or sauce). We also recommend a Tagliolini alla San Daniele. To make it, boil tagliolini pasta in a large pot then cut Prosciutto di San Daniele into strips, sauté in a pan and add a splash of brandy and cook in its own fat until crispy. Add some single cream and a touch of the boiling pasta water. Once cooked, drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce, then add poppy seeds. Pour it out onto a warm plate and place an extra slice of prosciutto on the top, right at the very end.
The secondo (second) usually consists of seafood or meat, so make sure your guests have plenty of room left because don’t forget that after this comes dessert! In one of our many highly-regarded San Daniele restaurants, Ristorante Centopassi, chef and owner, Silvia, offers a wonderful pancia di maialino da latte al forno con polenta (roasted suckling pig belly with polenta), a dish that would really impress your guests!
Side dishes, to be served with the secondi piatti, should be kept small and seasonal, so consider anything from a mixed salad to roasted potatoes or sliced and lightly grilled courgette (zucchini), depending on the time of year.
After so much food and drink, it’s wise to leave some time before dessert, because when it does get served, it will be a delicious treat. Typical Italian desserts include a rich, creamy tiramisu or a simple lemon sorbet (sorbetto al limone) served in a tall, thin prosecco glass. Here in the Friuli region, our local speciality is the gubana con la grappa (gubana with grappa) – it’s a special cake filled with pine nuts, sultanas and crushed walnuts and it’s the custom to pour local grappa or plum brandy over it before eating.
COFFEE AND DIGESTIVO
At the end of the night, set your friends up for the journey home with a selection of coffees and teas and a digestif or liquor nightcap (bicchierino prima di andare a letto) such as a grappa, limoncello or amaro, a herbal liqueur with a bitter-sweet flavour.
USEFUL ITALIAN WORDS AND PHRASES TO USE
Enjoy your meal — Buon appetito
Thank you — Grazie
You’re welcome — Prego
It’s delicious! — È delizioso!