Do you need some inspiration for planning an Italian Dinner party? I’ve got all my favorite Italian dinner party recipes, decoration ideas, and music tips in one place to help you create a festive Italian feast for a memorable dinner party.

a group of Italian meals with italian flag overlaid

If you are planning a party, I have some tips to make it easier. Be sure to visit and pin my Party Tips For Serving Tea To A Crowd, How Much Taco Meat For A Crowd, and several posts that will help you safely use your slow cooker for entertaining.

Let’s Have An Italian Themed Dinner

Whether you’re planning an elaborate Taste of Italy or a simple family dinner for a special occasion, there are lots of options when it comes to planning the menu for your Italian feast.

Much of Italian food is made with simple ingredients that highlight the freshness of the foods.

Italian Dinner Party Ideas

hands serving pasta out of a pan

When planning your own Italian-themed dinner party, consider setting the tables with traditional Italian decor, serving up your favorite Italian red or white wine, and add some Italian-themed music for the occasion. But most importantly, choose a variety of recipes showcasing the foods commonly served in Italian cuisine.

Italian Dinner Vocabulary

Traditionally Italian dinners consist of many courses, typically more than those commonly served in the United States.

chalkboard menu written in Italian

Let’s start out by learning some Italian dinner definitions. Then as you skim through the recipes below, you will find some Italian recipes to fit most of these different courses in the list below.

  • Aperitivo: A small glass of liqueur enjoyed before the meal, like Prosecco or Campari.
  • Antipasto: A traditional Italian meal starts with something to nibble on, called an antipasto, which translates into English as “before the meal.” Can include hot and cold Italian appetizers like Italian cheese, sopprasatta, bread, and dressed vegetables.
  • Primo: In Italy, pasta is a first course, or primo, served as an appetizer, not as the main event. Soup, rice, and polenta are the other options for the primo.
  • Secondo: The main course is called il secondo, or the second course. Chicken, meat, or fish are the usual choices for the main dish, and portions are generally small. These main courses are usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish precedes them.
  • Contorno: A platter of cooked or fresh vegetables usually accompanies the main course. This side dish highlights the simple goodness of the vegetable.
  • Dolce and Caffe: A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal. A caffe refers to coffee and its permutations. It’s a must with the dessert.
  • Digestivo: A “digestive” or after dinner liqueur like grappa and limoncello is often served at the end of a meal.


 Aperitivo (or apéritif) is often described as being similar to the American happy hour or cocktail hour held before a dinner party. An aperitivo is more like a pre-meal drink specifically meant to whet your appetite.

Two Minute Espresso Martini with Baileys
Espresso martini with Bailey’s is a two minute Italian cocktail and the best cocktail party drink recipe for the holidays!
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Ginger Pear Spirit Infused Cocktail
Make your own handcrafted infused fruit-forward spirits to create this delicious Ginger Pear Spirit Infused Cocktail Crafting your own spirits is easy and creates unique flavor combinations you cannot buy in a store.
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Ginger Pear Spirit Infused Cocktail

Italian Appetizer Recipes

An appetizer in Italy is called an antipasto. It can be served hot or cold, cooked or raw. 

Antipasti (plural form) can be served on individual plates, in bite-sized pieces on a plate that is passed around the table, or presented as an elegant centerpiece for everyone to share.

Green Marinated Sicilian Olives Recipe
Green Marinated Sicilian Olives Recipe in a bowl
Bring a little Sicily to your table with this delicious Green Marinated Sicilian Olives Recipe. The olives are infused with fresh herbs, garlic, dried oregano, a pinch of chili pepper for heat all smothered in extra virgin olive oil and white vinegar dressing.
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Panzanella Bread Salad
An easy Italian appetizer made with with crusty bread, cherry tomatoes, green olives, capers, fresh basil, then lightly tossed with a dressing of fresh garlic, olive oil, anchovies, and red wine vinegar.
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Italian Cheesy Pull Apart Bread
Crazy good and addictive this Italian Cheesy Pull Apart Bread is sure to be a crowd pleaser. The loaf is filled with a buttery garlic, pesto and Italian herb mixture then generously stuffed with mozzarella cheese to create each perfect bite for this pull apart Italian bread.
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italian cheesy bread
Fresh Caprese Salad with Crispy Eggplant
Crunchy, golden brown eggplant that isn’t greasy, sandwiched between tomato and mozzarella, then topped with syrupy balsamic vinegar and bit of olive oil! It’s a tasty spin on the classic fresh tomato salad!
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Caponata alla Siciliana
Caponata Siciliana is a traditional Italian eggplant stew from Sicily. It’s an easy recipe that’s versatile and great as a side dish, main or as an appetizer!
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Roasted Garlic Grissini (Italian Breadsticks)
These delicious Roasted Garlic Grissini (Italian Breadsticks) are classic thing and long breadsticks packed with garlic flavor.
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Easy Antipasto Platter
This antipasto salad recipe is loaded up with meat, cheese, and veggies – salami, goat cheese, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, olives, pickled red onions, pepperoncini, tomato, and roasted red peppers.
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Potato and Pancetta Pizza (Pizza Bianca)
This delicious pizza Bianca is topped with potato rounds, pancetta, mozzarella, and smoked Gouda and is flavored with rosemary. Give this authentic pizza recipe from the north of Italy a try. Trentino region.
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Italian Pasta Recipes for Il Primo

This first course traditionally includes pasta, soup, rice, or creamy risotto. While in the US, we often associate pasta as a main meal, in Italy, it’s the start of the meal.

Keep the portions small and make it self-serve. Let your guests know there is more coming, so they don’t fill up!

Easy Entertaining Tip: How about having an Italian pasta bar meal? Serve different types of pasta shapes, spaghetti, cork, and bow tie. Then, have several sauces for toppings. Just add a simple salad and bread, and you have a wonderful Italian pasta bar meal.

Italian Dinner Party of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes sauce

Spaghetti Sauce With Fresh Tomatoes

Treat your guest by serving a homemade tomato sauce dish. The rich, delicious flavor of this traditional marinara sauce is amazing. It is like stepping into a sweet Italian grandma’s kitchen. The aroma of tomatoes and garlic roasting creates the anticipation for the delicious bowl of spaghetti you soon will be eating.
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Healthy Turkey Bolognese Recipe
This classic Italian turkey bolognese recipe makes a hearty and healthy sauce to serve up with your favorite pasta. Tomatoes are slow cooked with onions, garlic, celery, carrots and lots of fresh herbs for a pasta dinner eveyone will love!
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Turkey bolognese recipe on a plate with chili pepper seeds and parmesan in bowls by it.
Lemon Spaghetti with Spinach
Lemon Spaghetti with Spinach is a one-pot wonder of creamy light lemon and garlic flavors that is an easy healthy vegan meal your entire family will love.
Authentic Cacio e Pepe (Three Ingredients Only!) – Urban Farmie
Delicious, authentic, three ingredient cacio e pepe from Rome! Creamy, luscious pasta that’s great for a weeknight dinner or date night anytime!
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Tuscan Minestrone with Orzo Pasta
Tuscan minestrone with orzo pasta has fresh seasonal veggies and greens, beans and pasta. A delicious and nutritious authentic Italian recipe. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a bit more flavor!
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Testaroli Pasta Recipe
Testaroli is a unique, tasty, & traditional Italian pasta that you should be trying. Make a from-scratch pasta that some believe to be the first pasta ever made. Give it a try!
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Easy Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Lemon & Peas
Bright, fresh, and layered with ‘soft as a cloud’ gnocchi, this recipe is fabulous as a quick meal or planned dinner party dish!
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Stuffed Shells
Stuffed Shells are a comforting, filling meal that makes the perfect meal for a large group. Large pasta shells are stuffed with a lemony-chive cheese mixture and topped with tomato sauce. They are baked to perfection and will warm you right up!
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Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – Inside The Rustic Kitchen
From Sorrento a costal town between the Amalfi coast & Naples (Campania region). Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is an incredible Italian comfort food dish made with soft and light potato gnocchi baked in a rich and delicious tomato sauce with bubbling mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.
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Creamy Asparagus Risotto
Creamy Asparagus Risotto: quick to make, really satisfying and actually healthy, when not drenched in butter and cheese. Unfortunately there is a drawback to risottos: basically, you’re not allowed to get it right unless you have an Italian grandma, and this is why I expect someone commenting that t…
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Turkey Tortellini Soup
This delicious soup recipe makes a nice change from all the heavy creamy tortellini soup recipes. It's made with leftover turkey in a rich broth with a bright shot of lemon.
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Tortellini soup in a pot on the table.

Secondo The Italian Main Course

Most often consisting of a meat dish, this course often is served in smaller portions than commonly served in the United States.

Eggplant and Beef Meatballs

Beef and eggplant meatballs in a casserole dish on a counter.
Your family will applaud your dinner when you make this healthy and delicious Eggplant and Beef Meatballs Recipe.
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Beer Roasted Pork Roast
A traditional, slow-cooked roast that gives you time to invest in something else, maybe to knead bread or to make a batch of ricotta tortelli
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A pork roast served up on a plate on the table.
Peposo – Tuscan Red Wine Beef Stew – Inside The Rustic Kitchen
Peposo is a traditional Tuscan Beef Stew originating from Florence. It truly is the simplest stew you’ll ever make yet it has so much flavour. Made with garlic, lots of black pepper and a whole bottle of red wine, super delicious and perfect served with creamy polenta.
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Roast Pork Loin with Pears
Here it is a traditional Tuscan menu for Christmas, which includes crostini, lasagne, roast pork loin with pears and the typical Medieval Sienese sweets.
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Contorno – The Side Dishes

Fresh Tomato Salad With Italian Herbs

Red and yellow tomatoes cut in half on a plate.
If you need a quick and easy salad that reminds you of summer then try this Fresh Tomato Salad With Italian Herbs.
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Italian Crunch Chopped Salad
A whole meal salad recipe built on top of a piece of crispy cheese garlic bread and topped with crispy prosciutto and tangy gorgonzola cheese.
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Italian Crunch Chopped Salad
Purslane Salad with Pomegranate, Fig, Walnut and Quince
This delicious purslane salad with pomegranate, fresh figs, toasted walnuts and baby quince celebrates the flavours of southern Puglia, Italy.
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Italian Arugula Salad
An easy take on the green salad makes a simple side dish for just about any Italian main dish. The simple ingredients and homemade dressing really emphasizes the fresh flavors.
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Arugula salad on a white plate with fresh lemon slices on top.
Low Carb Italian Kale Salad
Sweet creamy dressing tossed with toasted pecans, tomatoes and crunchy cabbage create this wonderful and surprisingly Low Carb Italian Kale Salad.
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Dolci Italian Dessert Recipes

An Italian dinner party should definitely end with an amazing dessert! Here you will find several faves from super easy to more elaborate creations.

When I was in Italy, I spent some time with Giulia Scarpaleggia of Jul’s Kitchen. She is a charming chef with a heart for teaching the world how to cook authentic Italian food. Her stories and recipes are a delight.

She also taught me while I was in Italy an authentic Italian recipe for this slightly sweet biscotti with hints of orange, almonds, and honey.

Authentic Italian Almond Biscotti

Biscotti on a saucer with coffee
Julia, from Jul's Kitchen, the famous Italian chef, teaches you everything you need to know to make Authentic Italian Almond Biscotti with this recipe. It's a classic Italian biscotti with a hint of citrus and almond flavor in a sweet, crisp cookie-like stick that turns out perfect every time.
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Strawberry Tart with Elderflower Pastry Cream
A buttery shortcrust shell filled with an elderflower pastry cream filling and plenty of ripe strawberries, simply dressed with lemon juice and sugar it is a dessert that is sure to wow your guest.
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A strawberry tart on the table with a piece cut out on a plate.

She has a wonderful Italian cookbook full of beautiful stories, pictures, and great recipes. I highly recommend adding I Love Toscana to your collections.

Italian Affogato Recipe – Ice Cream And Coffee
How to make an authentic Italian Affogato! A 5-minute dessert made with creamy vanilla gelato and a strong shot of espresso coffee!
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Italian Affogato Recipe - Ice Cream And Coffee
Italian Almond Cookies (Ricciarelli)
Siena Tuscany. The easiest Italian Almond Cookies also know as Ricciarelli will transport you straight to the rustic streets of Siena. Soft and slightly chewy bursting with almond and orange and dusted with powdered sugar. You won’t believe how low prep they are and how easy they are to whip up!
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Healthy Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives

Stuffed mushroom caps in a pan.
Vegan Stuffed Mushrooms are a perfect appetizer for your next party, full of garlic, toasted pecans, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and then topped with a citrus basil dressing. They are easy to make and you can make them ahead then bake just before a party.
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Vegan Italian Wedding Soup
Warm up on a chilly night with a bowl of this Vegan Italian Wedding Soup. It’s brimming with veggies, pasta pearls, and savory vegan meatballs.
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Vegan Pasta Caprese (30-minute meal) Vegan Huggs
This Vegan Pasta Caprese takes 30 minutes to make and has a fresh taste of summer in every bite. Dairy-free & gluten-free option.
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Summer Farro Salad
Summer Farro Salad is a delicious and easy salad made with hearty and healthful farro, olive oil, lemon juice, zucchini, peas, pesto, and freshly chopped parsley.
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Plant Based Vegan Bolognese Sauce
Plant-based bolognese sauce makes a heart and tasty meal that everyone will love, even teat eaters! It's easy to make and goes together quickly in the instant pot.
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Plant-based Bolognese Sauce on pasta with garlic bread in bowl too

✝️ Hospitality Tip: In the churches that Paul visited, meals were the setting for most, if not all, church gatherings. When serving an Italian dinner, bring up a discussion about Paul’s time in Rome. (Acts 28:11-31 )

Italian Dinner Party Music

Create a playlist on Amazon Music or Spotify. Italian-American flair would be hit by Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney. You could add classical opera by Puccini, or a more contemporary sound with Eros Ramazzotti or Lucio Battisti.

Italian Dinner Party Music CD

Italian Table Decorations

Italian dinner setting

This Vicarious Life sets the mood with a rustic Italian dinner theme. Natural elements such as wood placemats, dried leaf garlands on a simple white table cloth makes this an easy look to emulate. Use long thin breadsticks in a clear glass, sparkling natural mineral water and Moscow mule mugs for decorations. Fresh rosemary tied with twin

vegetables used as a centerpiece

Inspired by This shows how to create a table centerpiece using the vegetables you will be serving in your menu. This tablescape is created with cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, artichokes, fresh herbs, and Italian bread. They are all placed on a large piece of wood. Fresh flowers are then placed sporadically about and in empty wine bottles used as vases. Very simple to do but elegant.

olive and olive oil on a board

Style Me Pretty has a beautiful picture teaching us how to set up an olive bar for our party. A variety of olive oils, bottles of vinegar, olives, and fresh cubes of bread give your guest delicious choices to fill their plates with.

italian theme place setting

Cortney over at Pizzazzerie sets her tables with red checkered napkins, fresh herbs. She shares with us how to create a fun Italian word search name card as part of the table setting.

italian themed dinner table

Fantabulosity shares with us a cute idea for an Italian dinner party table setting that uses bread as decorations. In the background, you can see she rolled brown paper bags and used them as serving bowls; what a cute idea!

More Party Theme Ideas