Simple Italian Dinner Menu for Easy Entertaining

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Simple Italian Dinner Menu for Easy Entertaining
The “Prosecco Hills” around Valdobbiadene

Here is an authentic, Italian dinner menu complete with recipes and wine suggestions. Easily prepare courses ahead of time for stress-free entertaining.

Italian Dinner Party Menu www.compassandfork.comPlanning an upcoming dinner party? Our Italian dinner menu is a safe bet. Italian cuisine is much simpler than many other cuisines, meaning less preparation time, and therefore more time for you to enjoy the company of your guests. And, honestly who doesn’t like authentic Italian dishes?

Our Italian Dinner Party menu features authentic Italian dishes, which can either be prepared beforehand or are a quick cook before serving. All courses feature easy to make recipes. We also make wine suggestions. Why not go the “whole hog” and make a real night of it by featuring Italian themed party decorations?

But before turning our attention to our Italian dinner party menu plan, how do Italians entertain in their own country? And, what are the component courses for an Italian themed dinner party?

Restaurants in Italy

Italians fully embrace getogethers with family and friends so they do like to make a night of it when going to a restaurant. Like many other, southern-European cultures, they also tend to eat late. You won’t find too many Italian restaurants open before 7pm, except in tourist areas. And if you arrive at that time you will be fairly lonely until about 8pm.

Italians first like to start with aperitivos at a bar (not the restaurant) but I am getting ahead of myself.

For traditional Italian meals, most Italian restaurants will feature following menu headings:

  • Antipasto
  • Primi
  • Secondi
  • Dolce

I will explain the above terms shortly. At a restaurant, Italians tend to drink wines, but beer is also popular, especially in summer.

Outside of tourist areas like Venice , Florence and the Amalfi Coast, wine and beer are very fairly priced in restaurants and cheap to buy at retail outlets. We were pleasantly shocked how cheap wine was to purchase. Did you know Italy is the world’s number two producer of wine by volume? You can find out more about Italian wine and spirits here.

At restaurants, sparkling, mineral water is almost mandatory; everyone seems to drink it. And it is also very good value. It’s an “upgrade” from drinking still water. Some restaurants even had mineral water on tap (like beer)!

Before we move on to our Italian dinner menu, what are the component parts for a formal, Italian themed Dinner Party?

Italian Themed Dinner Party Structure

Would you believe there are 10 courses for a formal, Italian meal to celebrate a festive occasion? But don’t worry, our Italian dinner party menu won’t include all of these courses!


The aperitivo culture in Italy is classic. Around 5.30 or 6.00pm Italians head to their local bar. A bar is not the local pub but more like a café that serves coffee and alcoholic drinks all day.

An aperitivo is designed to stimulate the palate in readiness for the food to follow. Common aperitivos include campari and soda, prosecco and strawberries. Beer is also acceptable.

Aperitivos are often served with light nibbles such as olives. Aperitivos may last 90 minutes or so. A good preamble for a traditional Italian dinner menu, don’t you think?


The antipasto course consists of a few Italian appetizer choices. The equivalent to starters and often served with more drinks. Antipasto may be combined with aperitivos. They should be more substantial than the nibbles served with aperitivos. They are usually cold or room temperature but may also be warm.

Antipasto may also include a salad component, as we will be featuring in our Italian dinner party menu. We suggest you combine the Aperitivos, Antipasto and Insalata and serve all at the same time.


This is the first food course and you serve it hot. Primo is usually pasta or risotto but can also be a soup. It is usually vegetarian. And, it should be more substantial than the antipasto but less food than the secondo.


The equivalent to the main course (entrée in the US). This should be the most substantial course and consists of meat or fish. There may be more than one type of meat or fish.


This is a side to accompany the secondo. Vegetables or salad are not placed on the same plate as the meat or fish on the secondo.


If there were no leafy vegetables in the contorno, then a garden salad would be served at this stage. Note that it is a palate cleanser and in a formal occasion is served after the secondo.

We will be serving the secondo and insalata together in our traditional Italian dinner party.

Formaggi e Frutta

Cheese and fruit. The range of Italian cheeses is extraordinary. Serve with seasonal fruits.


This is the last food course! Italian dinner party desserts are luscious and our Italian dinner menu will feature a dessert that most people are familiar with.


Italians always drink strong, espresso in the evening. Sometimes this can follow the digestivo.


Simply Italian after dinner drinks. After all this food you owe it to yourself and your stomach to partake in a little grappa or limoncello! We first came across digestives in Buenos Aires where there is a very strong, Italian influence and it was typically provided on the house!

A digestive is a great way to finish off the evening, especially after a big meal, as it aids digestion.

Now that you have the background to the wonderful world of Italian entertaining, here is the Italian Dinner Party menu. Click on the link or picture to retrieve the recipe.


Italian Dinner Menu

Italian Antipasto Platter

Our Italian appetizers feature Parmigiano Reggiano with Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Prosciutto and Melon, Caprese Salad (Buffalo Mozzarella). Can be prepared ahead of time. Enjoy with a prosecco and sparkling mineral water.

Italian Antipasto www.compassand


Baked Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

A healthy, Italian appetizer! The flowers can be prepared ahead of time and simply heated through at the appropriate time. Enjoy with a prosecco and sparkling mineral water.

Baked Zucchini Flowers just out of the oven

Tortellini with Sage and Butter

True, traditional Italian cuisine. Italian pasta dishes don’t come much simpler than this. Cooks in just a few minutes. Good wine accompaniments for lovers of white include any floral,  sauvignon blanc. A good Italian barbera is an excellent, red choice.

At the table - Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce


Herb & Caper Crumbed Fish

Swordfish is widely available and the zucchinin and tomato salad which accompanies this fish is an absolute highlight. The dish goes well with viognier, chenin blanc or sauvignon blanc. Don’t forget the sparkling mineral water.


Eating - Herb Crumbed Fish Recipe inspired by the Venice Fish Market


Italian dinner party desserts often include this beloved classic. If you have any left, serve it with prosecco and sparkling mineral water.






You can read more about the fabulous world of Italian after dinner drinks here.

More Dinner Party Ideas

We have featured many other dinner parties in some of our favorite travel destinations, if you need some inspiration for a great dinner party find our previous menus from:

  • Turkey (the mezes are great);
  • Patagonia (the dulce de leche crème caramel is sublime);
  • Vietnam (including beef noodle pho –one of the best soups you will ever have);
  • Thai (make your own crispy, spring rolls);
  • USA– (bbq and more);
  • Laos and Cambodia (try the fish amok – a curry which is the national dish of Cambodia);
  • Greek (make your own, healthy spanakopita);
  • Spain (a great tapas menu)
  • Peru (a great food reputation for having the best food in South America)
  • Uruguay (simple and quick);
  • Romania (hearty, traditional food);
  • Tasmania (Australia)- healthy, fresh food;
  • French (easy courses to honor the greatest of all cuisines?);
  • Malaysian (a banquet including laksa, noodles and curry);
  • Moroccan (bring the exotic flavors, scents and color of Moroccan cuisine to life); and
  • Melbourne (from one of the world’s great multi-cultural cities).

And you can find lots of ideas for entertaining at home here.

Italian Dinner Party Menu with Recipes
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12 Responses

  1. Steven Rudnick
    | Reply

    Will not download recipes?

    • Compass & Fork

      It should send you an email with a link to download the recipes. Please check the email address and spam folder) you used.

  2. Ajay Sood
    | Reply

    Educational! Thanks!

    • Editor

      Learning is the best part I think. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Shannon Ketchum
    | Reply

    Divine! What a great way to entertain in a relaxed, casual (but special) manner.

    • Editor

      Shannon, Yes what can be better than sharing food with your favorite people!

  4. Marissa
    | Reply

    I love big traditional Italian meals. My family is Italian, so we have these multi-course meals a few times a year. They are so much fun!


    • Editor

      Marissa, I am jealous! I’d love to be from an italian family- learn all the family’s secret recipes!

  5. Priya
    | Reply

    Now I can party Italian style! Beautiful dishes and great ideas for 10 course Italian meal!

    • Editor

      Thank you for your kind comment Priya. We love the easy nature of the dishes as most can be prepared in advance. Cheers….Mark

  6. Renee
    | Reply

    What a wonderful theme for a dinner party!! It sounds a bit more formal than our typical dinner parties of BBQ, sides, and salads. I think I need to step up my game and actually do a sit down dinner in the dining room after seeing your beautiful food!!

    • Editor

      Thanks for your comments Renee. I must admit that BBQ’s and salad often feature at our house. It is nice to occasionally do the full n dinner party though. Cheers….Mark

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