How to Serve a Perfect Italian Dinner

The French have their cream sauces. The Japanese have their crispy tempura batter. But for a truly romantic dinner, only Italian will do. Even Disney’s Lady and the Tramp know that.

Italian culture celebrates family, romance and a lust for life – and that enthusiasm carries over into their cuisine. But serving a perfect Italian dinner is about more than just buying a pizza or serving a good pasta sauce. It has to come from both from the hearth and the heart.

Serving the perfect dinner is about engaging the senses, and creating a mood. For some people, this kind of planning comes naturally. Fortunately, for the rest of us, there’s this handy guide.

1. Find Italian Dinner Music.
This is step number one, because good Italian music is not only important to entertain your guests, but to keep you in the mood while preparing the rest of the dinner. Nothing makes rolling meatballs easier than singing “That’s Amore” at the top of your lungs. If you’re a Rhapsody subscriber, you can go to their playlist central-the work has already been done for you. . If you’re more of a traditionalist, you can buy a CD. Or you can listen to an Italian Radio station that plays old fashioned tunes. Just plug some speakers into your laptop and you’re good to go, for no extra cost.

2. Find a Good Recipe for the Main Course.
If you’re not an experienced cook, and you’re low on cash, the homemade pizza is an excellent choice. Find a pizza recipe that doesn’t rely on a homemade red sauce to be tasty-the bottled varieties are atrocious. If you’ve got a little more cash in your wallet, pick a rich and velvety Pasta Alfredo recipe, and serve it with broccoli tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh minced garlic. (The stuff in the jar is faux garlic, only to be used in absolute emergencies.) Now, if you want to really go all out, make a homemade red sauce. This might set you back about $30 for all the ingredients, but it will feed you, your dinner guests, and the rest of your family for about a week. Plus, this recipe for “Sunday Gravy” is so tasty, it’ll have you licking the spoon.

3. Plan for a few Go-Withs.
Perhaps a homemade roasted pepper salad might make a good side dish if you like cooking. If you’re less experienced in the kitchen, go to the deli counter of your local supermarket and buy some gorgonzola stuffed olives or marinated mushrooms. Whatever you do, be sure to plan for a fresh loaf of good Italian bread. Not wonder bread, not a sandwich loaf, not even a sour dough. If you can’t find one, go ahead and use French Bread instead in an emergency, and cut it up into smaller pieces to serve in a basket on the table.

4. Go Grocery Shopping.
If you plan ahead, and watch the sales, you can buy your pork shoulders, veal, and canned items on sale. If you can’t plan that far ahead though, try to do your shopping the day before your dinner-cooking a red sauce is an all-afternoon affair, and you’ll need your energy.

5. Buy Some Good Wine.
Wine connoisseurs will tell you that only red wine will do when it comes to matching an Italian red sauce, but take a more liberal stance on this. If neither you nor your date like red, white wine will do just fine. If you prefer sweet over dry, get the wine you like, and enjoy your dinner. Wine will open your palate to new tastes, add to the romantic ambiance, and relax everyone at the dinner table.

6. Set the Table with Candles.
Even if you don’t have a matching set of candleholders, any candle will work in a pinch. The idea is to soften the lighting for dinner and illuminate the table. Most people look more attractive by candle-light and the flickering flame can burn away the stress of a long day.

And there you have it. If you want to go overboard, and add a few flowers or a red and white tablecloth, go ahead. But you’ve already got the basics, and you’re ready to serve the perfect Italian dinner.

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