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Five Steps to Creating the Perfect Italian Dining Experience at Home
Italians are known to be fiercely proud of their culture, and it’s no surprise when their cuisine is considered to be some of the best in the world. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to be friends with a wonderful Italian chef, or maybe you’ve spent evenings out at your local Italian restaurant, enjoying an elevated fine-dining experience. But did you know it’s possible to recreate that in your own kitchen? Here are five steps to creating the perfect Italian dining experience at home.
1. Pick your menu
As with any dinner party, picking the right menu is vital. There are some fantastic Italian cookbooks available, such as The Italian Table by Elizabeth Minchilli, and lots of resources for Italian cuisine on the web. But there are other things to consider, too, such as how many courses you want to serve. You can have as many as you like, of course, but many people choose to stick to the traditional primo, secondo, and dulce (or starter, main, and dessert). Try balancing your courses, as well. You don’t want two tomato-based dishes in a row, for example. Likewise, pasta is typically served as a primo in Italy, with meat or fish being served as the main course.
2. Select your produce
The single most important thing to remember with Italian cuisine is freshness. If it’s not fresh, it’s not authentically Italian. When selecting produce, always go fresh and go local, leaving out the frozen meats or the ingredients that have been stored in the back of the cupboard since you don’t know when.
This includes herbs—don’t use dried when you can use fresh! The benefit of fresh herbs is that they’ll give you great flavour without overpowering your dish. The same goes for cheese. Always grate your own parmesan or mozzarella or whatever cheese you opt for. The pre-grated stuff just isn’t the same.
Your choice of oil is important, too. Olive oil is obviously one of the most important ingredients in any Italian dining experience, but there are so many different ones to choose from, and they each are nuanced in their own way. Oil varies from region to region, meaning that not only does the flavour change, but their purposes alter, too, so getting that right is an absolute must.
3. Perfect your pasta
Pasta is synonymous with Italy and the chances are that if you’re creating your own Italian dining experience at home, you’ll have pasta somewhere on the menu. Most people think of pasta as a quick and simple offering but getting it right can be difficult. So whether you’re making your own from scratch or using shop-bought pasta, sticking to some simple rules will help.
Salt the water once it begins to boil (but not before, or it’ll take longer to get to that point). Don’t add oil, though, as it can ultimately prevent your sauce from sticking to it. Stir the water as you pour the pasta in, this will help stop it from sticking, and stop cooking once the pasta is al dente. This means it should be chewy, but with a little firmness in the centre. Finally, don’t rinse your pasta after draining it—this, again, can stop your sauce from sticking, and no one wants a sauceless pasta!
4. Set the mood
Get into the true Italian spirit by setting the right atmosphere for your dining experience. Consider some of the rituals of Italian life, and think about the music you want to play in the background. Look at your table settings, too. Creating a beautiful table makes a big difference to any dining experience at home, and it’s not difficult to do. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, but simple and clean, tidy and symmetrical. Use a tablecloth and your best plates, get out that cutlery you save for special occasions and put it in the right places. You could even make a centrepiece from some of Italy’s native flowers, such as oleanders and bougainvillea. Making just a little bit of extra effort here turns a tasty meal into an event you can be proud of.
5. Pair with the perfect non-alcoholic cocktail
Any aficionado will tell you that no Italian meal is complete without the perfect wine, and yes, wine has its place. But there is a better option: Kolibri’s Tales of Tuscany. The crisp and fruity non-alcoholic drink is a perfect match for Italian cuisine and great for a boozeless dining experience that won’t leave you feeling hungover the next morning!
What’s even better is that it’s customisable—add as much or as little syrup as you like, and if you’d prefer to add a little alcohol, try it over vodka or spiced gin. Like all Kolibri’s non-alcoholic cocktails, Tales of Tuscany is exquisitely crafted, distilled, and delicious—and it makes the perfect accompaniment to any dinner party.
The key to creating the perfect Italian dining experience at home is this: keep it simple and keep it fresh. Pick a simple menu and let your ingredients speak for themselves. Use traditional Italian techniques to make sure your meal is authentic, and create a great atmosphere with the right table settings and a calming playlist. But most of all? Make sure you pair it with the right drinks, and you won’t go far wrong.