In Italian culture, mealtimes are a celebration — bringing together groups of friends and family for socializing, dining and festivities. From antipasti delights to hearty pasta dishes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the cuisine of il bel paese — and there are few more beautiful places to enjoy it than the rolling hills and golden skies of Tuscany.
Known for its idyllic landscapes, delicious food and an unrivaled selection of vino, the central Italian region is the ideal destination for a dinner party spent under the setting summer sun. To help you host an authentic Tuscan-themed evening of your own, we’ve put together this handy guide — so you can bring la dolce vita to dinnertime wherever you are in the world.
1. Choose your wine wisely
The first ingredient for an authentic Italian evening is — you guessed it — wine. Your bottle of choice lays the foundation for your menu, so you don’t want to scrimp on quality here. But what is the authentic Tuscan choice?
To answer this question, you can consult with experts. Italian dining connoisseurs Pasta Evangelists recommend the regional Sangiovese, explaining: “Sangiovese is a dry, medium-full bodied red wine made with, as the name suggests, the Sangiovese grape. It is produced in Tuscany where Sangiovese is a commonly grown grape as it’s also used in other Tuscan wines, such as Chianti Classico.”
The wine has a distinctive tart flavor that pairs well with fatty meats and spicy dishes. Pleasant notes of cherry, tomato and coffee will have your guests sipping into the small hours if you allow them to — and on a warm summer’s night, why would you not?
2. Prepare traditional recipes
Once you’ve opened up a bottle of the local red, kickstart your Tuscan evening with an antipasti selection — think olives, tomatoes, ciabatta, and oil and balsamic vinegar to dip. Lay out some cured meats like salami or chorizo to provide the heat to complement your Sangiovese.
As for the main course of the evening, consider hearty red meat dishes. A warming family favorite like Tuscan sausage pasta uses the iconic and chunky rigatoni to soak up the flowing of drink, stirred with roasted summer peppers and sausage meat. Your table spread won’t be complete, however, without some local side dishes — prepare simple accompaniments like aromatic bean salad and tomato and mozzarella sauté and you’ll soon have a rustic feast laid out that will keep guests coming back for more.
For dessert, some classic Tuscan treats include schiacciata alla fiorentina, a traditional Florentine orange cake, and zuccotto, a frozen dessert perfect for all the chocolate lovers.
3. Find a good location
Tuscany boasts a range of picture-perfect backdrops, from sprawling vineyards to glittering alpine mountaintops. Even if back home doesn’t offer the same lush scenery, it can provide a more than adequate substitute on a hot summer’s evening. With the right weather, a bit of enthusiasm, and a healthy dose of wine, any patio or outdoor space you have at your disposal will work just fine. And don’t forget that Italian dining etiquette will have you eating late into the night, sometimes starting as late as 10pm — so you’ll need to pick a spot that you can host and be comfortable staying in for some time.
However, for the city-dwellers among you, private outdoor space may be lacking. Instead, think about the greener spots in your local area — if you know of any parks, meadows or lakeside views to visit, take a drive over at sunset and set up camp. The closer to nature, the better — bonus points if you can track down some Tuscan olive trees.
4. Decorate like a trattoria
If the cooking prep gets a little stressful, take a moment to have some fun with your dining décor. A trattoria-style setup will immerse your guests and give your evening a sense of occasion. Start by lining your area with soft furnishings like pillows and throws to keep guests cozy. Think about the lighting, too — will you be dancing by moonlight or would your space benefit from some lanterns, string lights or candles? You’ll want to use warm tones to create an ambiance that emulates the golden hues of Tuscany at twilight.
Use good quality linens when dressing the table — or if you have a beautifully grained hardwood surface to show off, leave it bare. Lay out your decorative dinnerware and vases of flowers — the wilder the better. Or, for a more functional option, stack bowls with fresh produce (lemons do the trick) to give your table a Mediterranean feel. If you’re being extra-formal, small name cards embellished with a sprig of rosemary or lavender are a nice touch on top of each setting — get creative!
Once you’re all set, the only thing left to do is enjoy yourself. With bellies filling and music playing on the veranda, your guests will have a night to remember — and if you’ve followed these steps, they might just forget that they’re not actually in the Italian countryside. More wine, anyone?