In Italy, dining is a formal event. Focus is placed on a visually appealing spread with complete settings and patterned or colourful dinnerware. Italian cooking, especially country cooking, places an emphasis on using fresh ingredients in simple combinations. Fresh foods are incorporated into the table setting. Centrepieces and place settings commonly feature fresh fruits, vegetables and garden greenery.
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Things you need
- Tablecloth (optional)
- Centrepiece supplies (fruits, vegetables, leaves, straw)
- Votive candles
- Place setting (potted plant, flower)
- Water goblets
- Wine goblets
Place a linen tablecloth on your dining table. The colour should coordinate with your dinnerware and your centrepiece. For a classic elegant look, white or bone is appropriate, and it allows you to make a fruit, vegetable or greenery centrepiece the focal point, a mainstay at Italian dinner tables. It also lets more colourful place settings and table decor take centre stage. If you have an attractive marble-top table, you can do without the tablecloth, as in some Italian bistros, especially if the dinner is less formal.
Create a centrepiece for your table. For an Italian table setting, centrepieces made with fresh fruit and greens entice the guest, giving her a glimpse of the fresh food to come. Choose fruits based on the season and the colour scheme. Lemons and limes over a straw or branch wreath add a spot of colour and elegant shape. Tuck garden leaves in-between the fruit to fill the arrangement, and place an artichoke in the centre. You can also use apples, oranges, pineapple, pumpkin, squash or bananas.
Light candles for your dinner guests. Small clear votive holders with white candles create a white light and are commonly used in Italian dining. Place them one or two rows deep around the centrepiece, staggering them to create more visual depth.
Create a place setting for each guest. An Italian dinner table often uses fresh fruits, vegetables or plants. Place a tiny potted succulent just outside the votive candles, on each setting. You can also cut a few layers off the bottom of an artichoke and lay it on the table. It resembles a large green blossom.
Set out the dinnerware. If you have a choice for your dinnerware, look for patterns with an embellished pattern in several colours. These can evoke an Italian countryside feel. For a formal setting, each guest will have a large charger plate (this is larger than a dinner plate and typically used for decorative purposes only). A dinner plate sits atop the charger plate and a salad plate above that. If you prefer, you can stack a saucer and cup on top or place it in front of the guest's plate, on the right-hand side.
Place silverware on either side of the setting. On the guest's left, place a salad fork on the outside, and a dinner fork on the inside. On the right, place a dinner spoon on the outside, a butter knife in the centre, and a dinner knife directly next to the plate. Alternatively, place the dinner fork and spoon in front of the guest's plate stack (closest to the centre of the table). Lay them horizontally, the fork below the spoon. The ends should be facing opposite directions.
Set out the glasses. Each guest should have at least one water glass and wine goblet. You may offer two wine goblets so the guest can sample a red and white wine without using the same glass. Place these right in front of the plates to the guest's right.
Fold and set out the napkins. Napkins should be linen, never paper. The Italian dinner table should not have paperware. Roll them lengthwise and place them atop the plate stack. You might also use a napkin ring, tie the napkin in a knot or simply fold it into a triangle and place it on the very left, next to the utensils.
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