How to Throw an Italian Dinner Party on a Budget

I love cooking, especially Italian.  So when our cast was given a self-catering apartment with seating for 20, I knew a dinner party was in order.  But with a budget the size of a pea, planning the meal proved challenging but not impossible. Here’s some tips on how throw an Italian dinner party on the cheap:

Fun at our Italian Dinner Party in Genzano di Roma
White theme

1. Make a Theme

Just because you have a small budget doesn’t mean your party should be boring.  Making a theme for your dinner will create added ambiance without you having to do anything.  We chose a white theme, mainly to distract everyone from our plastic plates and cutlery.  It worked!

White Dress:  $20 in Sag Harbor, NY 

Cooking Risotto
Stirring the Risotto

2. Cook Risotto

Arborio rice triples in size when you cook it so risotto is one of the best meals you can make for a large group.  Be forewarned, you WILL sacrifice your cocktail hour with guests to be in the kitchen stirring…and stirring…and stirring.  If you party is in summer, go with frutti di mare risotto like I did.  In Italy the mussels, octopus, clams and shrimp come pre-mixed and pre-packaged in the frozen foods aisle.  That’s the cheapest way to go.  You’ll have ready-to-serve in a risotto in 8 minutes!

Box of Arborio Rice:  $4 (serves 50!)
Frutti di Mare seafood:  $4/box (buy at least 2)

3. Keep Pasta as Plan B

Italian Pasta Aglio Olio
Italian Pasta Aglio Olio

Don’t stop the carbo-loading at the risotto. Make a pasta to complement the meal and you’ll be sure you’ll have enough to go around.  A simple one I whipped up was spaghettini aglio oglio (garlic and oil).  It’s so easy and full of flavor.  You’ll need:

1 pound of spaghettini
abundant garlic
italian parsley
extra virgin olive oil
freshly graded parmigiano (or grana, it’s cheaper)

Total:  $7

4. Use Local Fruit for Dessert

Fragolini of Nemi, Italy
Fragolini of Nemi, Italy

Fruit in Italy is wildly cheap and so sweet you’d think it’s laced with sugar.  Peaches are big in season right now and an entire crate can be purchased at street carts for a few dollars.

Fruit for everyone:  $5

5. Buy Wine Straight from the Source

Vino Bianco Colli Lanuvini

It’s so easy to buy local wine directly from the producer in Italy!  We found a bottle from the local Colli Lanuvini for $2 per bottle!

Previously posted on Jet Set Zero:Italy.