Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.
We owe a lot to Italy. It’s the country that brought us pizza, espresso, and—who knew?—batteries, highways, and ice cream cones. And yet there’s so much more goodness and genius that have come from this amazing place. Allow us to introduce you to the fabulous Annette Joseph. No surprise if you’ve met her before or heard her name—she’s a two-time member of the Salonniere 100 and the kind of person that just about everyone knows and loves. Splitting her time between homes in Atlanta and Italy, Annette is a stylist, author, and party thrower extraordinaire who has a knack for making things feel beautiful, lush, and wildly fun.
We managed to pin Annette down to share a bit of the party knowledge she’s picked up in her 12 years of vita Italiana—most recently while renovating an 11th-century fortress in Tuscany. So mix yourself an Aperol Spritz and start thinking about injecting your next event with some Italian flair.
Primo, don’t skimp on the guest list. “In Italy, it’s very normal to have 20 people over for lunch,” Annette tells us. So if you’re entertaining, you’ve got your family and your friends—and their families. While it might sound intimidating, it’s actually a brilliant move to get yourself comfortable with the true essence of entertaining. “It’s not so much about impressing your friends with a huge effort. It’s more about gathering together a group of people you adore. That’s what creates the ambiance of the party. And in a practical sense, hosting a large group is the perfect way to force yourself not to sweat the small stuff. People here are great at using prepared foods to make things easier on themselves,” Annette explains.
Secondo, use what you have. Annette’s noticed that her Italian friends have the best linens and stemware, not because they’re seasoned shoppers, but because it has all been passed down. “It’s something you learn from antiquing in Italy—there’s not as much tabletop for sale because it all stays in the family.” This tradition contributes to the seemingly effortless elegance of a typical Italian table, with porcelain and platters pulled from the credenza and flowers picked from the garden. Of course, this particular secret is certainly easier said than done—you can’t build up an arsenal of heirlooms overnight, but the mentality is worth noting. And it has certainly inspired Annette to continually invest in the best for her table with future generations in mind.
Terzo, remember that seasonal food rules all. We’re talking about a country with festivals devoted to the greatest food groups: truffles, olive oil, artichokes, apple pies, figs—shall we go on? When it’s artichoke season, expect to find them all over the menu, which is to say you shouldn’t fear going overboard on a particular ingredient if it’s truly in top shape. If you’re planning a large event in Italia from stateside and you don’t speak Italian, consider hiring a caterer like Three Tomatoes Italy that knows the local ropes and can manage the process for you.
Quarto, embrace aperitivo. “In Italy, it’s like breathing,” says Annette of the charming habit of Italians gathering for after-work cocktails, or aperitivo. “It’s an opportunity to meet with a friends and partake in wonderful nibbles and have a delicious cocktail.” Wondering how that’s different from the American tradition of happy hour? “Italians like to sip, and they tend to talk more than they drink!” Think of it as a prelude to dinner: “apero,” from Latin, means “to open” your stomach and get it ready for a lovely meal. So why not host friends for your very own aperitivo—or apericena, as it’s also known? Annette sees this as a potentially enormous crossover trend. She’s even at work on a book about the tradition due out later this year.
Quinto, hail the humble chip. “This is what makes all my American friends chuckle,” says Annette. “We’ll be at the most fabulous hotel in Milan, and they’ll bring out potato chips.” In Italy, chips are prime aperitivo food and proof of the tradition’s deep family friendliness—another distinction from American happy hour! Kids are welcome at aperitivo too. They join in on snacking on chips and often partake in a virgin cocktail or smoothie. Besides, who can resist the delicious, salty, greasy crunch? If you’re bold enough to serve them at your next party, set them out alongside caviar and sour cream.
Finalmente, turn off your phone. How are the Italians able to resist the siren call of Instagram at the dinner-party table? “It’s normal for Italians to see beauty all around them. They have such an ancient culture; they live in cities covered in beautiful frescos and carvings everywhere,” she explains. While that might not be enough to keep your phone off, it’s quite the inspiration to keep your party-hosting and decorating skills sharp. The more exquisiteness you put forth, the more you’re upping the benchmark.
So there you have it. Host friends for pre-dinner drinks, invite guests freely, and let history and the farmer’s market be your guide. It may just be the perfect path to la bella vita.
Italian Party Hosts: Welcome Mashup
Welcome photo: Monica Vitti in Modesty Blaise, 1966
Welcome quote: Sophia Loren
Photo sources: Annette Joseph, Divina Cucina, With Husband in Tow