9 Things Italian Grandmas Do to Make Hosting Easier and Better

updated Dec 22, 2021
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Credit: Meghan McKee

As someone who has an Italian grandmother can attest, Italian grandmothers don’t like to take shortcuts — especially when it comes to hosting family feasts. When I asked my very own Italian grandmother to share some tips on how to make entertaining easier, she straight-up laughed in my face (in the nicest way possible): “Italian grandmothers don’t make feasts easier. They make things harder. They do things the way they were taught to do them.”

Because all the women in my family conveniently happened to be together, gearing up for a feast of our own, I crowdsourced the room for multiple generations’ worth of helpful hints. And with that, here’s how to host a gathering like an Italian grandmother.

1. Shop for antipasti ahead of time.

No Italian feast is complete without antipasti, a spread of appetizers that usually includes cured meats, cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, and more. “Italian grandmothers get a lot of things in jars, like stuffed peppers, marinated mushrooms, stuffed peppers, and giardiniera,” mine told me.

It’s helpful to have these kinds of things stocked in your panty at all times; this way people have something to munch on right when they walk in the door. You never know when your relatives are going to pop in, ready for a briny, meaty, cheesy spread.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Styling: Helen Quinn

2. Set the table the night before.

Because most, if not all, of the cooking for an Italian feast is done the day of, cross at least one thing off your list by setting the table in advance. “Iron the tablecloths, put out plates and table settings, and make it nice. That’s something you can do ahead of time,” my grandmother recommends.

3. Wake up (really) early.

The only way an Italian grandmother can conceivably get everything done for a big feast is by waking up at the crack of dawn. If your household doesn’t wake up before their alarms to the smell of onions sautéing in olive oil wafting through the halls, you’re doing it wrong. Sunday sauce has to simmer for hours, and it doesn’t make itself!

Credit: Cat Meschia

4. Wash your floors (with vinegar).

Italian grandmothers believe that your floors should be so clean, you can eat off of them — especially if guests are coming over. The preferred cleaning agent in my family? White vinegar. It makes the whole kitchen smell like a pepperoncini pepper, which is pretty on-brand, if you ask me. Plus, it’s pretty darn effective, which means less work for you.

Read more: The Single Best Cleaning Tip I Learned from My Italian Mom

5. Sharpen the knives.

When there’s a big feast or holiday on the horizon, my grandmother isn’t the only one doing all the work. My Sicilian grandpa is usually on hand to act as her sous chef, meticulously chopping and peeling. His favorite task is sharpening the knives, which makes prep work go even faster.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Clean the wine glasses.

This is going to sound nit-picky but my grandmother suggests that you “make sure your wine glasses are not spotty. You have to wash them by hand and set them out to dry before people come over.” No guest wants to drink their vino out of a visibly dirty class. Clean the glasses ahead of time and you won’t have to switch them out when guests go to pour themselves a drink.

Read more: The Most Important Step When Cleaning Wine Glasses

7. Have the coffee pot ready.

One thing my mom and aunt remember their grandmother doing before big parties was setting up the drip coffee machine. Put grinds in the filter, add water, and get it set up — so that at the end of the party, all you have to do is plug it in and press the button.

8. Don’t worry about dessert.

It’s not customary to ask people to bring dessert, but in-the-know guests will stop by an Italian bakery to pick up pastries on their way to a gathering. There’s nothing like breaking into a box of cannoli and rainbow cookies from a local mom-and-pop shop. If you don’t think guests will bring anything, my grandmother suggests simply making a pound cake in case. (LOL.)

9. Have to-go containers on hand.

After a party, you can bet those empty ricotta and Cool Whip containers will be put to good use. Because there’s certainly enough food to feed a small army, there will definitely be leftovers to send guests home with to enjoy for lunch or dinner the next day. Nothing goes to waste and nobody starves.

Got anything to add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.