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Lisa’s Entertaining Tips, Italian Style

Entertaining Tips

While you may know Lisa for her cookbooks “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?” and “This is Sunday Dinner”, and her line of Lisa’s Italian Sunday Sauces, her friends and family know her best for the great dinner parties she organizes. When you come to Lisa’s house you know there will be scintillating conversation, delicious food, and that memories and connections will be made around the table. It’s true that Lisa’s perfection of the art of throwing a dinner party began around the Sunday Dinner table, when she would help her maternal grandmother Catherine Lione from Sicily, whom she and her cousins called Nana, cook and set the table. As she grew, Lisa watched her mother throw typical faculty-wife dinner parties with guests from all around the world who gathered at her family’s table to engage in philosophical conversations with her father. Fast forward to Lisa’s years raising her children between the United States and Italy and you can imagine the beautiful and challenging opportunities to put together guest lists and menus that reflected Lisa’s cosmopolitan life and circle. Over the years, Lisa’s identified some foundational elements that have made throwing  a dinner party easier for her and more impactful for her guests. She shares her tips with you below!

Lisa’s Entertaining Tip #1 Consider a Themed Menu with Decorations to Match

Lisa always plans a themed menu. You might prioritize a seasonal menu, with vegetables or fruits that are in season. If it’s film festival season, consider choosing a menu that highlights a film (watching Io Sono L’Amore? concentrate on Milanese dishes…. Death in Venice? Perfect for a fish theme in honor of Venice’s bacari!). It’s fall now and football season- consider a tailgate theme! Themed dinner party menus and themed dinner parties, period, give you direction as a hostess. This also applies to your decorations!

Entertaining Tips

One of Lisa’s fall-themed Tuscan Dinner Party tablescapes

Lisa’s Entertaining Tip #2 Choose a Themed Menu where Dishes can be made ahead of time

Lisa always plans a menu where at least 50% of the dishes are able to be made ahead of time. Any tomato sauce for your pasta dish, for example, can be made the day before. Appetizers like Lisa’s Filo Dough Stuffed with Cheese and Sun-dried Tomatoes (in “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?”, Menu 47) can be made the day before, frozen, and cooked at the last minute so they are warm to serve. Tiramisu can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated (watch Lisa make hers here!).

Entertaining Tips

Lisa making her classic Tiramisu this Spring

Lisa’s Entertaining Tip #3 Choose a Themed Menu with Variety

Lisa’s makes a point of choosing a multi-course menu where every dish and recipe goes together and there is variety. Mix it up! Not every dish, for example, should be cream based or tomato based- consider the digestive tracks of your guests! Lisa likes to combine rustic, Italian recipes with more elegant and fancy ones. So many of her friends and even family over the years have said, Lisa, I can’t do this! I can’t cook and entertain like you do! Rather than create a menu that seems totally inaccessible, Lisa likes to find a balance so her guests are surprised but at ease, finding the food and recipes accessible for their own tables. One of Lisa’s favorite menus for this is Menu 42 in “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?”: Funghi Ripieni (stuffed mushrooms), Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and White Beans), Tagliata con Rucola e Limone (Sliced rib-eye steak with arugula and lemon), and Pere cotte in Vino Bianco con Pistachio e Mascarpone (Poached pears in white wine with pistachio and mascarpone cream). The stuffed mushrooms can be made ahead of time and cooked last minute. The Pasta Fagioli can be assembled and left to cook as you entertain your guests, letting you add the pasta at the last minute when there is a lull in conversation so the pasta doesn’t expand too much. Cook the tagliata on your grill, while you let your guests mingle outside. Baked pears can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature, adding the pistachios and cream at the last minute. Elegant and rustic at the same time, this menu is not intimidating to your guests, and, at the same time, tagliata is a good cut of beef that will impress while the baked pears are elegant and refined. It’s a nice mix!

Entertaining Tips

Menu 42 in Lisa’s cookbook “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?”

Lisa’s Entertaining Tip #4 Move outside!

Do you have a porch, a deck, a yard, any outdoor space, even a balcony? Make it a central part of your dinner party! Lisa loves to have aperitivo time outside, with cocktails, analcolici (the Italian version of non-alcoholic drinks!) and appetizers on her deck or even dessert outside. It offers guests a change of scenery and fresh air. Of course, when you can- throw the entire dinner party outside! Lisa is known for this among her friends and family – tutti a tavola al fresco!

Lisa and her daughter, Felicia, in 2016 in their backyard with appetizers before a family dinner

Lisa’s Entertaining Tip #5 Musica è… make a playlist to liven up the party!

Lisa always has music in the background of her dinner parties that matches the dinner party theme. Whether it’s a “Dinner in Italy” playlist you find on Apple Music or a playlist you curate yourself, music sets the mood and makes your guests more comfortable. No need to worry if there is a lull in the conversation- the music will still make everyone feel at home and in their element. Plus, before you know it, you might just have an Italian sing-along!


  • Lisa Caponigri

    Lisa Caponigri is the author of This is Sunday Dinner and Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?, published by Sterling Epicure. Both of Lisa's cookbooks brim with her memories of living in Italy, both as a child and as an adult raising her own family, anecdotes about her family, regional and seasonal Italian specialties, and all the advice needed to get a spectacular Sunday Dinner on the table, every Sunday of the year. She has developed a line of prepared foods and sauces called Lisa’s Italian Kitchen. Lisa debuted on HSN and has appeared on QVC. She has also appeared on a variety of television programs, including Seattle's New Day Northwest, Good Morning Toronto, Chicago's WGNLunchbreak, and New England Cooks, to name a few. Lisa is frequently consulted as an expert in Italian lifestyle and food. Lisa Caponigri lives in South Bend, IN and travels frequently to Italy to research the latest in "la dolce vita". Visit to learn more about Lisa!

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