Serving Dishes and Equipment
The Italian eating experience is all about everyone buzzing about the kitchen lending a hand, then helping themselves at the table. So forget about dusting off the best bone china, or investing in bistro bowls and presenting individual courses as if they were coming through the kitchen doors at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the smart part of town.
Lunch on a Sunny TerrazzaAnother temptation to avoid are those rustic-style ceramic dinner-service sets that can be found in the gift shops of Italian summer holiday destinations such as the Amalfi coast.
The garish colours may appeal after a few too many at lunch on a sunny terrazza, but out of context on a damp December day in northern European suburbia, they can serve simply to make everyone at the table lose their appetite, not to mention the small fortune it will cost to have them shipped back home or the price paid in broken relationships and broken plates by those foolish enough to attempt to stuff them in the hand luggage.
Stacking the Slices on the BoardGiven that the traditional meal consists of five basic courses - antipasto; primo; secondo; insalata; and dolce - it may sound as if a great deal of crockery and equipment is going to be needed, but that does not need to be the case. Antipasto, for example, requires only a large serving plate for the meat, some bowls for the fruit or vegetables and a bowl or basket for the bread. An option is to carry the bread to the table, stacking the slices on the board after cutting. Then, instead of side plates, diners could simply take a slice of bread and pile whatever takes their fancy on top - finger food at its most basic and yet most delicious.
If the primo is to involve pasta or rice, as opposed to soup, then diners should keep their plates after eating in order to use for the secondo and insalata to follow, mopping up any liquor or oil from the pasta or rice, meat or fish with another slice of bread. The same applies to cutlery, simply setting down a knife and fork, with the addition of a spoon for soup or pasta if using a long or ribbon variety.
A Little More RefinementBaked pasta dishes make a very efficient addition to the meal because they can be cooked in one ovenproof dish that can be transferred directly to the table, a wide metal slotted spoon being the only implement everyone needs to ensure they get their share.
There is no need to stand on ceremony for the dolce course, either - an ample torta, for example, can be sliced at the table. The same is true for a deep dish of tiramisu. Zabaglione, however, may require a little more refinement in the shape of individual servings in wine glasses, and a similar approach is called for if dessert consists of slices of peach swimming in red wine.
So a little recycling of crockery over more than one course and a liberal supply of bread means that not only does the dishwasher, whether man or machine, get off lightly but the morning after won't be wasted stacking plates and bowls away, ready for the next time that the hungry masses descend on your dining table.