How to Serve Snacks for Dinner, the Italian Way

June 28, 2017

We partnered with Galliano to share what we'll be serving during our own aperitivi all summer long.

A call to action for the harried hosts of the world: Let's agree to get rid of the dinner part of the dinner party, shall we? Let's set aside our aspirations for elaborately staged courses and a pristinely set table. Instead, consider a new approach that makes snacks for dinner not only acceptable, but welcome. An approach that involves a lot less kitchen time, and lot more partying time. Behold, by way of Italy, the cicchetti party.

Hey, hey cicchetti. Photo by James Ransom

What is cicchetti?

Traverse the serpentine canals of Venice, as far away from clots of tourists as you can get, and you'll stumble upon cicchetti bars. These hole-in-the-wall pubs, also called bacari, are where the locals end their work days, bent over tipsy, tall tables, or grouped on benches. Cicchetti are the bite-size appetizers that accompany their drinks and merriment—but instead of receiving what we would call in the U.S. an "order" of a single item, you choose your cicchetti one by one from a counter teeming with miniature Italian delicacies.

After pointing and picking and questioning, you'll end up with your own personally curated plate of food—like a chain restaurant's appetizer sampler, only you got to choose each and every morsel. You might have collected an assortment of tiny prosciutto panini, and perhaps thrown in a scoop of salty olives. Or your spread could include meatballs dripping in tomato sauce and battered squid tentacles fried to a crispy sheen. You call the shots.

So instead of throwing a traditional dinner party, let's do as the Venetians do. Whip up a bunch of wee snacks that you can make ahead of time, cluster them on your table any which way, and let guests pick and choose a little of this, and a little of that.

Sure, one could call this heavy hors d'oeuvres. But isn't it so much more fun to teach your guests about this Italian tradition (while at the same time saving you a constant sprint back and forth to the kitchen?). Snacks for dinner never sounded so worldly.

A Good Place to Start

Basic is best: eggplant sandwiches cut into small squares, a batch of meatballs to pluck out of a bowl, and slivered slices of frittata filled with whatever you have on hand. Wedges of good cheese, stacks of pillowy bread, and bowls of olives never hurt anyone, either.

The Extra Credit

One of the best parts of the Venetian cicchetti bars is the fried food. Hunks of mozzarella, leafy baby artichokes, essentially anything that can be battered. Admittedly, frying is an undertaking and perhaps not in total alignment with the laid-back approach I'm touting. But it is not without excellent results. If you're feeling bold and don't mind some extra kitchen time, fry away.

Add an aperitivo

To wash down your snacks, consider the aperitivo, or before-dinner drink. The aperitivo culture is intrinsic to the Italian way of life—to stimulate the appetite (historically speaking), but really to celebrate (and stretch out) the ritual of eating and drinking together.

Aperitivi are liqueurs (usually aromatized wines) made sweet and bitter with anything from herbs and citrus to flowers. For the final flourish to your cicchetti party, set out a bottle or two of Italian amaro. Keep on hand a small bucket of ice and a pitcher of soda water or bottles of Prosecco, and some peels of orange. That way your guests can sip the liqueur straight up, or add a splash of bubbles for a simple version of the Venetian-loved spritz.

Everyone (& everything) to the table!

Your table should reflect the same unbuttoned attitude of the cicchetti tradition. Comb your cupboards for plates of all sizes and shades, cocktail picks (wooden toothpicks allowed), little grabbers and tiny forks, and a mishmash of the Champagne coupes you haven't broken yet along with the charmingly froofy cocktail glasses you've always wanted an excuse to use.

No matching dinner plates or flatware to hunt down. Pile your dishes high with your cicchetti, letting the appetizers spill over from one plate to another. The less fussiness, and the more riotous mixing and matching, the more jubilant your evening will become.

Plates & Dishes

Serving Boards

Picks & Grabbers


Now you just have to figure out what's for dessert.

Any laid-back dinner party secrets? Tell us below!

We're pretty into the Italian tradition of aperitivo, so we partnered with Galliano to celebrate the launch of their new Apertivo liqueur. Share how you’re hosting your own on Instagram by tagging @DrinkGalliano and #GallianoMoments for the chance to win an Italian aperitivo kit.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jmangan
  • Barbara Tighe
    Barbara Tighe
  • Lauren's Plate
    Lauren's Plate
  • kgw
Olivia Bloom

Written by: Olivia Bloom

Has a soft spot for string cheese.


jmangan July 23, 2017
I highly recommend picking up a bottle of Cappelletti. Can be purchased for $18.99 at BevMo in California. Tastes fall between Aperol and Campari, and perfect for a Negroni. Now my go to Aperitivo on a hot evening before dinner. 2 oz. Cappelletti, 3 oz (or more) of Fever Tree tonic water, and half slice of juicy orange over three or four small to medium ice cubes. Low alcohol, and sets your palate for wine at dinner. Perfecto!
Barbara T. July 15, 2017
I have not had a bottle of Galliano around in a long long time. But that is about to change. Quickie snacks to go with it sounds great. going to have to do some recipe searching, to plan an evening.
Lauren's P. July 15, 2017
Yes it's so true....after a week in Venice sparkling apertive is the way to go!
kgw July 15, 2017
I've been using Aperol (similiar to the apertivo mentioned above) with Pelligrino and ice in the hot summer weather. Delicious! And who could possibly argue with Italian tapas!!