One day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I stumbled upon a pasta sauce ad that caught my eye. Usually, I skip right past sponsored content, but this was different. The ad pictured a bird’s eye shot of a dinner party with a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in the center of the frame. The guests happily scooped noodles—the thickest I’ve ever seen—and meatballs onto their plates. Immediately, my craving began. My mouth salivated. The meatballs seemed to shimmer in the setting’s moody, yellow light, and the noodles made me want to sink my teeth into a forkful. This simple, ten-second ad had induced a deep desire—a craving that boxed noodles and jarred sauces could not satisfy. I wanted a bowl of homemade spaghetti and meatballs with an authentic tomato sauce. After replaying and unmuting the ad, lively Italian dinner music played while the clinks of plates and background voices added to the ambiance of the video. As staged as the setting may have been, the lighting and the environment felt real, and my craving for spaghetti and meatballs evolved into a need for more.
I wanted to have an Italian dinner party.
I only heard about these dinners from my Italian friends and had seen them in movies, but I knew exactly what I wanted. Traditional Italian dinner parties center around the idea of reconnecting with friends and family over the shared love of food. Having enough food to serve the large company of people in attendance is pivotal to these parties. I’ve heard that these kinds of dinners have a start time but no end and can last for hours so long as the conversation (and food) is good. Alas, the only problem is that I’m not Italian. With spaghetti and meatballs on my mind, I went over to my friend’s place to hang out.
“What’re you thinking about?” Izzy asked as she opened the door, immediately recognizing my deep concentration.
“I want to have an Italian dinner party,” I blurted out, almost stunned at my response. “I want spaghetti and meatballs. The real homemade stuff with homemade pasta sauce. But the only problem is we don’t know any Italians.”
Izzy stared back at me with a blank expression, then shifted her face to a look of confusion. “You do realize I’m Italian, right?”
After I apologized for my forgetfulness, Izzy quickly adopted my desire to host an Italian dinner party.
“I haven’t been to one since before the pandemic,” she remarked, explaining to me how her Italian family used to host large parties that included her extended family and longtime friends. We sat down and made a list of people we’d invite. We settled on 18 people: three, six-man rooms. My room would bring the garlic bread, our friends’ room would bring the salad and dessert, and Izzy’s room would host and make the spaghetti and meatballs. A date was set for the following Sunday, and I could hardly wait.
The day before the party, Izzy called me over to help make the sauce. “The most crucial part of making this dinner authentic is the sauce,” Izzy said.
We gathered together all the ingredients and got to work. I chopped the onions and garlic while Izzy prepared the tomatoes. She instructed me to saute the onions and garlic until they were fragrant, then let them simmer in red wine. We added in the tomato paste and tomatoes, and then mixed the pot. We topped it off with fresh basil, lemon zest, and some other spices.
“Nice! We’ll let this pot simmer for a few hours. We’re pretty much done for the day,” Izzy said proudly.
I was shocked. “That’s it?” I asked, confused at the simplicity. “How come we made it a day early then?”
Izzy chuckled, and happily shared her family secret. “The sauce isn’t done yet,” she explained. “Once the sauce has finished reducing tonight, I’ll leave it in the fridge overnight so the flavors deepen.” Izzy explained that tomorrow afternoon she will put it back on the stove, add more spices and salt as needed, and then complete it with the drippings from the meatballs. Once finished, the sauce will be rich, complex, and ever so delicious.
The next day, I eagerly made garlic bread with my roommates. We timed it perfectly so that we would pull the bread out at 6:55 pm, and then immediately walk across the hall to Izzy’s room in time for the dinner to start at 7 pm. As I was welcomed into the room, I was met with the pleasant aroma of savory meatballs and the rich tomato sauce. I turned on the TV and put on a playlist of cliché Italian dinner music that I had curated earlier in the week, and chatted with my friends as they came into the room. We sat down at the long table, and ate our salad as an appetizer. Izzy served everyone heaping bowls of the handmade spaghetti she got from Eataly that morning, poured on the homemade pasta sauce, topped that with the meatballs, and finished them off with freshly-grated parmesan and a slice of garlic bread.
As I happily chowed down on my bowl of Italian deliciousness, my heart swelled. My desire for homemade spaghetti and meatballs had been fulfilled. Not only that, but I got to have an Italian dinner party. I fondly thought back to what started this all: that pasta sauce ad on Instagram. While that sponsored post might not have moved me to buy the jarred sauce—I can’t even, for the life of me, remember the name of the brand—it inspired this amazing evening. So to anyone reading this who wants to host an Italian dinner party themselves or take the leap into something unfamiliar, I say to you: fallo e basta.