Host an Italian Cicchetti Party

by sockii

Cicchetti is the Italian version of small plates or "tapas"-style food. It's perfect for a cocktail party or other gathering. Let me share some great cicchetti ideas and recipes!

So, what exactly IS cicchetti?! If you've never been to Italy—particularly to the Veneto region—you may have never head of it.

Cicchetti is an Italian-style of "small plates" bar food, quite similar to Spanish tapas which has become popular all around the world today. Cicchetti is a specialty of Venice, Italy, but this style of cooking—and eating—can be applied to many different types of Italian dishes. Who doesn't love tasty, small bites of food perfect to enjoy with a glass of wine or a cocktail?

Cicchetti is also great if you are planning an cocktail party or other special event in your home. Many of the dishes can be prepared ahead of time or are quick to throw together, and they offer options for nearly everyone no matter what their dietary restrictions or choices. It's a fun way to do something different and offer your guests a variety of tastes of Italy without spending all of your time in the kitchen—or spending too much money!

Here I'll share some more about the basics of cicchetti, including recommended cookbooks and recipe links, menu ideas, and cocktails that are perfect to prepare and serve at your event.

Photos on this page by the author, sockii, unless otherwise indicated or provided via Amazon or Zazzle affiliate links.

What is Cicchetti, Anyway?

For a brief overview, please check out my article linked below:
Cicchetti is a type of "small plates" food served in the bars and osterias of Venice, Italy. Learn more about this traditional regional cuisine.

Why is Cicchetti Perfect for a Party?

Benefits for your party-planning

A sampling of cicchettiComing up with a menu for a gathering or party can be difficult. You want to do something that will have options for everyone, but you don't want to end up spending your entire time in the kitchen cooking—or having to spend a fortune on fancy ingredients or relying on pre-made, mediocre foods.

That's why cicchetti is such a great choice. Why? Here are just some reasons:


  • Cicchetti offers options for many different diet plans. You can easily have dishes available for guests whether they are vegetarian, vegan, on a paleo or gluten-free diet...or eat anything and everything that looks good!
  • Cicchetti can be made with inexpensive ingredients. Meatballs and fritters can help stretch a small amount of ground meat into a lot of food for a crowd. Pasta or rice salads are a great way to maximize a little protein and vegetable a long way as well. Crostini is best made with slightly "stale" bread, so you can even pick up some loaves from the "discount rack" at your bakery the day before your party! All in all, cicchetti is a great way to feed a crowd without having to spend a fortune.
  • Most cicchetti is suited for preparing ahead of time. In fact, some dishes absolutely require it! Marinated vegetable and seafood salads, for instance, often need to be made at least 1-2 days in advance for the best flavor. Meatballs can be made well ahead of time, frozen, and just taken out to re-heat the day of your party. A lot of dishes are meant to be served at room temperature as well, and don't need to be piping hot out of the oven. So they are great for parties that may go on for a few hours and you want to have a variety of "munchies" available.

Crostini, cured meats, marinated vegetables...all perfect for a cicchetti spread!

Plate of crostini and marinated salads

Need some party invitations?

Go for an Italian food theme, of course!

A Sample Cicchetti Party Menu

Some ideas for planning your dishes for the party

Sarde in saor

Sarde in saor: This is a classic Venetian cicchetti dish (pictured to the left), perhaps one of the most famous of all time. Fresh sardines are fried in oil and then marinated for 1-2 days in vinegar with onions, raisins, and a mixture of spices. The "in saor" preparation can also be done with shrimp or smelts, for a lighter taste or if fresh sardines are unavailable.

Crostini and brushetta: Crostini is popular all throughout Italy, including of course Venetian cicchetti bars. Toasted or grilled bread slices can be topped with anything: cheese and meat, marinated vegetables, cooked shrimp, or any combination thereof. They are perfect for cocktail parties as they are meant to be picked up and eaten with your hands, so no plates or silverware required.

Frittata: The frittata is an Italian-style omelette, made with eggs, cheese, and whatever other tidbits you'd like to add. It's typically slowly cooked on the stove and then finished under the broiler to give it a browned top. Often enjoyed chilled or room temperature, it's easy to make ahead of time for your party, then slice into thin slivers or small squares for nibbling. You can add potatoes, meat, vegetables, even cooked spaghetti to a frittata.

Tramezzino sandwich bites: Delicate "tea sandwiches" called tramezzino are popular all over Italy in bars for light bites during the day or late afternoon with a cocktail. They can be filled with anything: egg salad, tomatoes and mozzarella, parma ham, tuna salad...simplicity is the key! Cut into small bites they can be perfect for a cicchetti party spread.

Meatballs, vegetable and/or rice fritters: Meatballs are perfect for cicchetti as they are already "bite sized" and familiar to everyone already. You can make a classic variety using ground beef, pork or other red meat, or try offering "meatless" meatballs made from eggplant, zucchini, nuts or squash. Fried rice balls or aracini are also hugely popular in Italy and a great way to use up some leftover rice. Just serve your meatballs with some tomato sauce on the side for dipping, and they are sure to be a success.


Sweet and sour marinated zucchini
Sweet and sour marinated zucchini
Arancini rice balls
Arancini rice balls

Marinated grilled vegetable salad: This can be as simple or as fancy as you like. For instance, thin-shaved fennel bulbs, lightly dressed in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper is a perfect choice. Otherwise, you can slice and grill a mixture of eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers and then marinate them overnight in olive oil, vinegar, fresh herbs and a little garlic. A refreshing salad can be quite welcome on a spread heavier with meats, cheeses and fried tidbits.

Italian cured meats and cheeses: A simple but always welcome addition to any cicchetti spread would be an assortment of flavorful cheeses and cured meat products like salami and prosciutto. Most supermarkets carry a nice variety these days, although a specialty Italian market may offer specialties you won't normally see elsewhere. Serve them with a little mostarda or honey on the side for a real Italian taste.

Calamari salad...another great cicchetti party dish!

Calamari salad...another great cicchetti party dish!

Need Some Cicchetti Recipes?

Here are some cookbooks I personally recommend

This wonderful, recent cookbook is absolutely perfect for cicchetti party recipes. It focuses primarily on the food of Venice and the Veneto and traditional cicchetti offerings of all kinds: baccala, sarde in saor, artichokes, and of course lots of meatballs and fritters. There are also chapters devoted to light bites from all around Italy, and a section on cocktails perfect for preparing for such a party.

If you wanted to get just one cookbook focused on the subject of cicchetti, this one is absolutely it! It's beautifully photographed and very educational as well.

Eggplant Fritters from the "Cicchetti" cookbook
Eggplant Fritters from the "Cicchetti" cookbook

MasterChef season 4 winner Luca Manfe has written a cookbook full of excellent Italian recipes, easy to prepare at home yet with the style and finesse you'd expect at a fine dining restaurant. While it covers everything from antipasti to dessert, there are a lot of creative ideas for cicchetti offerings here, including numerous types of brushetta, tramezzino, and vegetable sides and salads. His carefully-written instructions will make even the most challenging-looking dishes a breeze to cook yourself.

You can read my full review of this cookbook and see more photos of the dishes you can prepare.

Ricotta, honey and pine nut crostini from "My Italian Kitchen"
Ricotta, honey and pine nut crostini from "My Italian Kitchen"
Rosemary grissini from "Venetian Taste"
Rosemary grissini from "Venetian Taste"

"Venetian Taste" is a beautiful cookbook, spotlighting the food of Venice in all of its visual and taste appeal. You'll find recipes for classic dishes and lots of light bites like Cicchetti Polenta with Onions and Sausage, Cicchetti Olives, Sage Potato Chips, or Sweet-and-Sour Shallots. This is elegant, restaurant-quality fare which will elevate your party menu and be a true delight to your guests.

What to Drink?

Cocktails and other libations to serve at a Cicchetti party

Venetian SpritzOf course, any good party or gathering needs some properly suited drinks to accompany the food. The classic Venetian cocktail to enjoy with cicchetti is the Spritz: a combination of Italian bitters (typically Campari or Aperol), prosecco or white wine, sparkling water, and a slice of orange. It's crisp, refreshing and not too heavy...absolutely perfect for enjoying with finger foods and light bites.

Along with the Spritz, you can offer a variety of Italian wines; I recommend varietals popular in the Venetian region such as Soave, Valpolicella, or Refosco. Italian beers such as Peroni and Birra Moretti are great for those who are not wine-lovers, and for soft drinks consider Italian sparkling water and San Pellegrino's fruit-flavored sodas.

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Sanpellegrino Grapefruit Sparkling Fruit Beverage, 11.15 fl oz. Cans (6 Count)

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I hope this article gave you some ideas and inspiration for hosting a cicchetti party! What's your favorite Italian "small plate" to enjoy?

Updated: 10/27/2018, sockii
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Veronica on 03/07/2018

I am especially tempted by the ricotta, honey and pine nuts. Also the aubergine fritters.

sockii on 03/07/2018

Veronica - Yes, they can be a little difficult to find in Venice as a visitor. They don't tend to have much (if any!) signage; you kind of have to know what you are looking for (and of course, look for crowds of native Venetians hanging out in the streets with tasty treats in hand around a certain time of day. I did notice on my last trip that there did seem to be more places advertising cicchetti, perhaps as it has become more well-known and talked about on travel/food shows and articles.

And it really can be a fun and different idea for a party, with so many dishes easy to prepare in advance.

Veronica on 03/07/2018

Oh my word I had never heard of this at all. I don't think I even noticed Cicchetti bars in Venice.

Your recipes are classy and elegant and would be a delightful alternative to the usual drinks party fayre. Thank you.

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