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Starting the Meal Off Right: Italian Aperitivi

In Italian culture, food isn’t just a way of sustaining yourself. It’s about having an experience — and sharing that experience with friends and loved ones. Italians love all-encompassing meals; their structure consists of many different courses with small portions, all consisting of their own unique flavors, utilizing drinks and other methods to enhance flavors and enrich the dining experience as a whole.

One such type of drink is referred to as “aperitivo” (plural: aperitivi) — a category of beverage that’s consumed before the meal begins. The word derives from the Latin verb “aperire”, which means “to open”. This is exactly what aperitivi do to begin the flavorful journey of an Italian meal — they stimulate the appetite.

Guide to Italian Aperitivo (Drinks)

Prosecco

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling white wine that originated in the small town of Prosecco, Italy, from where the grape originates. It’s served chilled and is best consumed while young — typically within 3 years of it being bottled — since it grows stale. It carries a low alcohol content and is perfect for whetting the appetite. It can also be used as a champagne replacement and is the main ingredient in spritzes and Bellini cocktails.

Campari

Categorized as a bitters, Campari is an Italian alcoholic liqueur that is made from infusing herbs and fruit with water. It has a deep red coloration and is commonly served as a cocktail: Campari and soda water, Campari with citrus juice, or as a spritz (Campari + prosecco).

Aperol

Aperol is similar to Campari but it is made out of bitter orange, rhubarb, gentian, cinchona and other spices. Its origins lie in Padua, a city in northern Italy just west of Venice. Aperol has half the alcohol content of Campari, is less bitter, and is commonly served as a cocktail called Aperol Spritz.

Vermouth

Vermouth is a category of aromatic wine that originally comes from Turin, Italy. It was originally used as medicine during the 18th century, but quickly made its way into popular cocktails and has been a key aperitivo ever since. It’s main flavors come from botanicals — roots, spices, barks, flowers, seeds, and herbs. Today there are various types of vermouth, ranging in flavors and dryness. It’s typically a main ingredient in cocktails such as the martini, manhattan, negroni and Americano.

All of these drinks are sure to wet your whistle to help whet your appetite. The next time you’re looking to have the fully enriched Italian dining experience, aperitivi and all, reserve a table at La Buona Vita. Come experience authentic Italian cuisine in downtown La Grange.

The 4 Most Popular Vegetarian Italian Dishes

Sure, Italians love their meats — meaty lasagna and ravioli, prosciutto, steak, meatballs, chicken, various seafoods, etc. — it may sometimes feel like a carnivore’s paradise. But vegetarians aren’t at a loss when it comes to eating Italian dishes. In fact, many Italian dishes can go meatless and still be delicious. And there are even more options that are made strictly vegetarian.

Caprese Salad

Start your meal off the right way with delicious caprese salad — juicy roma tomatoes, freshly sliced mozzarella cheese, basil, cucumbers, kalamata olives, a pinch of salt and a tart balsamic vinaigrette. Your mouth is probably watering just thinking about it, and rightfully so. It’s one of the most favored appetizers at any Italian restaurant. It’s healthy, delicious and completely meatless.

Eggplant Parmigiana

A lot of people love chicken parmigiana and veal parmigiana. Well, make a variant of that by replacing the meat with eggplant for a delectable entree enjoyed by vegetarians and meat eaters alike. It’s prepared by slicing an eggplant and frying it in a pan with some oil, herbs and spices. It’s then layered with tomato sauce and either mozzarella or parmesan cheese and baked in an oven. It’s then served over pasta. This incredible entree is a favorite in Italian-American cuisine and is a more-than-worthy alternative to the meat variations.

Vegetarian Italian Dishes

Gnocchi

These small yet dense potato dumplings can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. The word gnocchi derives from the Italian “nocca”, meaning “knuckle” — referring to the way they look. The dumplings are most commonly made from flour, egg, cheese, potato and breadcrumbs, combined with any number of spices and herbs depending on the chef’s preferences. It can be served with any number of sauces, though we like to top it with tomato basil sauce. Gnocchi is commonly served as an appetizer in Italy, although it also makes a great vegetarian entree!

Fettuccini Alfredo

This pasta dish is exactly what it sounds like — fettuccini noodles topped with creamy alfredo sauce. We previously covered fettuccini noodles in a post about popular pasta types, but they’re essentially long and flat noodles. The rich alfredo sauce is prepared by tossing the noodles with butter and parmesan cheese. As the heat melts the cheese, it mixes with the butter to coat the long, thin noodles. It’s then topped with herbs and spices — and that’s it! It’s one of the simplest, most traditional pasta variations that’s been around for centuries. If you’re vehemently against vegetarianism, you can add slices of grilled chicken to satisfy your carnivorous needs.

These aren’t the only vegetarian dishes in the Italian food repertoire, but they’re some favorites. By now you’re probably starving just thinking of these scrumptious meals — luckily, La Buona Vita makes and serves all of these dishes fresh, so come on down and bring the family. We’re itching to fulfill all your vegetarian needs and beyond!  

Cannoli, Tiramisu, Biscotti – Oh My! Italian Desserts in La Grange, IL

Are you hosting a meal or cooking for a date and looking to impress? End your dinner with any of these essential Italian desserts to add a sweet grand finale to your meal!

Cannoli

Originating from Sicily, these scrumptious, tubular desserts are a classic in the Italian food repertoire. They’re made of lightly fried, crispy pastry dough, used as a shell that’s rolled around a custard filling and topped with nuts, chocolate shavings, dustings powdered sugar, or all of the above! They’re served chilled so the custard retains its shape and are best eaten with coffee or an Italian dessert wine.

Italian Dessert in La Grange IL

If you’re looking for a delicious dessert that’s relatively easy to prepare, look no further. You’ll have guests saying, “leave the entree, take the cannoli.”

Tiramisu

Literally translating to “pick me up” or “cheer me up”, this elegant staple Italian dessert is coffee-flavored, light and delicious. It’s a type of cake that’s composed of layered custard and ladyfinger biscuits that have been dipped in a strong coffee or espresso and topped with cocoa powder.

Tiramisu Italian Coffee Cake

It’s simple to make, but be sure to make it early in the day before you make dinner — tiramisu needs to chill in the refrigerator for around 6 hours before serving. It makes for a delectable sweetness after a hearty meal, bringing a satisfying close to your dinner.

Biscotti

Biscotti - Italian Baked GoodBiscotti are hard, sweet and dry almond-studded biscuits that are traditionally served with Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, into which the biscotti are dipped. However in places outside of Italy, particularly in the US, they are often served with coffee.

Fun fact: “biscotti” is actually the plural form of “biscotto”, which originates from the Latin term “biscoctus”, meaning “twice-cooked”. This is why biscotti are so hard and dry, making them perfect for dipping; they are, quite literally, baked twice. If you’re not looking for a filling dessert, biscotti are perfect — they’re light and delicious, giving a taste of post-meal sweetness to conclude a fine dining experience.

Gelato

Before you continue: it’s not the same as ice cream, even though it’s very similar.

There. Now, we may proceed. Gelato is creamier, smoother and far denser than typical American ice cream. It doesn’t contain as much fat, egg yolks are not used and it’s served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. It’s created in a similar way to ice cream, though it’s churned much slower to allow more air to escape, giving it the thick and dense quality.

On the hunt for additional Italian dessert ideas? Check out our dessert menu at La Buona Vita! it’ll make you want to stop in and try one today!

Popular Types of Italian Pasta and How They’re Served

Rigatoni, fettuccine, linguine, oh my! Pasta is an Italian staple food and the many different types can vary based on region. Some noodles are ideal for some sauces but not with others. Reading through a pasta menu can be confusing, and if you’re unfamiliar with Italian cuisine, you may not know what to expect when you place your order. Here we’ll highlight some of the most popular noodles so you know what you’re ordering and what to buy while shopping!

 

How to Cook Long Noodles

What to do with Long Noodles

 

  • Spaghetti – Arguably the most well known of all the pastas, spaghetti is a thin, long noodle that is best prepared with tomato-based sauces. Think spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Fettuccini – This noodle is long, but wide and flat. It’s most commonly served with hearty, thick cream sauces such as alfredo. However, it’s fairly versatile and can also pairs well with a garlic and oil sauce.
  • Linguine – Lying somewhere between fettuccine and spaghetti, linguine is long and wide. It’s not round and it’s not flat — it’s more of an oval shape in section. It’s often served with seafood and light oil-based sauces rather than hearty, thick cheese and tomato sauces.
  • Angel Hair – Angel hair pasta is a very thin, long noodle — about half the width of spaghetti. It’s best used with light and oil-based sauces, best served with seafood and sauteed vegetables.

 

Cooking with Shaped Noodles

How To Eat Shaped Noodles

  • Rigatoni – This pasta is tube-shaped with ridges along the side, sometimes forming a spiral pattern so they can better soak up and retain thick sauce such as pesto or thick cream sauces.
  • Lasagna – Lasagna noodles are used to create one of the most popular italian dishes ever to be beloved by a cartoon cat. The noodles are long and flat, usually about 4 inches thick. Lasagna noodles are layered between spreads of hearty meat (or vegetarian) sauce and ricotta.
  • Penne – Penne pasta is one of the most versatile noodles in the Italian inventory. It’s a tubular pasta, similar to rigatoni but smaller. But unlike rigatoni, it does not have ridges to retain thick sauces. It can be used in soups and with pasta sauces of virtually any kind.

 

How to Cook With Dumpling Shaped Pasta

What To Do with Dumpling Noodles

  • Ravioli – Another extremely popular Italian dish, ravioli can be either square or circular-shaped. They act like small pockets stuffed with meat and cheese, sealed and topped with any sauce.
  • Gnocchi – These hearty noodles are potato-based, small dumplings about half the size of your thumb. They can be served with any type of sauce.
  • Tortellini – Round and hearty, these noodles are usually stuffed with cheese and are served with any number of creamy, cheesy or tomato sauces. They can also be served cold with oily sauces or even in pasta salads.

 

These are just some of the more popular noodles within the realm of Italian cuisine. Though there are many more to explore, you’ll find all of these on Italian restaurant menus and you’ll know what to expect. And if you don’t feel like cooking tonight, stop on by and let the experts do it for you!

A Guide to Common Italian Food Pronunciation

How many times have you gone to a restaurant and had NO idea how to pronounce the menu items, feeling like a fool? You make an attempt, but the wait staff doesn’t understand, then you get confused and it’s an all-around embarrassing situation. It happens to us all at least once, but we’re here to help you avoid social faux pas with our handy-dandy guide to common italian food pronunciation. You’ll never have to feel embarrassed in front of a date again!

  • Bruschetta (broo-SKEH-tah)
  • Gnocci (nyaw-key)
  • Pasta e Fagioli (pah-stah ay fah-jolie)
  • Prosciutto (pro-SHOOT-oh)
  • Frutti di Mare (froo-tee dee mah-ray)
  • Insalata Caprese (in-sal-atah kuh-PREY-zay)
  • Parmigiana (par-MIDGE-ah-nah)
  • Minestrone (mee-neh-STRAW-nee)

These are some of the most commonly mispronounced Italian dishes. But if you’re ever ordering and still don’t know how to say what you want, just ask! Our knowledgeable wait staff will help you out and will know what you mean — they’re used to it. We’re here to help you have an enjoyable, comfortable dining experience!

Tips on Hosting a Successful Dinner Party

Have you ever been to a successful dinner party and wondered how the host is so relaxed? If you’ve ever tried hosting before, you know it can be very stressful and, depending on the crowd, you’ll feel some pressure to be successful. A lot can go wrong, but we’re here to quell any fears you may have. With these handy dandy tips, your friends will be the ones walking out wondering how you were so relaxed.

Plan, plan, plan

Any event’s success, big or small, hinges on planning. Make a timeline of when guests should arrive, when to serve the meal, dessert, and any post-party games you might have in mind. Other things to know:

  • Figure out the atmosphere you’d like. Formal or informal? Establish the guest list.
  • What will you serve? It’s normally safer to cook something you’re familiar with. Now’s not the time to go on culinary adventures into uncharted territory. Unless you’re a master chef, no one makes a dish perfectly the first time and you’re not looking to impress your guests with your lack of forethought.
  • On the day of, lay out all ingredients you need so cooking is speedy and you’ll know if you need a last-minute trip to the store.
  • Do all prep cooking and wash utensils beforehand to avoid tons of clean up later.
  • Set up a separate table with appetizers and wine/cocktails away from the kitchen so there’s no foot traffic while you’re trying to cook.
  • Pre-make dessert the day before (if possible) and refrigerate it so you don’t have to spend time in the kitchen as people converse and digest your incredible main course.
  • If you want to go the extra mile, have safe transportation readily available in the area — especially if the wine/cocktails are flowing.

Menu

Ah, the “dinner” part of the dinner party. Figure out what you’ll be serving and get the ingredients a day or two before the party. Then you’ll have to time everything out on the day of. Pre-prepare as much as possible (remember the timeline you should have already created!) A few other things to note:

successful dinner party

  • Keep in mind any dietary restrictions your guests may have, and offer options for them.
  • Start with appetizers, hors d’oeuvres and a lighter wine. This gives you a chance to start cooking the main course while your guests enjoy themselves for a half hour or so.
  • Be sure to pair a good wine with whatever entree you choose. You can see our quick and easy wine and food pairing guide for more on this.
  • If more than 5 or 6 people are attending, you can have them bring items or even appetizers so you can focus your attention on the main course.

Atmosphere

You’ve planned the entire evening to a T and have selected your specialty as the main meal. Great! Now what about the rest of the house? Create the ideal atmosphere for your guests — welcoming and cozy.

  • Make an appropriate playlist, but don’t blast it (unless it turns into a dance party later on). You don’t want to overpower the conversation.
  • Clean up your house. No good dinner party has unfolded laundry all over the couch. Make the space tidy and pleasant.
  • Empty your trash and make sure your dishwasher and sink are ready to rock. As soon as the party is over, get the pesky dishes out of the way and wash them before bed. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Light candles or turn on the fireplace to set a relaxed mood, if appropriate.
  • Don’t spend the entire evening in the dining room. After dinner, move dessert and coffee/drinks into the living room where people can relax on a comfy couch, socialize and play games.

Remember that the ultimate goal of your party is to relax and have fun. And the same goes for you! There’s no reason you should be stressed all night — you should enjoy yourself as well, and it’ll be easier if you plan everything ahead of time. If this all really sounds like too much and is totally out of your wheelhouse, you can always have your party catered by La Buona Vita. We’ll guarantee a delicious meal without cooking and prep on your end.

A Beginner’s Guide to Food and Wine Pairings to Impress Your Guests

How to Pair Your Food and Wine

Appetizers? Check. Entree? Check. Wine? Uhhh…

You’re finally getting around to hosting that dinner party you’ve been promising to your friends. Sure, you can cook (or call a caterer), but you have no idea what wine to serve with the meal. You want to deliver the best possible experience for your guests and know that certain wines with certain foods will mutually enhance flavors, but how do you know which ones? Don’t fret — we’re here to help. This trusty beginner’s wine/food pairing guide is guaranteed to make your guests think you’re secretly a sommelier.

Popular Red Wines

Chianti – This bold, well-rounded and flavorful wine is often served with red, tomato-based sauces. However, it also pairs well with creamy and oil-based sauces, as well as oily seafood dishes.

Zinfandel – Spicy and deep with berry flavors, this wine pairs perfectly with thick, tomato-based red sauces. But steer clear of creamy or oily sauces!

 

Food with Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon – This red wine is a world favorite because of its versatility with different foods. It will enhance hearty and rich meals — cuts of red meat (steaks, ribs, brisket), tomato-based red sauces, duck, and more.

Pinot Noir – Another great, versatile wine because it’s a light red. It goes well with either tomato-based, creamy, or oil-based sauces.

White Wines

Pinot Grigio – Best served with lighter seafood or creamy and oil sauces. Lemon chicken piccata, halibut and smoked salmon are all fantastic with a good pinot grigio. It can also go well with light red sauces.

Chardonnay – This is arguably one of the most favorite wines to pair with food because it has so many sub-varieties under the “chardonnay” umbrella. It works very well with a variety of dishes — mainly creamy or oily ones. Shellfish, grilled fish, vegetable pasta or risotto, creamy soups and sauces are some of the best pairings. While tomato sauces are better paired with other wines, you could get away with using a chardonnay with a very light red sauce.

Wine & Food Pairing

Sauvignon Blanc – This very light white wine is perfect with most cheeses, salads, and light seafood and shellfish. Most lighter risotto dishes, artichokes, asparagus, and green veggies will be enhanced by a sauvignon blanc’s flavor.

Wine and food pairings can get very specific depending on a wine’s region, the subsets of each wine type, etc. We’ve barely scratched the surface here, but this beginner’s guide is sure to set you on the right path toward entertaining your guests.

The Health Benefits of an Italian Diet

Italian food isn’t one of America’s favorite foreign cuisines just because it’s delicious — it’s also nutritious. Its dishes are packed with a variety of nutrients from fresh vegetables, colorful fruits, lean meats, oily fish and fiber-rich grains. A Mediterranean diet promotes weight loss, heart health and longevity.

There are a few key, staple ingredients in Italian cuisine that have substantial health benefits.

Health Benefits of Italian Foods

Garlic Health Benefits

Garlic delivers nutrients such as Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Manganese, sulfides and fiber plus many more with very low calorie count. It also has antibiotic properties and is a key player in heart health, since it lowers cholesterol.

Its delicious flavor is heavily relied upon in Italian cuisine and it can be found in most Mediterranean dishes in some form.

Fish/Seafood

Traditional Italian meals deliver protein largely through fish and seafood. Fish such as tuna or salmon are rich with omega-3-fatty acids, which are linked with reducing high blood pressure, preventing heart disease and stroke.

Meanwhile, other seafood such as shrimp and mussels provide essential B12 vitamins, are high in protein, and are relatively low in calorie and fat content.  

Tomatoes

Whether in sauce, salad, on bruschetta or any number of dishes, tomatoes are one of the major ingredients in the entirety of Italian cuisine. They are a great source of vitamins A, C, K, potassium, the list goes on and on. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, a type of antioxidant that protects cells from being damaged, hence much research around it in preventing cancer.

Olive Oil

Replace butter with extra virgin olive oil while cooking to lower bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol. Instead of pouring heaps of ranch dressing onto your salad, try a few spritzes of olive oil with some cracked pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Olive oil has a ton of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which are a healthy alternative to trans fats you’ll find in other, processed foods.

Red Wine

Health Benefits of Red Wine

What would your Italian meal be without a glass of red wine? Not only does it taste great, but it’s also heart healthy — in moderation, of course. Too much alcohol has very negative effects on the body, but a glass of red wine with dinner is filled with antioxidants and resveratrol, which help prevent damage to blood vessels.

Eating Italian cuisine has numerous physical health benefits, but it also positively affects mental health. In traditional Italian dinner culture, eating is a community event that promotes bringing families together to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. So book a table and bring your loved ones to La Buona Vita to enjoy a heart-healthy and social meal.

How to Plan and Throw the Perfect Baby Shower

Being selected to host the baby shower for a mother-to-be is a great honor–but with that honor comes the imposing task of planning and hosting a baby shower that is fun and festive while appropriately celebrating the impending birth. Though party planning for a baby shower can seem daunting, taking a step-by-step approach can help cut down on the stress and ensure that your celebration is a smashing success.

Pick a date

The absolutely first step in planning a baby shower is choosing the date and time. Consult with the mother-to-be to find out what works best for her (and the father-to-be, if the party is to be co-ed). Baby showers are typically held around the seventh month of pregnancy, so target a date near that time.

Narrow down the guest list and budget

Working with the mother-to-be, figure out who should be invited–and be sure you get all the necessary addresses, too! Once you know how many people you’ll be hosting, set your budget so that you can move on to planning the venue, menu and other baby shower details.

Select a venue

Narrowing down the right party location among all the places to host a baby shower available to you can be challenging. A smaller guest list works well with a baby shower held at home, whether yours or that of another close friend or family member of the mother-to-be. For a larger guest lists or to ensure a fancier affair, choosing a nearby restaurant that hosts special events can create a memorable baby shower setting.

Send out invitations

Once the date, guest list and venue are set, it’s time to send out invitations! Aim to have the invitations in your guests’ hands by six weeks prior to the party. While e-mail invitations are perfectly acceptable, paper invites can add a special touch for a special day.

Plan the menu and party decorations

As with any other party, one of the most important parts of planning a baby shower is choosing the menu. The easiest way to ensure the best food for your guests if you’re hosting the shower at home is choosing an event catering service that can bring delicious and festive food to you with no work on your part. Having trouble selecting a theme for the decor? Seek inspiration from the year’s hottest baby shower trends, including tropical-inspired decor, whimsical boho floral settings and sophisticated monochromatic decorations.

Organize a party schedule and choose favors

Having a rough agenda for your baby shower ensures that everyone has fun while avoiding any unnecessary lulls. Plan for a buffer after the party is scheduled to start to allow for latecomers, then move right into games (if planned), food and gift opening. Favors are a great way to thank everyone for attending. Edible treats are always a hit, and trendy ideas for yummy favors include mini fruit pies and tubes of jelly beans in the party’s theme colors.

Still looking for the perfect place to host a baby shower? La Buona Vita, the premier northern Italian restaurant in La Grange, specializes in hosting special occasion dinners designed to provide your guests with an unforgettable time. Our private dining experience offers seating for up to 80 with delectable dishes from our expansive banquet menu and complete access to our full bar. Throwing a baby shower at home? La Buona Vita caters! Make your party planning easier and let us bring a memorable meal to you that uses the same superb ingredients, homemade pasta and authentic northern Italian recipes that can be found in our restaurant.

Out & About in La Grange – Summertime Events

If you’re not familiar with the La Grange area, you’re missing a gem. People say that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and that tradition has blossomed in this gorgeous western suburb. There are quaint shops, plenty of activities for every lifestyle, and the restaurants in La Grange offer an eclectic mix for every taste and budget.

The summer months in La Grange are jam packed with fests, carnivals, artistic endeavors, and events that have a little something for anyone. Local residents get the chance to socialize and people come from all over the state to participate in some of the events hosted here. Whether you’re looking for great entertainment, live music, family centered fun, or to treat yourself to sampling some of the amazing food at local La Grange restaurants, there’s a lot you’ll love that’s going on in the area this summer.

Great La Grange Summer Events You Won’t Want to Miss

There’s always something going on in La Grange. The downtown area is the ideal place to walk because there are a bevy of eclectic shops and restaurants all throughout the area. Any afternoon can become an adventure here. If you’re looking for planned events, here are some things to add to your summer calendar.

  • Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market in La Grange runs from the beginning of May through the end of October every year. This outdoor market houses the best of fresh produce and specialty items from some outstanding vendors. It’s open every Thursday from 7 am until 1 pm throughout the season and they even have fun activities for the kids, so there’s something for everyone in your family. This isn’t just the traditional fruit market (and the fruit is top quality). You’ll find crafters, artists, every type of food, and more all season long.
  • Endless Summerfest. Endless Summerfest features bands, rides, and amazing cuisine. Local residents look forward to this fest every year and there are plenty of talented musicians to liven up the crowd. Residents from all over Illinois come in to experience Summerfest – it takes place every year at the beginning of August.
  • West End Arts Festival. The West End Arts Festival takes place in September and attracts artists from all over the country. It’s a wonderful chance for residents and art lovers to experience live music, gorgeous visual arts, and performances in a beautiful setting.

Looking for Restaurants in La Grange?

If you’re looking for a restaurant in La Grange to cap off a fun afternoon at one of the many events this summer, stop in and visit La Buona Vita. With a Northern Italian cuisine and a comfortable atmosphere, you’ll find the perfect place to relax and enjoy the summer with friends.