The Best Family-Style Italian Recipes and Dinner Ideas

Let Milan’s legendary baker, Rocco Princi, inspire your next big gathering

In Italy, family dinners aren't reserved for holidays, birthdays or the odd milestone. Large gatherings—whether they involve your closest kin or your "family" of friends—are the norm. Conversation flows as generously as the wine, and evenings are spent savoring fresh flavors that comprise the typical Italian menu.

Few people truly understand the sense of community provided by sharing a table and meal together as much as Milan's master of baking, Rocco Princi. He's the talented mastermind behind Princi, a bakery and café steeped in Italian tradition that first opened in Calabria, Italy, in 1980 and is now expanding into Seattle, Chicago and New York. Rocco grew up in Fiumara, a town in the south of Italy where neighbors were like family—they would gather to bake at the town's only bakery since no one had an oven in their own home. "The town was a community where everything was shared, not only the oven," Rocco says. Townspeople shared recipes, produce from their own gardens and, of course, meals.

To sit at a table at Princi is to feel like you're at home—an Italian home, that is. Rocco evokes that sense of place with a menu and setting that engages the senses. Like in Fiumara, you can smell the aromas of fresh bread baking in wood-fired ovens, hear the laughter of friends gathering for aperitivo and taste authentic Italian ingredients like bufala mozzarella made in Castenedolo in the province of Pavia. Can't make it to Princi just yet? Translate the experience to your table with these TT-approved family style recipes.

Caprese Salad

Translated to "the salad of Capri," Italy's simplest salad is anything but basic. Take advantage of natural produce variations by incorporating both large and small heirloom tomatoes—both in the salad itself and in the juicy tomato vinaigrette.

Rocco's Reco: At Princi, the swap of arugula in place of basil lends a welcome peppery note that adds depth to the salad. The greens also help stretch out quality ingredients, a helpful trick when serving large groups.

Sausage and Ricotta Lasagna

This classic layered pasta dish is also one of the easiest ways to feed a group. To ensure the cleanest slices, be sure to let your lasagna rest a bit before you cut into it. Or, make the lasagna the night before, let cool completely, cut into squares, then reheat before serving.

Rocco's Reco: Using fresh pasta will upgrade this familiar dish and presents an opportunity to let family help out in the kitchen. That experience can prove to be highly influential to a young person.

Risotto Parmigiano Reggiano

Once you get the basics down, risotto is a dish that can be adapted in any number of ways. This version is flavored by infusing chicken stock with herbs and Parmesan rinds.   

Rocco's Reco: For a special Milanese adaptation, add saffron and prosciutto with creamy fontina cheese and béchamel.

Breakfast Focaccia

If you can't get your group together for dinner, brunch might be an easier bet. This focaccia puts together an entire breakfast in one sheet pan loaded with bacon, sausage and eggs, so the only side necessary is perhaps a light salad.

Rocco's Reco: For a lighter yet still brunch-friendly option, bake the focaccia, then top it with smoked salmon, fresh arugula and a drizzle of olive oil.

Classic Tiramisu

This dessert is a not-too-sweet way to end a meal, yet always feels like a treat. Even better? You don't have to turn on the oven, which makes it ideal when temperatures climb in the summer.

Rocco's Reco: In this simple dessert, the quality of ingredients is crucial. This is especially true for mascarpone, a typical cheese of Milan that's the building block of this recipe. Princi uses mascarpone from the Lombardy region of Italy for its smooth texture and somewhat sweet flavor.