I hate games. I don't like losing, especially not at a party. But I know most other people don't share my views. So for a recent soiree, I decided to organize an evening of games around an Italian theme. The contests involved different kinds of challengestrivia, memory or luckso everyone had a shot at a prize. For those who didn't win, Grace Parisi's Italian hors d'oeuvres and the wine (from great-value producers like Sicily's Planeta) offered plenty of consolation.
THE PARTY LINE
Why an Italian-themed party? Because it guarantees that the food, wine and prizes will appeal to everyoneeven my mother.
To jump-start conversation, ask each guest to fill in a name tag: "If I were an Italian food I would be____." The results can be very funny: At my party, my mother wrote in "puttanesca," which, unfortunately, means "harlot style" (Avery Laser Name Badge Labels, 400 for $55 at Staples; 800-3STAPLE).
The Game Plan
When guests arrive, give each a glassine envelope containing the evening's schedule of games. Include tickets for each contest; collect the stubs for a prize drawing later that night (100 envelopes, $9 at Adorama Camera, 800-223-2500; six rolls of double tickets, $24 at Muncie Novelty, 800-428-8640).
Using folded note cards, make pocket labels for the servers describing each dish. One label explains the affogato: little shooters of vanilla-bean gelato in warm espresso topped with whipped lemon cream.
After going to three Indian-themed parties in a row, I decided I would give mine a slightly different twist: Everyone would play updated children's games.
Game of Chance
For a game that anyone can win, collect about 100 corks, color five with red Magic Marker and mix them all together in a big basket. Then ask guests to close their eyes and reach in. Those who pull out a red cork walk away with a prize: a bottle of Italian wine.
Hand out a questionnaire that tests your guests' knowledge of Italian food and wine. Ask multiple-choice questions like: What is the primary grape of Chianti? (a) Sangiovese; (b) Cabernet; (c) Merlot; (d) Amarone. (The answer is a.) The winner takes home the grand prize: an Italian cookbook.
Remember the game Concentration? Here's an updated version: Take a cutlery box and fill the specific compartments with differently shaped pasta. Give the player a few seconds to memorize the specific arrangement, then hide the box and bring out an empty one. Now it's time to re-create the scheme! Every champ gets a box of artisanal pasta and a jar of organic tomato sauce (flatware organizers, $29 at Hold Everything; 800-421-2264).
For an adult version of pin the tail on the donkey, hang a map of Italy on the wall (I enlarged one to 29 by 36 inches at a photocopy shop, then mounted it on a piece of foam core). Make extra copies of Italy's "heel." Blindfold guests, spin them around and see if they can stick the heel on the right part of Italy's "boot."
EASY HORS D'OEUVRES
These recipes, from F&W's Grace Parisi, were inspired by the cold involtini (Italian stuffed rolls) at Casa Bleve in Rome. I wanted to serve a tart white wine that would be refreshing and work well with their spicy, tangy flavors. I liked the 2001 Bertani Due Uve and the 2002 Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino.