If there’s one thing I love about summer, it’s hosting. Gathering friends and family is the essence of the sunnier season for me. In winter, I have a habit of hunkering down, but summer is for socialising. Living in London, I often yearn for the components of overseas destinations: Consistently good weather, local cuisines and, of course, varied cultures are always a pleasure. Despite being a relatively avid traveller, there is one place that has remained close to my heart: Italy. Loving the Italian lifestyle is not unique to me—countless internationals want to inhabit the Italian lust for life, flair for flamboyant fashion and delightful Mediterranean dishes. I find myself particularly looking to the Italian way of life when I’m hosting. Whether I’m incorporating the Amalfi colour palette (think zesty-lemon yellows set against the bold turquoise of the sea) into my tablescape or cooking regional food, I always try to bring an element of “la dolce vita” into my home. And one way to do this is with Malfy Gin.
Inspired by the lifestyle, colours and flavours of the Amalfi Coast, Malfy Gin draws on quintessential elements of Italian culture, from the design of its bottles to the botanical flavours of its drinks. Go to any reputable restaurant or hang-out filled with London’s most stylish, and no doubt you’ll find Malfy’s premium gin behind the bar.
Distilled with juniper and an array of Mediterranean fruits, Malfy's Gin comes in four varieties: Malfy Originale (dry gin), Con Limone (lemon), Con Rosa (pink grapefruit) and Con Arancia (blood orange), which cover the basics of any popular gin cocktail. Flavour aside, the vibrant bottles truly capture the colour and essence of the Mediterranean Coast, making Malfy a welcome addition to any table aesthetic. So it goes without saying that when it came time to plan my Italian-inspired al fresco dinner party, Malfy was a no-brainer.
For my Italian feast, I invited two friends who also have a deep love for the country. Who What Wear contributor Lily Russo-Bah is half Italian, or as she told me with recent DNA heritage results in mind, “more Italian than English as my mother is so mixed.” Lily’s work as a fashion stylist and editor has been massively influenced by her roots, and she has many anecdotes of her experiences in the country. (We’ll get to those—stay tuned). My other guest was Kirthanaa Naidu, who you may already know from Instagram, where she posts a lot of her work as a creative director and stylist. (If you don’t follow her, I implore you to do so immediately.) She also has a deep passion for Italian cuisine. “It’s undoubtedly one of my all-time favourites to cook and indulge in! It’s my go-to when hosting friends, as it’s always a crowd-pleaser,” she said. I mean, really, who doesn’t love Italian food?
To celebrate our shared love of hosting, especially with Italian food and drink, I organised a long lunch to get us all together to swap tips, tricks and stories on the very best of Italy, from its fashion to its food to, of course, its gin. By using a range of Malfy’s gins, I was able to create three unique drinks: an aperitivo upon arrival, a cocktail to pair with our meal and a digestivo later in the evening. With the help of Kirthanaa’s culinary expertise, I paired each drink with food and snacks that complemented its flavour. So if you want to bring a touch of Italy to your home when hosting this summer, here are our insider tips from the food and fashion industry’s experts.
It was a warm spring day, so I wanted to welcome my guests with something refreshing and fairly light on arrival. A gin and tonic is a great aperitivo because it’s so quick to make. When your guests first arrive, you’re excited to see each other and full of chat, so the last thing you want to do is to be stuck in the kitchen or lingering around the bar agonising over a drink recipe when everyone else is gossiping on the sofa. Whilst a G&T is a classic cocktail in the UK, I wanted to give ours an Italian twist. First of all, I chose one of my favourite short glasses to serve them in—I love these for this drink specifically because the pink hue of the gin and grapefruit contrasts the green-turquoise detail of the glass, which is also reflected in my kitchen furniture (pink sofa, green cushions). It might be a minor detail, but the coordination pulls everything together, and my guests always want to take a photo!
For the recipe, you want to have 3 parts tonic (I only use Mediterranean Fever Tree) for every 1 part gin (50ml of gin to 100ml of tonic). I opted for Gin Rosa, and immediately Kirthanaa, the flavour connoisseur, noted that “the combination of the light and crisp gin, the tangy grapefruit, and the aromatic rosemary was the ideal drink to set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. It was fresh and light.”
Top tip: If you prefer a dry G&T, swap out the Malfy Con Rosa for Malfy Originale and the grapefruit wheel for a lemon.
The emphasis for this meal was on sharing plates that incorporate only the freshest seasonal ingredients. With the help of Kirthanaa, I created a classic Italian feast that comprised of focaccia accompanied by anchovies and lemon, a selection of Italian cold cuts, burrata cheese paired with blood orange and purple basil, and sardines complemented by lemon zest and olive oil. I also made a radicchio salad, a fennel and olive salad, and asparagus, spring peas and watercress served with tonnato sauce. These are all light and colourful, so they not only look great placed together but are also easy to pick at as the day goes on. According to Kirthanaa, this feast style of food allows you to save time on preparation: “What I adore about Italian cuisine is that I can create large platters of food that are not only impressive but also easy to prepare ahead of hosting. This menu is just the thing for a group lunch that won’t weigh you down!” As much as I love hosting, I’m sure I’m not alone in finding myself running around in the days leading up to the occasion.
Whilst the three of us lead busy lives and want to save time where we can, Lily noted that older generations in Italy enjoy the process and time taken to prepare a meal for their family or friends. “My grandmother’s generation really took great care and time over what they were preparing,” she explained. “I always remember reading a book at school called Like Water For Chocolate about how when you cook with love, something magical happens—and it has always made me think of Italians, and in particular, my family.” Our relationship with this type of food is intrinsically linked to our memories. Our taste is powerful and nostalgic, so when we cook for our loved ones, we are automatically cooking with love. This is a sentiment that will stay with me. Thanks for the pertinent reminder, Lily!
Top tip: It will come as no surprise that the best Italian dishes are made with authentic Italian ingredients. If you’re not heading there anytime soon (Lily confessed that she always brings an extra suitcase to Italy for Mulino Bianco biscuits and cakes and a local Puglian cheese called Cacioricotta), then head to your nearest Italian deli.
As I served the main course, Kirthanaa made Malfy La Dolce Vita Spritz, which was a perfect pairing to complement the meal. “The hint of juniper and blood orange combined with the Italian orange in the gin was refreshing and added a burst of flavour,” she said. The spritz was made using Malfy Con Arancia (35ml), Prosecco (50ml) and San Pellegrino Limonata (50 ml). She stirred it repeatedly to mix the different elements (but you must do so gently so the Prosecco doesn’t fizz everywhere), and then she garnished the glass with blackberry, pink grapefruit and thyme, which elevate the herbaceous and fresh flavours of the cocktail. People often look to wine for a main meal, but I think a Prosecco and gin cocktail is a welcome alternative. It’s less heavy, and a little fizz always feels celebratory. But what does “la dolce vita” actually mean? For Lily, it’s “all about enjoying life, whether that is with your family, friends, enjoying the weather, food, drinking, the architecture, cars, the beach, or the mountains. There really is beauty in everything in Italy, and recognising and appreciating this is the essence of ‘la dolce vita!’”
Top tip: I love to freeze my blackberries before making the spritz so the drink stays extra cool.
It’s no secret that Italians love design. Their attention to detail, love of colour and appreciation for creativity is seen in so many facets from fashion to food to architecture. As a fashion editor hugely inspired by her English-Italian heritage, Lily knows too well that Italians know how to dress. “No outfit is accidental. Everything is carefully thought out, and accessorising is essential. Italians love colour, and that has definitely come through my parents’ style and rubbed off onto me,” she said while wearing a Kitri dress printed with plates filled with lemons, sardines and olives, which couldn’t have been more on theme. “Even at the beach, my mother would always have a different bikini with a matching kaftan, earrings, hair clip, sandals—you name it. My dad, on the other hand, used to only wear embroidered tunics over flares with jewellery. Now his style is more classic, but his Italian heritage runs deep. His wardrobe is a riot of colour from bright striped shirts to pastel cashmere sweaters, with a pair of trousers to match every possible colourway.” This celebration of colour is intrinsic to Italian styling and something Kirthanaa and I love to indulge in when decorating our tables. The table linens, glassware, flatware, flowers and every other aspect should be curated to complement the food and drinks being served. You can always draw “inspiration for colour palettes from the season and the available flowers during that time of year,” noted Kirthanaa. For our meal, I looked at the quintessential Amalfi turquoise for the table linen and built a palette theme around that.
Top tip: If you want to take your colour matching up a notch, opt for flowers that also blend in. Icelandic poppies in this rich orange and pink palette complement the grapefruit and rose tones of the gin, as well as my embroidered coasters.
Later in the evening, as the sun began to set, I took my guests inside and into our snug. The darker interiors are atmospheric and moody, and I love to serve dessert and a digestivo there. Negroni with Malfy Originale is my all-time favourite cocktail. It’s the perfect blend of bitter and sweet. People always say that you have to try a Negroni a few times before you know if you like it. Sometimes, your first sip can take your breath away a little, but after a few tries over different occasions, you’re a Negroni lover. To create this, you want a tumbler and lots of ice. You mix 35ml of gin with 25ml of an Italian bitter aperitif and 25ml of sweet vermouth. Stir continuously until thoroughly mixed, and add a half slice of orange. For such a classically Italian cocktail, I wanted a classic Italian dessert, so of course, I made tiramisu. I love how ’80s tiramisu is, and the rich and creamy texture is a perfect sweet treat at the end of a meal. By this point, my guests were serving themselves dessert as I made the drinks. And according to Kirthanaa, “It was the ideal way to end the night on a high note!”
Top tip: The best glassware can be found on holidays in Italy. Whilst I love antique linens and crystal glasses found in flea markets, Kirthanaa loves to collect Murano glass for its unique colour patterns.