A true Italian meal is eaten in stages or courses, and enjoyed slowly with family and friends! Your kitchen is ready and stocked with all the necessary ingredients – if not, check out our Ingredients list. You’ve also mastered the basics of building your base flavor (check out our Back to Basics article if you need a refresher). Now you’re ready to dive into the different stages that make an Italian meal!
An Italian meal can be as simple as a spread of bread, cheese, cold cuts, and fresh fruit, but a well-planned Italian meal consists of multiple courses, served individually, which complement each other.
Aperitivo: means “to open” in Latin and signifies the “opening of the stomach”, to encourage you to feel hungry. Drinks with low alcohol content such as Prosecco or Vermouth served with olives, nuts, and cheeses usually make up the aperitivo.
Antipasti: This is the starter course (the appetizer) and is a little heavier than the aperitivo. Common antipasti are bruschetta or charcuterie.
Primi or Minestre: This is the first course to contain hot food and usually consists of food heavier than the antipasti. The primi does not contain any meat, though, and usually consists of a pasta, soup, or risotto dish.
Secondi: After a little time has passed to enjoy some wine and reset the taste buds, the secondi is served. This course consists of the meat, which can be a simple chicken roast, a lighter fish or seafood dish, or a more robust beef or game dish.
Contorni: The secondi is accompanied by the contorni, which means “to contour”. This usually consists of a vegetable dish or two which complements the meat dish and rounds out the course.
Insalata: It’s possible the insalata may be skipped if the contorni contains many leafy vegetables. This course allows the palate to recoup after the previous courses, getting ready for the dessert course.
Formaggi e Frutta: For some meals, this course may also double as the dolce or dessert as well. Otherwise, the formaggi e frutta is part of the light interlude between the heavier courses and dessert. It also allows time for local and in season cheese and fruit to shine.
Dolce: The dessert course can range from baked cakes to more palate-cleansing options such as gelatos or sorbets. Local specialties like Rum Baba or Cannoli might also be served.
Caffe: Unlike American coffee, Italians drink a strong and very hot espresso at the end of meals. These are served in very small cups and drunk very quickly.
Digestivo: The digestivo concludes the meal and are meat to ease digestion after consuming much food. Limoncello is a popular digestive from Southern Italy.
Not all Italian meals consist of all these courses. A simpler Italian meal may consist of the Primo, Secondi, Contorni, Insalata, and Formaggi e Frutta; reserving the remaining courses for a more festive occasion.
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