Formal Italian Meal Structure
We’ve posted the structure of a traditional formal Italian meal to give you some idea of how the Italians do meals.
- The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.
- The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold and lighter than the first course. Examples of foods eaten are salumi (such as salame, mortadella, prosciutto, bresaola and other charcuterie products), cheeses, sandwich-like foods (panino, bruschetta, tramezzino, crostino), vegetables, cold salmon or prawn cocktails; more elaborate dishes are occasionally prepared.
- A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples are risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crespelle, casseroles, or lasagne.
- This course may include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, salt cod, stockfish, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast. The primo or the secondo may be considered more important depending on the locality and the situation.
- Contorno (side dish)
- A contorno is a side dish and it’s commonly served alongside a secondo. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are always served in a separate dish, never on the same plate as the meat.
- If the contorno contained many leafy vegetables, the salad might be omitted. Otherwise, a fresh garden salad would be served at this point.
- Formaggi e frutta
- An entire course is dedicated to local cheeses and fresh seasonal fruit. The cheeses will be whatever is typical of the region.
- Next follows the dolce, or dessert. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta, cake or pie, panettone or pandoro (the last two are mainly served at Christmas time) and the Colomba Pasquale (an Easter cake). A gelato or a sorbetto can be eaten too. Though there are nationwide desserts, popular across Italy, many regions and cities have local specialities. In Naples, for instance, zeppole and rum baba are popular; in Sicily, cassata and cannoli are commonly consumed; mostarda, on the other hand, is more of a Northern dish.
- Coffee is often drunk at the end of a meal, even after the digestivo. Italians, unlike many countries, do not have milky coffees or drinks after meals (such as cappucino or caffè macchiato), but strong coffee such as espresso, which is often drunk very quickly in small cups at very high temperatures.
- The digestivo, also called ammazzacaffè if served after the coffee, is the drink to conclude the meal. Drinks such as grappa, amaro, limoncello or other fruit/herbal drinks are drunk. Digestivo indicates that the drinks served at this time are meant to ease digestion of a long meal.