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Italian meals have a particular eating structure designed over centuries, which is a master class in how to best enjoy food and company. Not all dinner meals – known as cena – comprise of all of these courses; oftentimes, the numerous courses are reserved for festivities or celebratory events. Here is a structure to closely resemble the courses of a traditional Italian meal.


The aperitivo begins the meal. Like the French aperitif, this course might comprise bubbly drinks such as spumante, prosecco, or champagne, or wine. The aperitivo is additionally the appetizer course; small dishes of olives, nuts, or cheeses may be available for diners to snack on while they wait for the next course.


This course is commonly considered the “starter.” The antipasti dish will be slightly heavier than the aperitivo. Oftentimes, the antipasti may comprise of a charcuterie platter such as salami, mortadella, or prosciutto, served with cheeses and bread; other times, you may find a cold salmon or tuna antipasto, or a bruschetta.


Primi is the first course to contain hot food and is often heavier than antipasti dishes. Generally, primi dishes do not consist of any meat. At the same time, primi dishes may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffles or seafood. Risotto, gnocchi, soup, lasagne, pasta, or broth are all common primi dishes.


In this course, you will encounter different meat and seafood options. Depending on the region, you may have chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or turkey prepared in a variety of different ways, from sausage to a roast to grilled meat. In terms of seafood, you might find fish, shrimp, or lobster. If there are two dishes in the secondi, a sorbet palate cleanser is served between them.


Contorni dishes are served alongside secondi dishes. Common contorni dishes are vegetable-based, whether raw or cooked. They are served on a different plate than the meat or seafood of the secondi, to not mix on a plate and allow for the preservation of the integrity of flavors.


If there are many leafy green vegetables in the contorni, an Insalata, or salad, might not be served. If not, then a salad will follow the secondi.


There is an entire course dedicated to cheese and fruit. A selection of regional cheese will be presented, with seasonal fruits that complement the flavors of the cheese.


In the dessert section, options range from tiramisu to cake or pie to panna cotta. You may also consider a sorbetto or gelato for something lighter and more palate-cleansing. Certain regional specialty desserts such as zeppole or cannoli may be served.


A strong espresso is served after dolce, often served very warm and without any milk or sugar.


To close out this intricate, decadent Italian meal, the final item is a digestive alcoholic drink, such as limoncello, amaro, or grappa, which aids with digestion.

Buon appetito!

Credit: toscanaslc

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