There are many colorful, inventive and varied courses served to you in Italy, and most important of all is understanding the Italian order of service in order to achieve ‘Buon Appetito! Each dish served has been carefully thought out and assigned it’s particular time and place at the table.
Perhaps this is a good time to introduce you to the Italian ‘order of service’ which basically has five courses. However, should you ever get invited to an Italian wedding or other very special occasion, expect to be eating numerous varieties of primi and secondi. This could stretch your meal well over 10 courses!
The aperitivo is the ‘appetizer’. It can consist of a variety of finger foods such as nuts, olives or canapes, as well as a low alcohol beverage.
The word ‘aperitivo‘ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to open’ and in Italian you still describe the effect of something appetizing – that sensation you get when you smell garlic sizzling in butter or your favorite cake baking in the oven – as something that literally ‘opens your stomach’. That’s the idea behind the Italian aperitivo, a little something to encourage you to feel hungry, to get the juices flowing so you can fully enjoy your upcoming meal.
Certain beverages are seen as appropriate aperitivi, as they’re thought to help kick-start your digestion. They’re usually relatively low in alcohol content and dry or even bitter rather than sweet – things like prosecco, vermouth, Campari or Aperol.
Antipasto can be a small array of nibbles like olives, cheeses, bread and nuts or can often be something more elaborate like salumi cut meats, roasted peppers and other prepared vegetables. This is also the time when the first bottle of wine will be opened.
At this course you will be served a small dish of pasta, risotto, soup or polenta. To give you an idea of how small a portion you can expect, a normal pack of 500 grams (1 lb) of pasta, will serve between 4 and 6 people allowing 100 grams per person. This is important because sometimes you can expect to receive up to 3 courses of pasta during this course. If you have filled up on antipasto, you are already in trouble.
Secondi are the main event and often referred to in other countries as the entrée. The secondo will be a seafood or meat dish (or both) and often a very expensive dish which will be served with a selection of ‘contorni’. You can expect to receive at least 2 different types of Secondi during this course.
Contorni are collections of hot vegetables or salads which will have been chosen to highlight what is in season and what best compliments the secondo. Often a simple bowl of salad will be added to the table to cleanse the palate prior to receiving the dolce.
The dolce course will vary from house to house, from season to season and from occasion to occasion. Sometimes it is as simple as a collection of small pastries and biscotti which are served with a dessert wine. Sometimes dolce is a homemade cake or torte and sometimes it is an extremely elaborate dessert. If you can pace yourself during the previous courses (and we suggest that you do), you will always be delighted with what is on offer.
All meals, however simple or elaborate, will end with an espresso. We suspect that it is a method of keeping you awake for the dancing, card playing or general conversation that can continue on for hours!
With coffee you will be offered a liquor also known as a ‘digestive‘. Limoncello falls into this category of beverages and is designed to help cut through all of what you have eaten to help you digest it.
Now that the meal is over, the dancing, card playing and merriment will continue for as long as someone is willing and able. The only thing we can offer you by way of advise is to pace yourself and at the earliest opportunity, climb the nearest mountain to help work it all off.