The anatomy of an Italian meal

Above: Tagliatelle tossed with wild boar (cinghiale) sauce is a classic “primo piatto” of Tuscany and will pair well with Mazzoni.

When it Italy, it’s useful to understand the order and sequence of the meal when it comes to ordering food in a restaurant.

Although there are a few but very rare exceptions, the sequence of the Italian meal is nearly always as follows:

1) Antipasto

The term antipasto means literally before the meal and can consist of a wide variety of ingredients. If the meal is seafood-based, the antipasto might include cured or smoked fish. If the meal is landfood-based, prosciutto or other types of charcuterie are classic antipasti (the plural of antipasto).

2) Primo Piatto

Next comes the primo piatto or first course [dish]. This is generally a starch-based dish: rice or pasta or soup (often cooked with rice or pasta).

3) Secondo Piatto

Then comes the secondo piatto or entrée (literally, the second dish). This is a meat or fish dish, depending on the dinner, accompanied by contorni (plural of contorno, literally, side dish).

Italians generally eat their salad after the secondo piatto, the idea being that the vinegar and oil in the dressing cleanse the palate after heavier courses are consumed.

4) Formaggi

The cheese course can be accompanied by sweet, dried-grape wines or by aged tannic wines, like Brunello di Montalcino.

5) Dolce

No Italian meal is complete without dessert, which can be accompanied by coffee (remember: Italians never drink cappuccino after 11 a.m.!)

6) Digestivo

To help the digestion after a complete meal, many Italians will offer their guests a grappa (grape pomace distillate) or amaro, a digestive liqueur.

Buon appetito!

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