Be a gracious, impressive, stress-free host with the Italian meal structure

Be a gracious, impressive, stress-free host with the Italian meal structure

Having a dinner party? Might I recommend allowing the traditional Italian formal meal structure be your guide. It hits all the right notes and makes it easy to accommodate a number of dietary preferences in a single meal that will absolutely leave your guests wowed.

Aperitivo

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, spritz, vermouth, gingerino. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.

Antipasto

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.

Assemble a veggie bruschetta or crostini. Layer in cheese or meat, either by assembling multiple variations or by allowing guests to assemble for themselves. Gluten-free bread can be a nice touch, but I prefer to stick with things that hold up without the bread. Some of my go-tos:

Primo

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 piatto: examples are risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crespelle, casseroles, or lasagne.

Secondo e contorno

[Sedondo] 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 piatto may be considered more important depending on the locality and the situation.

A contorno is a side dish and it’s commonly served alongside a secondo piatto. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are usually served in a separate dish, not on the same plate as the meat.

Insalata

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.

Dolce

Next follows the dolce, or dessert. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, 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 specialties.

Digestivo con caffè

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 cappuccino 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.