Food is of course a huge part of Italian culture and every meal is made not just to satisfy hunger but to be savoured and shared.
When possible Italians like to sit down at the table with as many friends or family members as they can.
Sharing a meal is a way of reuniting, to get rid of stress and bad feelings, giving way to laughter, warmth and tummy-filled conviviality.
As you may already know a ‘proper’ Italian meal follows a certain important structure.
This usually includes at least five leisurely eaten courses plus drinks and side dishes!
Obviously, work and time constraints mean that not every meal can be this long and complex but on certain days of the week (Sunday) and on certain occasions (family dinners out, dinner parties at home, festivities) the rules are generally respected.
Sunday lunchtime is a great example of when a typical multi-course Italian Food is prepared.
Sunday really is a still a day of rest in Italy and families usually come together to eat and catch up.
If you are ever invited to one of these occasions there is a good chance you will experience this unique dining extravaganza, which happens to be the norm for most Italians.
Yet the meal rarely feels over the top, it’s all about the right combinations of food, portion size, digestion and most importantly company and conversation.
Courses and Order of Service
The traditional multi-course Italian Meal is made up of 5 main dishes plus drinks and sides!
This may seem a whole lot of food to handle, but with the right portions and appropriate foods, this rather lengthy meal turns into a deliciously fulfilling, social experience!
An aperitivo often begins the meal, getting the digestive juices flowing and the diners into the mood and ready to eat!
Popular aperitivo drinks are Prosecco, Campari, Aperol or maybe a gin and tonic, these are often served with nuts and crisps to take the edge off any hunger pangs!
This is starter, which is generally intended to prepare your belly for the imminent food-feast.
This commonly consists of cold cuts, olives and vegetables preserved in oil, bruschetta with pate’, fried goodies such as panzarotti (potato croquettes), olive ascolane (fried olives filled with a meat paste), arancini (fried rice balls) and other deep fried vegetables.
Other common antipasti include fish such as buttered salmon tartines, octopus salad or squid salad.
These will not be served all at the same time but you generally select about 2 to 3 of the above.
This literally means the first dish and is what the Italians consider the first part of their main meal, together with a meat or fish dish that comes later on.
Primi usually consist of a pasta dish, which can range from plain tomato and basil sauce to a more complex pasta and potatoes or pasta and beans.
Pasta with fish sauce is also very popular especially on Sundays, but also ragù is quite widespread: this is a sauce made with tomato and minced meat.
Primi can consist of risotto or gnocchi as well, the latter being potato dumplings, which are generally served with a tomato or cheese sauce.
This is the second part of the main course and can consist of meat or fish or maybe a vegetarian dish such as peppers filled with rice and spices.
Secondo always comes with a side dish of seasonal vegetables which are generally boiled, steamed or grilled such as spinach, peppers, aubergines, courgettes or even roast or fried potatoes.
During a proper formal Italian meal at this point you might be served some chesses on a platter.
Usually, there is a regional selection accompanied by fruit mustards or honey.
After mains and cheese, you almost always get fruit, either whole or neatly sliced on a serving platter.
At times this might come with a small scoop of lemon gelato on the side.
You cannot finish a proper Italian meal without dessert and coffee!
This might be a traditional cake such as Pastiera, Torta di Mele or Torta Della Nonna or maybe a Tiramisù.
Another way of serving dessert is to have ‘mignons’: a selection of beautiful sweet pastries coming from a pasticcieria, baked freshly every morning.
Lunch or dinner guests will often bring the host a tray of these or maybe a Panettone or Colomba Cake.
Dolce comes always with a tiny cup of espresso coffee.
At this point, you need an icy cold liqueur in order to be able to digest this gigantic meal!
These can consist of typical homemade strong spirits like Limoncello (lemon liqueur), Nocillo (made from walnuts), herbal Amaro, Liquorice liqueur or Grappa.
The traditional Italian meal is now over!
It must have taken two to three hours, if not more, and it will have satisfied both your bellies and your hearts.
Dishes will have probably been prepared well before guests are seated so that the host can take part in the very lively conversation that is sure to ensue at the table!
All this makes Italian Sundays long and heartwarming, fuelling you up for the week to come!
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