Glossary of Italian Meals

The Italian cuisine/culture is all about a long enjoyable meal and the pleasure of sitting, talking and eating. It is not "fast food" and is definitely not for those in a hurry. The Italian cuisine as prepared by Caffé Centrale is recognised as being a Heritage Status Mediterranean diet by Unesco.

The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetiser. Most people gather around standing up and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.
The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats), charcuterie, salami, hams (salami, mortadella, Parma ham), cheeses (mozzarella, scamorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), vegetables (aubergines, courgettes, carrots, potato salads), cold salmon or prawn cocktails are examples of foods eaten; more elaborate dishes are occasionally prepared.
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: examples include risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crepes, casseroles, or lasagnas.
A secondo is traditionally the heartiest course, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main meal. Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, cod (baccala), salmon, lobster,lamb, chicken, or a roast.
A contorno, or plural contorni (side dishes) are commonly served alongside a secondo. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are always served in a separate dish, never in the same plate as the meat.
If the contorni 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 fruit. The cheeses and fruit will be whatever is typical of the province one is. Naturally whatever fruit is in season.
Following the secondo comes il dolce, or dessert. Though not very common on a daily basis, desserts are popular after large, significant meals. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, zuppa inglese, panna cotta, cake or pie, Panettone or Pandoro (the latter two are mainly served during Christmas time) and the Colomba Pasquale (an Easter cake). Gelato (see below) can be eaten too. Though there are nationwide deserts, popular across Italy, many regions or cities have local specialities. Foods consumed at a dolce can vary by location - in Naples, for instance, zeppole and rum baba are popular; in Sicily, cassata and cannoli are commonly consumed; mostarda, on the other hand, is more of a Northern dish (although there are Southern variations, such as mostarda calabrese).

Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert, similar to ice cream. Its ingredients include milk and sugar, often combined with flavourings and fruit, chocolate, liquor, spices, or nuts. Unlike true ice cream, gelato often does not contain cream, and traditionally has a much lower fat content. The name is also sometimes used to refer to similar frozen desserts that are prepared in with a similar method. It is often compared to ice milk rather than ice cream.

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 Cappucino or Caffe macchiato), but strong coffee-drinks 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. Digestivo indicates that the drinks served at this time are meant to ease digestion after a long meal.