While wandering around Paris during college, I stopped at a creperie for some lunch. A middle-aged man followed me from the stand, pushed past me and began to accost me, saying I was personally responsible for John Lennon’s death a few days earlier. I tried to ignore him, but he just wouldn’t let me go.
So why am talking about a random dude in Paris in a post about Italian meal planning? Because I finally shut him up by saying “The French learned cooking from the Italians”.
It’s true (for the most part). In 1533, Catherine de’ Medici of Florence was married off (at age 14) to King Henry II, and she insisted on bringing her Italian chefs with her. The French chefs learned much from them.
The Italians have it right. Meals should take time, allowing space to reconnect and strengthen relationships. Too often, meals in America are something to rush through, to tick off the to-do list.
Clearly every Italian meal doesn’t include all of these courses, they being reserved for holidays and important occasions, but you get the idea.
The aperitivo begins the meal. This course may consist of bubbly beverages such as spumante, prosecco, champagne, or sparkling wine. There are some really good sparkling rosès, for those who aren’t rosè snobs.
I really, really don’t like spumanti. It’s too sweet for me, and I don’t want my acerbic personality sweetened. I have a reputation to maintain.
The aperitivo is also the appetizer course; small dishes of olives, nuts or cheeses may be available for diners to nibble on while they wait for the next course. This is actually my favorite course and have often stopped here, especially when coming home late from work.
This course is commonly considered the “starter” and is often shared. The antipasti dish will be slightly heavier than the aperitivo. Often times, the antipasti may consist of a charcuterie platter such as salame, sopressata, mortadella, carpaccio, or prosciutto, served with cheeses, bread and oil; other times, you may find a cold smoked salmon or tuna antipasto, or a bruschetta.
Primi is the first course to contain hot food and is often heavier than antipasti dishes. Generally, primi dishes do not consist of any meat. At the same time, primi dishes may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffle or seafood. risotto, gnocchi, soup, pasta, or broth are all common primi dishes.
In this course, you will encounter different meat and seafood options. Depending on the region, you may have chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or turkey prepared in a variety of different ways, from a sausage to a roast to a grilled meat. In terms of seafood, you might find fish, shrimp, lobster, or some other kind of “meaty” seafood. If there are two dishes in the secondi, a sorbet palate cleanser is served between them.
Contorni dishes are served alongside secondi dishes. Common contorni dishes are vegetable-based, whether raw or cooked. They are served on a different plate to preserve the integrity of flavors.
If there are many leafy green vegetables in the contorni, an insalata, or salad, might not be served. Otherwise, a salad will follow.
Formaggi e Frutta
Now, as we near the end of the meal, there is an entire course dedicated to cheese and fruit. A selection of regional cheese are presented, with seasonal fruits that complement the flavors of the cheese.
Dessert! Options range from tiramisu to cake or pie to panna cotta. You may also consider a sorbetto or gelato for something lighter and more palate-cleansing. Certain regional specialty desserts such as zeppole or cannoli may be served.
A strong espresso is served after dolce, often served very warm and without any milk or sugar.
To close out this intricate, decadent Italian meal, the final item is a digestive alcoholic drink, such as limoncello, amaro, or grappa, which aids with digestion.
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