It’s no secret that Italy is blessed with one of the world’s best cuisines. It’s a country full of recipes, and while in Britain we mostly think of eating pasta or pizza when we head to an Italian restaurant, there’s so much more to it than that. Risotto, gnocchi, polenta, and a range of sea food dishes are just a small proportion of what Italian cuisine can offer, whilst there are a massive variety of regional specialties. Read this quick introduction to see what Italian food can offer.
Italian Meal Structure
Italian meal times are traditionally a time for a family to all sit together rather than being specifically for immediate sustenance. As a consequence the meal times can last longer than in other cultures, and usually take at least a couple of hours. The meal structure is slightly different from the traditional British view of starter, main, dessert as you can see below.
Literally translating as ‘before the food’, this course typically consists of savoury appetizers such as cheeses or cold meats like prosciutto or Parma ham, or marinated vegetables like artichokes and aubergines. Bruschetta, toasted bread with olive oil and a choice of toppings, is also popular.
The first course – usually consisting of a hot carbohydrate based dish such as pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta or perhaps a combination in a soup. There are a huge diversity of tastes and flavours based around these dishes and it would take a very long time to sample every region’s flavour.
This is the main course, usually fish or meat. The most common are veal, pork and chicken, whilst wild game has regional popularity. If you’re near the coast then you’ll also be able to sample a fish dish.
The ‘side dish’ to the secondo is normally a salad or cooked vegetables.
Formaggio and frutta
Cheese and fruits – this is the first dessert unlike in Britain where it comes after the sweet. Italy has a very large range of famous cheeses, but popular are Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) and Ricotta. Traditional Italian fruits include figs, pomegranate and wine grapes.
This is the sweet dessert course, featuring cakes or cookies. The king of Italian desserts is often said to be Tiramisu, a coffee flavoured dessert using mascarpone cheese. Other famous Italian desserts are Torta Russa cake, and Cannoli.
Coffee/espresso served after the meal for a pick up. Having invented the espresso, the Italians certainly love their coffee, and there are plenty of variations.
‘Digestives’ are our equivalent to port enjoyed after the traditional British meal. Grappa, amara and limoncello are the most popular of these, which are often referred to as ammazzacaffe, or ‘coffee killer’ in English as it is used to dull the taste of coffee.
You might be wondering where pizza features on this list as it is so popular, but within Italy itself it is a Neapolitan regional dish – it is far more popular within the United States. Wine is also a huge feature of Italian cuisine, and is drunk in moderation across the lengthy mealtimes. Italy is the largest producer, exporter and consumer of wine in the world.