When you think of Italy, food is usually one of the first things that comes to mind. With all of the wonderful cheeses, breads, sauces, and, of course, meats, Italian meals are some of the hardiest and most delicious out there.
If you grew up in an Italian family, the ritual of Sunday dinner meant hours of eating and enjoying time with one another. If you’ve never been to a typical Italian dinner, but always wanted to, you’re in luck! We’ll show you how to throw the perfect Italian feast for all your friends and family!
There is a very specific structure to Italian dinners, with tons of courses, so it’s best to plan and prepare in advance. We’ll walk you through each of them now.
You can think of this as a sort of cocktail hour. Light drinks are served along with snacks such as olives, nuts, or cheese and bread. It also allows everyone plenty of time to smell the deliciousness that awaits them!
Literally translated to “before the pasta,” the antipasto is essentially your appetizer. Like any first course, it should be light enough as to not make your guests full, but savory enough to make you hungrier! Popular options range from cold cuts, cheese, shellfish, or even vegetables.
As its name implies, the primo is the first course of many. It usually consists of hot food, but still falls on the lighter side (note: “lighter” is relative at an Italian dinner). This is typically a good place to serve a simple pasta dish such as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, or gnocchi.
No points for guessing what this term means. The secondo is the focal point of your entire meal and is typically where the meat dish makes its appearance. One popular choice is hot or sweet Italian sausage with peppers and onions in a tomato sauce. Alongside the secondo is the contorno—a simple side dish, typically raw or cooked vegetables.
You may be wondering why we haven’t mention a salad yet. That’s because traditional Italian families serve salad after the main course. They are usually simple leafy greens with oil and vinegar and are meant to serve as a palate cleanser.
Formaggi e Fruta
Cheese and fruit are crucial to an true Italian dinner and should never be skipped! There are no real guidelines on what kinds of each to serve, but Italian cheeses and grapes are very popular.
Now it’s time for dessert! You still have room, right? The Dolce can range from cakes and cannoli to simple cookies or ice cream—whatever you like!
Caffè and Digestivo
If you’ve done dinner correctly, your guest might be feeling a little groggy right now. An Italian dinner should always end with coffee or other drinks to aid the digestion process. While Italians traditionally opt for espresso, any type of coffee or tea will do. If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding a little sambuca!
Italian dinners are not for the faint of heart! They are meant to take a long time with a good amount of space between courses. The entire point is to spend time with the people most important to you as you sit down for a meal prepared with love. They’re certainly a lot of work, but we think Italian dinners are certainly worth it!