Formal Italian Meal Structure

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Formal Italian Meal Structure

Formal Italian Meal Structure

Looking for a compliment worthy, yet easy to make Dinner Party Menu? Here are some crowd pleasing recipes for appetizers, entrees, and desserts, including tried and tested menus we've made. These recipes are easy to multiply, can be prepped ahead, and are perfect for any party, or any celebration.

Planning for a party can be really stressful. A lot of people get overwhelmed by the decisions on what to cook, which dishes pair well, appetizers to serve, and what drinks to offer.

Tips for Hosting ANY Dinner Party

  • Always use recipes that you have tried before.
  • I choose popular and well known menu items. They are more successful than the ones that are too regional, or people have never tried before.
  • I stay clear of shell fish. In a large gathering, there are strong chances that someone is severely allergic to them (unless you get a green signal from your guests).
  • If you have a party of 20, don't cook every single entree for 20. In parties, people eat appetizers, plus there are more choices than one can eat, so unless you want to have a ton of leftovers, account for 70% of your headcount for each main dish.
  • This above rule does not apply to Casseroles, Chicken Wings, etc. These dishes are loved by kids and adults alike, so everyone takes a helping or two
  • For parties larger than 8, set up the dinner buffet-style. Even if there's seating for all, it is much easier to keep track and replenish items when food is in one central place.
  • Don't forget to setup an area for drinks and water.

Formal Italian Meal Structure

A structure of an Italian meal in its full form, usually performed during festivities.


The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks such as wine, prosecco, spritz, vermouth, and gingerino. 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 and lighter than the first course. Examples of foods eaten are salumi (such as salame, mortadella, prosciutto, bresaola and other charcuterie products), cheeses, sandwich-like foods (panino, bruschetta, crostino), marinated vegetables or fish, cold salmon or prawn cocktails; 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 piatto: examples are risotto, pasta, seafood or vegetarian sauces, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crespelle, casseroles, or lasagne.


This course may include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, zampone, salt cod, stockfish, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast. The primo or the secondo piatto may be considered more important depending on the locality and the situation.

Contorno (side dish)

A contorno is a side dish and it's commonly served alongside a secondo piatto. These usually consist of vegetables, raw or cooked, hot or cold. They are usually served on a separate dish, not on the same plate as the meat as in northern European style of presentation.


If the contorno contained many leafy vegetables, the salad might be omitted. Otherwise, a fresh garden salad could be served at this point.

Formaggi e frutta

An entire course is dedicated to local cheeses and fresh seasonal fruit. The cheeses will be whatever is typical of the region (see List of Italian cheeses).


Next follows the dolce, or dessert. Frequent dishes include tiramisu, panna cotta, cake or pie, panettone or pandoro (the last two are mainly served at Christmas time) and the Colomba Pasquale (an Easter cake). A gelato or a sorbetto can be eaten too. Though there are nationwide desserts, popular across Italy, many regions and cities have local specialties. 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.


Coffee is often drunk at the end of a meal, even after the digestivo. Italians do not have milky coffees or drinks after meals (such as cappuccino or caffè macchiato), but strong coffee such as espresso, which is often drunk very quickly in small cups while still hot.


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 of a long meal.

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