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An Italian Dinner’s Courses

So what’s the structure of the traditional Italian meal? An Italian dinner actually has five components, or courses. Not every meal contains all five courses, but many do. If you want the full, five-course Italian dinner, here are the parts you need:

  • The antipasto: A traditional Italian meal starts with something to nibble on, called an antipasto, which translates into English as “before the meal.”

  • The primo: In Italy, pasta is a first course, or primo, served as an appetizer, not as the main event. Soup, rice, and polenta are the other options for the primo.

  • The secondo: The main course is called il secondo, or the second course. Chicken, meat, or fish are the usual choices, and portions are generally small. These main courses are usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish precedes them.

  • The contorno: A platter of vegetables usually accompanies the main course. This side dish highlights the simple goodness of the vegetable. The word contorno loosely translates as “contours” and refers to the fact that the vegetable course helps shape and define the meal.

  • The dolce: A dolce (or sweet) ends a traditional Italian meal.

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