A traditional Italian meal is leisurely process — a time to share news of the day and enjoy the delicious results of the cook's labor — and has several distinct courses. If you're preparing an authentic Italian meal, follow this list in order:
Antipasto: Something to nibble on — such as a bowl of marinated olives and some fresh fennel for dipping in extra-virgin olive oil, or a wedge of fine Parmigiano-Reggiano and some bread — perhaps served with drinks.
Primo: A first course or appetizer. Usually pasta, rice, soup, or polenta. Keep portions small (eight servings for a pound of pasta) because the main course comes next.
Secondo: The main course, usually chicken, meat, or seafood. Usually fairly simple, especially if a rich pasta or rice dish has already been served.
Contorno: The main course is usually accompanied by a platter of vegetables. This side dish is usually quite simple and highlights the simple goodness of the vegetable.
Dolce: On most days, the dolce is a bowl of fruit. Some hard Italian cookies, called biscotti, for dunking, and dessert wine are another option. More elaborate cakes, tortes, and custards are for special occasions.
Caffe: End a meal with espresso all around.