The traditional Italian dinner in a ristorante, or restaurant, is a lingering multi-course meal that will last at least two hours.
What do all those course names mean?
The meal begins with an appetizer, or antipasto. Examples of antipasto are bruschetta, which is crostini bread with a topping, a plate of melon and prosciutto, or fritti, fried vegetables.
Next, the first dish, or primo piatto, is usually a pasta or risotto course. This course will be something typical of the particular region of Italy. Pasta with a pesto sauce is common near the Mediterranean Sea and is a wonderful complement to the fresh seafood.
The second course, or secondo, will be served next. The secondo is almost always meat or fish without any side dishes included.
Side dishes, or contorni, such as grilled vegetables, beans, or potatoes are served fourth. A salad may then be served—it is considered a light food and is not even counted as a course!
The dessert course, or dolci, also reflects the foods of the region. Tuscan desserts include Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, and Ricotta cheesecake, among many others. Finally, the meal and lingering conversation end with a digestivo—an after-dinner drink to aid the digestion—such as grappa, limoncello, or amaro (bitter) and perhaps an espresso.