To get the low down on the culture of food in Italy, we asked our resident Italian and self-confessed foodie Michela to explain the Italian approach to food and to describe a typical Sunday Lunch back home.
In Italy, we consider eating a big deal and we follow a strict, well-honed routine. The process of the Sunday lunch must be followed exactly and woe betides anyone who dares to ask for their “secondo” course before the pasta has been served! The Sunday lunch is the most important meal of the week and a time when the whole family joins together at the dinner table and passes the afternoon away by eating, drinking and enjoying one another’s company. The family aspect to this meal is particularly important and so missing a Sunday lunch can go down very badly, especially among the grandparents (I experienced it on my skin)!
Of course, with such large gatherings, preparing the meals can be quite stressful for the cook (usually my mother). Preparing 4 courses for an entire family is difficult enough, without the constant “advice” and alternative recipe ideas offered up by me and other family members hanging around in the kitchen!
The 4 (or 5!) Course Meal
The traditional Sunday lunch is usually comprised of 4 separate courses as, after a week spent sat down in an office, you’ll need all the calories you can get! The courses follow a strict order: antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce which is will be proceeded by a coffee and sometimes a digestivo.
The “antipasto” (literally “before the meal”) is usually a small portion of cured meats, marinated or cooked fish, cheeses, olives or vegetables in oil or vinegar. This can be served hot or cold and is an important part of the lunch as it whets the appetite in preparation for the rest of the meal. The “primo” (first course) is a dish normally consisting of pasta or rice: ravioli, lasagne, cannelloni or risotto are all common staples. Essential the “primo” involves a dish using flour, rice or grains and is accompanied with a sauce of vegetables, fish or meat mixed together.
The “secondo” (main course) comes, of course, after the “primo” and involves either fish or meat, cooked in a variety of ways, served with vegetables, potatoes or beans. At this point in the meal, the situation becomes a bit difficult – you’ll probably feel like a balloon and need to loosen your belt by a notch or two. Luckily, this whole process will take a couple of hours to give you time to digest before dessert.
Finally, if you’ve survived, along comes the “dolce” (dessert). This meal is quite self-explanatory: it’s something sweet, such as pasticcini (small bite-sized cakes), a tart, panna cotta or a plate of seasonal fruit. Sometimes, before (or occasionally instead of) the “dolce”, we may also have a plate of cheeses, with jam or honey.
Coffee is served after to signal an end to the meal. This is most likely a small, strong coffee made from a Moka pot on the stove as milky drinks are never consumed in Italy, expect for “caffè macchiato”: a small coffee with a spot of milk. Finally, a small “digestivo” is drunk to cleanse the palate. The most common drinks for this are “limoncello” or “grappa”; in the finest occasions a “zuccherino”: a sugar cube under alcohol and citrus peels.
With so many courses, side dishes and glasses for wine and water to plan, preparing the table for an entire family meal can be quite demanding. Yet, decorating the table can be just as important as preparing the meal itself. The tablecloth must be beautiful and set the colour scheme which then must be complimented by the focal centerpiece and flower arrangement or candles.
While all this preparation seems pretty daunting, the majority of Italian ladies seem to be specialists. We have a great eye for detail when focusing on the harmonic combination of colours, shapes and textures and then matching these with the perfect flowers.
What about you? How important are family dinners to you? How do you prepare your Sunday lunch? Let us know by posting any Sunday lunch pictures you have on our Facebook account or on our Twitter!