For Italians, mealtime is a social and friendly affair. Italians love to take their time, savoring each course and enjoying good company and great wine. Meals can take several hours with plenty of time for socializing and if the weather is nice, soaking up the beautiful sun. It can be intimidating to understand what all the courses are and the cadence of the meal in Italy. To help put you at ease, we’ve put together some information on eating dinner like an Italian.
So what are all the typical courses of an Italian dinner? Well, after you’ve had your aperitivo (more on that in an upcoming blog) where you’ve enjoyed a pre-dinner drink with a few snacks at a bar or café and shared the latest news with your friends over a glass of wine or two (or spirits or prosecco), now it’s time for dinner.
Assuming you are dining in a ristorante (we will also write more on the differences between the various types of places to eat in Italy), generally the courses are as follows: antipasto, primo, secondo (with contorno) and dolce. Of course, not everyone orders or eats all the courses and that’s the beauty of it all—the point is to have a great time and enjoy life. La Dolce Vita!
Now, let’s start with the antipasto (no pun intended). This is the starter course and it can consist of charcuterie, cheese and bread or it can simply be a beautiful bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. The next course, il primo, is the first course. Typical first courses or primi (plural for primo) are pasta, soup, gnocchi and risotto. Portion sizes tend to be smaller than in the US so you should still have room for the main course, il secondo! Generally this is your meat or seafood course. Depending on the region where you are dining, you can choose from various seafood or meat options. In Tuscany, the bistecca alla fiorentina is your best option if you love steak. It’s tender, juicy and grilled to perfection after having been drizzled with olive oil and herbs. Magnifico! Also, Italians normally order a contorno or a side with the secondo and the contorno is usually vegetables (raw or cooked). I tend to order a salad—arugula salad to compliment the taste of the steak. I add a little extra virgin olive oil, squeeze a fresh lemon and add a dash of salt to my arugula salad.
The last course is the dolce or dessert. There are many delicious options to choose from including tiramisu, panna cotta, cake or gelato. Keep in mind, wine is served during the meal and after dinner, most Italians have an espresso (no milk). Some Italians will also have a digestivo to aid in digestion after dinner. Generally, the digestive after the meal is a grappa, amaro or limoncello (depending on the region of Italy).
I hope you find this content helpful in living like a local. Please feel free to send us any topic you are interested in learning more about and we’ll be happy to write about it. In the meantime, Buon Appetito!
It is undeniable that Italy is rich in culture and history and for many, at the top of their bucket list. Many of its cities are quite well known—Rome, Milan and Florence for example. All are recognizable by name or landmark. At the same time, Italy is also blessed with many lesser known cities and towns with their own charm and that also served considerable strategic and historic importance.
San Giovanni Valdarno is one of those towns. It may be lesser known but its strategic and historic importance cannot be underestimated. Founded in the XIII century by Florence as a way to consolidate its presence in the Higher Valdarno, that higher ground served as a lookout for and from any impending danger across Arezzo, Florence and Siena, Tuscany. Located in the valley of the Arno River (“Val d’ Arno” or valley of the Arno = “Valdarno”), the area is divided into the Upper Valdarno (between Arezzo and Siena) and Lower Valdarno (between Florence and Pisa).
Towards the end of the XIV century, San Giovanni Valdarno’s strategic position and in Upper Valdarno enabled a military victory during an invasion by an army led by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first duke of Milan. Despite this victory, the town continued to be in the middle of many battles, including the battle between Florence and Naples. Unfortunately, that battle ravaged the territory. When Florence finally emerged victorious over Naples, a short period of peace began and restoration projects and architectural progress were made. Despite this progress, a spreading plague epidemic greatly reduced the population and devastated the inhabitants.
When Lorraine’s Dukes “Lorena family” came to power, the fate of San Giovanni Valdarno changed for the better. The Lorena family was one of the most notable and famous of rulers who cared for the people and the region. They were great patrons and brilliant politicians who greatly enhanced the people’s quality of life. They started significant territorial projects and infrastructure improvements which resulted in economic prosperity and the cultivation of wheat and vegetables. The resilience of the people of the land helped to shape their future.
Today, San Giovanni Valdarno is home to Villa Barberino (Greek for “broken ground”) where we host our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience. With its strategic position and the role it played in the feuds between Florence and Arezzo, it’s a medieval castle not to be missed!
Boasting of several private rooms (and apartments) located in various historic buildings inside the walls of the hamlet, you can also visit the villa’s museum to learn about all the tools the farmers of yesteryear relied upon to live and make a living. During our wine tasting experience, we challenge you to find the escape hatch thousands of years old used by the residents of the villa to escape danger in the event of an invasion. Maybe with enough wine—it will be easier to find! Running through the hatch, you find yourself in the woods free to run as far (and as fast) as you can. You might also walk the lush green Italian gardens, visit the vineyards, take in the scent of the surrounding cypress trees or just lie by the pool and sip your Tuscan wine.
San Giovanni Valdarno is a hidden gem and a beautiful canvas for any Tuscan countryside experience. We welcome you to join us at Villa Barberino to learn how to live, cook, lounge and explore like a local
For those that follow me, you already know that I LOVE Italian wine, specifically Tuscan reds. So, it is with great pleasure that I speak to this delicious topic. I drink red wine year round, and that is typically all I drink with the exception of the occasional glass or bottle of sparkling. Natalie on the other hand tends to stick with sparkling when it is warm and switches to red when it turns cooler.
What is with all those letters on a bottle of wine?
If you drink Italian wine, I am sure that at some point you have noticed a seal with letters. Such as DOC or DOCG. These are formalized grading standards for Italian wine. In a nutshell, you have IGT, DOC and DOCG. IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica ) is the lowest formal standards and has loose standards with regards to the grape varieties that are allowed from the area that the wine comes from. DOC (Denominazione Origine Controllata ) is the next step up. And at the highest level is DOCG (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita). DOCG is meant to represent the most legendary wines in Italy.
There are way too many types of Tuscan wine to discuss each one, so I will touch on a few of my favorites. Now, to decide on a few favorites – This is a very difficult decision. I love the king of Italian red, the Brunello di Montalcino but I equally love Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a of course a good Chianti. I could probably list about 4 more very easily, but I will stick to these for this series.
Brunello di Montalcino-
Brunello is a medieval village in the province of Siena, and the winemaking region is to the Northeast. Brunello tends to be more expensive than most other Italian reds. This is primarily due to the smaller production area. The Brunello di Montalcino area is roughly 3,000 acres while Chianti has about 40,000 acres. Brunello di Montalcino is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, which is also the dominant grape in Chianti. The difference in these grapes is that due to the higher and dryer climate, the grapes ripen at a more consistent rate. This wine also must be aged for 5 years after harvest. Because this is a heavy red, it is an amazing wine to pair with the king of steaks, the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
To celebrate A Toast to Travel’s Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, our latest experience, we will explore the different types of pasta and what type of sauce is best paired with it. We will divide this into a series of posts so be sure to check back often.
There are many different types of pasta to choose from, and this post will discuss the long and thin pastas. The most common are Spaghetti, linguine, and vermicelli. Spaghetti a long round pasta and is probably the most common pasta. Linguine is long and flat while vermicelli is round and thinner than spaghetti also known as spaghettini. These types of pastas are best suited for light sauces such as seafood, cream or oil based. Linguine and a clam sauce is a very typical Italian pairing that is delicious. Pasta should be paired with the correct sauce because of the taste and texture as well as the ability for the sauce to adhere to the pasta for the best result. Obviously, you can be as creative as you want but we are just discussing the classic preparations.
When cooking pasta you should use a pot large enough for the pasta to move around. If the pot is too small, the pasta will stick to each other and not turn out well. You should salt to taste, there are several schools of thought but salt taste. Remember to reserve some of the water that you cooked your pasta in so that you can use it in your sauce if needed.
Remember to experiment with different ingredients, and when creating your sauce do not skimp on the ingredients. One of the most important things to remember, and what we spend a lot of time with in our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun Experience is the quality and freshness of your ingredients. Use fresh vegetables, herbs and meat. It isn’t always possible to pick your own oregano, but try to use fresh as much as possible.
Check back for our next discussion, and be sure to check out our Experience Tuscany – Live Like a Local Experiences.