Define: Italian Meals, Course by Course

Traditionally, the main meal in Italy is a lengthy affair, composed of a number of small courses. Dishes typically are relatively simple, with seasonal and fresh ingredients.

Antipasto 
Before the meal comes the antipasto, which translates to just that — "before the meal" — and it is meant to be a little something to whet the appetite. Antipasti can be either simple or complicated, and they often include olives, vegetables, salad and bruschetta.

Primo 
The first course of the actual meal, called the primo, is typically a small serving of soup, pasta, gnocchi, rice or polenta.

Secondo 
The secondo is a small serving of fish, chicken or meat, often grilled and served without sauce.

Contorno 
The contorno is a simply cooked seasonal vegetable to accompany the secondo. One or more may be served at a meal.

Dolce 
Italians finish the meal with a dolce, which means "sweet," and it is traditionally fruit or biscotti. You might also try a fruit pie, called a crostata, but fancy desserts, such as cakes, are more likely to be reserved for special occasions.

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