Understanding Italian Wedding Dinners

Italian wedding feasts have a sort of mythical reputation around the world. If you have ever attended one you know why! Attending an authentic Italian dinner can be an amazing and unforgettable experience. Planning an Italian wedding dinner can also be a great way to make your special day even more unforgettable.

Both can, however, be intimidating tasks. This article will help understand the basics behind authentic Italian wedding dinners. Whether you will be attending one in Italy, or you want to plan your own as authentically as possible this article will help you out. We will try and separate the myths form realities and provide you with a rounded out understanding of Italian wedding banquets. 

Understanding the Relationship Between Italians and Food

Let’s start with the food which is obviously the most important part of a banquet. If you come from an Italian family then you will understand the tradition of the Sunday lunch. Understanding the Sunday lunch is essential to understanding wedding meals, so lets take a minute to explain (I hope you are not too hungry before reading this) ;-).

Sunday lunches are an integral part of southern/central Italian life (Most of Northern Italy unfortunately doesn’t usually share the gastronomic same zeal). 

The most important part of most days is lunchtime, not only because of the food that is eaten — which is usually enough to send you into a bliss — but lunchtime is also important because of the people that it is spent with. Many families in Southern Italy still eat lunch together every day (that explains the long lunches). Sunday lunches are usually an all day ordeal that extends to the larger family and sometimes close friends!

A typical Sunday lunch — for southern Italians — starts around 1:00 in the afternoon and can continue until the late evening hours. During meal times family bonds are pulled together, feelings of love and companionship are strengthened and misunderstandings become understandings. A time when one belongs and can just relax, be oneself and enjoy those around them.

Of course all of this is much more significant on a wedding day! Understanding this helps you to look beyond the physical food and understand the meaning behind the preparation, with this mentality things will go a lot better.

What to Include in an Italian Wedding Feast

It is true that there is lots of food, however, you should never adopt the “buffet” mentality. Quality is much more important to Italians than quantity. Italians are very particular on how they fill their plates, every food that touches another much combine well with it. 

An interesting side note: many regions of Italy use the expression that food “si sposa” (literally “it marries”) when it combines well with another food.

Important Italian meals will always include several courses, wedding meals usually include quite a few more than the normal, however, there is no need to exaggerate. 

It is important to serve small portions of each course and give ample time between them for conversation. This is the reason most Italians can sit down and eat for hours on end. Instead of stuffing their faces they slowly enjoy the taste and quality of the food while sipping (not guzzling) their wine and enjoying conversation (which can be quite lively at times).

How to Plan (or Understand) a Menu

If you are attending a wedding feast it is important to remember to pace yourself, remember that there will always be more food on the way, so sit back, relax, take in the atmosphere, and enjoy! 

Appertivo: The feast will typically start with an “apertivo” which is usually an assortment of well prepared snacks served along with a cocktail or Prosecco (not French Champaign). This part is usually done standing, guests can walk around the room socializing and choosing snacks from tables or platters that are carried around the room. The appertivo could include things such as: an assortment of cheeses, olives, salamis, small frittata bites, vegetable platters, and the like.

Antipasti: These are delicious appetizers that are usually served at the tables. The idea is to get your appetite ready, so it usually includes light foods (not usually fried). Typical antipasti could include: prosciutto & melon, caprese salad (mozzarella with tomato slices basil and olive oil), bruschetta, shrimp cocktail, amount other things.

Primo Piatto: This is the first official course and it is usually a pasta dish, however, it could also be a risotto. Most Southern Italian weddings (like many Sunday lunches) will include more than one pasta dish. Remember to eat slowly and if you can choose your portion go light. It is not recommended to repeat a plate — no matter how good it is — since there will be a lot more to come. The pasta is where most Americans mess up, because they fill themselves up not realizing that it is just the beginning of the meal.

Secondo: This is the symbolic “second” plate, even though it will probably be the 4th or 5th actual plate that is changed for you. This is considered the main course and will be based either on meat or fish. While the pasta dish may include some meat the “secondo” is never served on the same plate as the pasta dish, it must however, combine well with the pasta that proceeds it. Most weddings will offer at least two “second plates”, sometimes as an option and other times one will be served right after the other. 

Contorno: This is a side dish, usually vegetables (grilled or steamed), herb roasted potatoes, or something similar. Some “side dishes” can be served along with the meat, however, there will always be a “contorno” plate served after the meat is taken away. Sometimes a cold seafood salad will be served as a main contorno or as a separate one.

Salad: Yes, salad is served towards the end of the meal. This seems strange to most Americans, however, an Italian will always prefer salad towards the end of the meal. Usually a mixed salad with fresh greens and an oil and vinegar dressing (some parts of the South use lemon instead of vinegar). Italians never use cream based dressings (i.e., Ranch, Thousand Islands, etc.). It would be a good idea to finish up your wine before the next part of the meal, since the wine is about to change.

Sorbetto: The purpose of the sort is to cleanse the pallet in order to continue eating (ah… the art of eating!) The sorbet is usually lemon flavored —prepared with real lemons and lemon rinds) and it is usually prepared with alcohol. At a typical Sunday lunch fruit will usually be eaten at this point, however, weddings usually substitute the fruit for sorbetto.

Dolce: Now that your pallet is cleansed you are ready for the dessert. Don’t overdo it because this also comes in courses! The first dessert is typically Tiramisu, however, there are many desserts that can be served here. Along with the dessert you will probably be poured a glass of dessert wine. Usually a Prosecco that is specifically intended to accompany desserts.

Torta Nuzuiale: Now comes the wedding cake, Italian wedding cakes are usually very high quality and a little less sweet than their American counterparts. They are usually one layer sponge cakes made from quality ingredients, usually infused with liquor, and topped with real whipped cream or Chantilly cream.

Espresso: Congratulations you survived an Italian wedding! Now you will need a strong shot of espresso if you wan to get back out of your seat! Please: DO NOT request a cappuccino. This would not only cause the Italians around you to jump out of their seat screaming in horror, but it would also do a number on your stomach.  A small shot of espresso is perfect after a heavy meal, you may want to ask for a “cafe corretto” this is accepted and usually preferred. A “cafe corretto” means literally corrected coffee and refers to a shot of espresso with liquor in it. 

Digestivo: But wait! There is still one more part to this never-ending meal! Don’t worry it won’t fill you up any more, but it will actually take away some of the pressure you feel. Any large meal is always concluded with a shot of strong liquor. With liquor depends on what part of Italy you are in. Southern Italians usually prefer Limoncello or Amaro whereas Northern Italians usually prefer Grappa. However, there are many digestive liquors to choose from and most of them can be found throughout Italy.

We hope this article has helped you better understand Italian culture. If you want to plan an Italian wedding banquet you will have an authentic one following these guidelines. If you are going to attend one, please remember these guidelines and you will be able to pace yourself and enjoy the experience to the fullest!

Buon Appetito!