As Italian cooking depends on theme, variation, and quanto basto (just enough), so too with the classic Italian meal. Save for the rare exception (such as ossobuco e risotto, served as one dish Milanese style), there is no dominating main course. Instead, a series of small courses that play off each other are presented. During an ideal dinner, participants experience the crisp and the soft, the complex and the simple, the pungent and the mellow.
Italian culture assumes everyone else is familiar with it too. And assume, like most people who live in a given area, that things have always been done as they are now. Most Italians still eat a simple breakfast consisting of coffee or a cappuccino and a pastry, but the main meal is, if possible, at 1:00, and there is a light supper at about 8:00.
To whet your appetite, and to introduce a theme, antipasti are sometimes served. This could be prosciutto di Parma with melon, Tuscan crostini smeared with liver spread, or vegetables dressed with olive oil.
The first course (primi or minestra) can be a risotto, a soup, or a pasta served in a broth or sauced. No matter what is served first, it is served in a bowl, and it always, always precedes the meat, fish, or fowl course.
When dining out in Italy, the choice of a second course (secondi) is made after you've eaten the first course. This way, a diner can evaluate the experience of the first course and decide on its best counterpoint for the second. One or two vegetable dishes (contorno) often round out this course. After the vegetable dishes are cleared, and the second course completed, salad is served. The meal closes with a sweet (dolci), often fresh or marinated fruit.
Everybody loves and can cook such Italian recipes as Italian pizza. It's a food, that makes you feel good not only for its taste, but also for the colors themselves. There is nothing like going out to eat in a characteristic pizzeria with friends or family.
A good Italian pizza is actually a very simple dish made with fresh ingredients. It makes for a very healthy and satisfying meal. Italian pizza is also easy to make at home. It doesn't have the same taste as a pizza baked in a wood burning brick oven, but it is good just the same. The toppings are various depending on the personal taste. Like Italian "Pizza alla marinara," made with tomatoes, chopped garlic, olive oil and oregano, it's delicious.
The ancestor of Italian pizza is the simple bread. It dominates history as one of most used foods for the poor who were forced, during the centuries, to eat only cereals and the few products that mother nature was offering.
They used their own imagination and fantasy to create something tasteful for their meals. Barley was the most common ingredient used to prepare bread and the first bread to take the form of the pizza. The grains were crushed, mixed with water and flattened down on a round thin pan. Then they were cooked over red-hot stones. This dough was used throughout Europe and Asia. Later wheat flour substituted the other cereals becoming the standard grain used.
Pizza is probably the most globally recognizable food today. Originally a food for the poor it has now become a dish for everyone. Pizza is the result of a transformation developed over the centuries and it is a portrait of the people that have contributed to its own existence. It is a portrait of Italy.