The first course (primi or minestra) can be a risotto, a soup, or 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 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.
For example, "fish" is the theme of this meal composed by Marcella Hazan. The antipasto is tiny boiled shrimp served warm and seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley. Next (primi) comes a squid and clam risotto to make "peppery comments." Then (secondi), a turbot baked with potatoes and garlic is served. After the turbot, a bitter salad of radicchio and field greens cleanses the palate. The closing course is fresh fruit sliced and served in wine.
The Mediterranean diet is all the rage these days - it has a reputation for being sinfully delicious while possessing the virtue of being extremely healthful. Yet when asked to define it, many folks have hard time coming up with a good description. Not surprising. Any country contiguous with the Mediterranean Sea, from Morocco to Greece and from Spain to Israel, can rightly claim that its cuisine qualifies as a form of the Mediterranean diet. Indeed there are hundreds perhaps thousands of variations of the Mediterranean diet as micro-cuisines vary from village to village.
In Italy alone there are subtle nuances that distinguish the cuisines of different regions and villages. Roman, Tuscan, Ligurian, Neapolitan and Sicilian cuisine, to name handful of broad categories, are all variations on the Italian version of the Mediterranean Diet. It is the south/central Italian version of the Mediterranean diet, which we will focus on in this course. It is among the healthiest of all Mediterranean cuisines, and we believe is the most delicious.
Despite the many variations of the Mediterranean diet, there are some common characteristics that are found in all the healthiest versions. Perhaps the single most important feature that unites all these cuisines is olive oil. It is a vehicle for the tastes that permeate these cuisines and it is the elixir of health that makes them so beneficial. Olive oil is the source of almost all fat in the health Mediterranean diet, there is very little saturated fat from meat and not many other vegetable oils either. Not only is olive oil a beneficial monounsaturated fat, it carries many important anti-oxidants along with it. But perhaps the most important characteristic is simply that it makes vegetables taste absolutely delicious. This encourages the avid consumption of vegetables that is so characteristic of the healthy Mediterranean diet.
Broccoli, spinach, tomatoes (technically a fruit), and scores of other vegetables and plant foods have, individually and collectively, been associated with lower