Primi, Secondo Contorni, Dolci

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It’s October. Did I just hear the last gasp of summer? I hope so. Open the windows, plant the fall gardens, toss the sunscreen, put away the white shoes and purses, the seersucker suits and white linen. Cooler nights and a hint of autumn is creeping in bringing colorful fall crops; tomatoes, leafy greens like chard and kale, beets, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, pumpkin, turnips and okra.

I get so excited dreaming about recipes and how to present our local fall harvest to brighten the palette (other wise known as a plate) with bright oranges, deep dark greens, sunny yellows and rich ruby reds. The ever versatile veggie can be braised in broth, consumed crunchy and raw, stir-fried, roasted, pureed, pickled, boiled, roasted and made into sauces. I love the way the traditional Italian menu honors and raises the status of what some may consider to be the lowly vegetable by creating a category on the menu known as “Contorni.” Contorni sounds so elegant and inviting, especially when pronounced with an Italian accent. The contorni, or side dish, provides complementary flavors and rounds out the heart of any great meal. If you insist on having zucchini fritters or roasted fennel in addition to your meat, “carne” or fish, “pesce”, you can order them from the contorni section of the menu. I love the selection of contorni at del porto Ristorante in Covington. They recently featured local baby squash with garlic and basil, and smashed fried new potatoes with house made spicy ketchup. Other traditional Italian veggie preparations may include a caprese or a peppery arugula salad with salty romano, grilled eggplant, roasted artichokes, or broccoli rabe with garlic and chilies to spice things up.

Bet you are wondering about the main courses. That’s enough about vegetables!

Primi is where your main course begins, but should never end. The primi is likely to include pastas of all shapes, sizes, and names as well as dumplings like gnocchi and rice or risotto. Primi may also include polenta. Check out one of my favorite recipes for warm and comforting cheesy polenta. Warms you all the way down to your toes. The primi usually make up the biggest part of the menu. The secondi are the meat and fish dishes, (See my recipes for Osso Buco and Braised Beef Short Ribs) that could be equated to a main course but they are usually only protein and aren’t substantial enough as a meal on their own. This is where you turn on your creativity and add in the side dish or contorni.

Finally, save some room for the best and last, dolci, desserts.

Dolci are often divided into torte which are cakes; dolci al cucchiao are soft desserts to be eaten with a spoon (think mascarpone cream, tiramisù or panna cotta), gelati are ice creams and semifreddi that are even better with bright fruity sauces or creamy zabaglione.

Check out my complete fall menu starting with a harvest spiced cocktail, followed by recipes for a “welcome fall” feast with suggestions for primi, secondi, contorni and dolci on the Sophisticated Woman Foodies and Friends blog. Buon Appetito!


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