How to Create an Italian Menu for Your Wedding

Thinking about serving Italian food at your wedding? Here are a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind as you build your menu.

By Deanna deBara

How to Create an Italian Menu for Your Wedding
Photo by Unsplash

There are plenty of items to check off your wedding planning checklist, from setting your wedding budget to choosing a wedding venue to building your wedding party.

But, arguably one of the most fun to-dos is creating your wedding menu. With so many options such as grilled chicken breast or spaghetti with parmesan cheese, it can be hard to choose what to put on your menu.

Italian food is one of the most popular choices for wedding menus—and for good reason! Who wouldn’t want Italian sausage at their wedding? Italy is home to some of the most versatile, popular, and delicious dishes in the world—making its cuisine a major crowd-pleaser at weddings.

Work With Your Caterer to Choose Menu Items

If you’re a fan of Italian food, chances are that you already have your favorite dishes, such as grilled chicken with homemade marinara or cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with a balsamic glaze, in mind. However, just because there’s an Italian dish that you love doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right choice for your wedding—which is why it’s so important to work with your caterer to build the Italian menu for your wedding.

Schedule a time to meet with your wedding caterer as early in the wedding planning process as possible, and then let them know that you want to create an Italian menu for your wedding. Because your caterer has experience building wedding menus (including Italian menus!), their insights will help ensure that you create a menu that’s going to be delicious and make the most sense for your wedding.

For example, if you’re planning on doing a more casual, buffet-style dinner service, your caterer might suggest different Italian dishes (such as an easy-to-serve spaghetti pasta dish); however, if you’re doing a more formal, individually plated meal, your caterer might suggest chicken breast with seasonal vegetables. If a large percentage of your guests have food allergies, your caterer might have ideas about what dishes will work for all your guests—and how to serve them (for example, offering gluten-free pasta options or having a separate cheese table so that cheeses such as parmesan and mozzarella cheese don’t accidentally make their way onto the plates of your lactose intolerant wedding guests).

Your caterer can also give you insights into what kind of Italian menu is realistic for your budget—and how to get the most bang for your buck. For example, if the fish dinner you were envisioning is out of your budget, your caterer might suggest serving zuppa di pesce—also known as fish stew—which gives you a seafood option at a more affordable price point.

Use a Traditional Italian Menu Structure As Inspiration

Traditionally, Italian menus contain 10 courses:

  • Aperitivo. The aperitivo course kicks off the meal; it’s where guests enjoy light drinks (think prosecco and wine) and small bites (such as olives, nuts, and crackers).
  • Antipasti. The antipasti is the heavier appetizer course. Antipasti typically consists of an assortment of cold foods—such as salami, Italian sausage, prosciutto, and other meats; marinated, seasoned vegetables; and cheeses such as fresh mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.
  • Primo. The primo is the first course; it’s heavier than the antipasti, but lighter than the main course (think pasta, risotto, or soup).
  • Secondo. The secondo is the main course—and typically consists of a meat or fish dish.
  • Contorno. The contorno is the side dish served with the secondo. Generally, the contorno is veggie based.
  • Insalata. A salad is also often served alongside the secondo. Depending on the menu, the insalata may be served with the contorno or in place of (and vice versa).
  • Formaggi e frutta. After the main course is finished, a fruit and cheese platter is typically served.
  • Dolce. Dolce is the dessert course—and can consist of any sweet (such as cake, pastries, or gelato).
  • Caffe. No Italian meal would be complete without coffee—traditionally espresso.
  • Digestivo. The digestivo is a drink meant to settle the stomach and aid with digestion—such as limoncello or grappa. The digestivo signals the end of the meal.

Feel Free to Adjust Structure As Necessary

Understanding the traditional Italian menu structure can help guide your decisions as you’re creating your wedding menu, but there’s no need to serve 10 full courses at your wedding! Use the traditional menu structure as inspiration; however, feel free to adjust it as needed to suit your wedding, your guests, and your budget.

For example, you might combine the aperitivo, antipasti, and formaggi e frutta courses—and serve them all during cocktail hour. Or, instead of serving a pasta and a meat dish, you might opt for one or the other.

The point is, the traditional Italian menu structure can give you an idea of what foods Italians typically serve during their meals, and in what order. But you don’t have to keep everything true to tradition for your wedding menu; instead, adjust the traditional structure as needed to come up with an Italian menu that makes the most sense for your big day.

Tips for Choosing Menu Items

Italian cuisine is extremely varied and there are tons of options to choose from. So, how do you choose which Italian dishes to feature on your menu?

There’s no right or wrong way to choose menu items; ultimately, you have to choose foods that you love and want to share with your guests. That being said, there are a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind when creating your Italian wedding menu, including:

  • Choose foods that will make you (and your guests) feel good. Your favorite Italian dishes might be on the heavier side. And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a big serving of pasta carbonara with a side of bread, consuming all those carbs during your wedding might give you (and your guests) a bit of a food coma. When choosing menu items, make sure to choose dishes that are going to make you (and your guests) feel good—and leave you with enough energy to tear up the dance floor post-dinner. (And if you want to serve a heavier dish, no problem! Just keep the serving sizes small—and balance out heavier foods with veggies and other light options).
  • Offer variety. Different people have different appetites, so make sure that you’re offering a variety of foods for your guests to choose from. Keep dietary restrictions in mind. If you have guests with dietary restrictions, take those restrictions into account as you’re planning your menu. For example, if you have guests that don’t eat meat, make sure to offer a vegetarian option for your main course. If you have guests that are gluten intolerant, make sure to offer plenty of gluten-free goods for them to enjoy (whether that’s gluten-free pasta or more meat and veggie-based options).

A Sample Italian Menu for Your Wedding

Not sure what an Italian wedding menu looks like—or what dishes you might want to include in your wedding menu? Here’s a sample menu from food wedding vendors to serve as inspiration and help you get your creative juices flowing (and your belly rumbling!):

Aperitivo

Prosecco, Champagne, bellinis Olives, nuts, and assorted cheeses

Antipasti

Selection of cured meats, including prosciutto, salami, mortadella, and pancetta Marinated grilled vegetables Fresh mozzarella marinated in olive oil and assorted spices Bruschetta with garden-fresh cherry tomatoes

Primo/First Course:

Linguini with sauteed broccoli rabe and roasted garlic

Secondo/Main Course:

CHOOSE ONE:

Lamb tenderloin Pan-seared branzino

Insalata:

CHOOSE ONE:

Caesar salad Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, basil, and tomato

Dolce:

Tiramisu Cannoli Profiteroles Assorted fruit and cheeses Coffee and espresso

Italian food is one of the most beloved cuisines in the world—making it a great option for your wedding menu. And now that you know the steps to take to create an Italian menu for your wedding, all that’s left to do is get out there and create your menu (but definitely schedule a tasting or two along the way).

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