Some common ingredients in traditional southern Italian cuisine include pasta, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, olives and wine. Common seasonings are basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Traditional cooking varies by region; traditional northern Italian cooking uses rice, polenta, butter, Parmesan cheese and cured meats such as prosciutto.
The traditional Italian meal has a number of courses, starting with an antipasto or appetizer course. An antipasti platter might consist of grilled eggplant and peppers drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, beef fillets with aioli, arugula and tomatoes topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, slices of prosciutto di Parma ham, and olives.
The first actual meal course, called the primo, features soup. Zuppa di vongole, or clam soup, contains fresh clams, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and country bread. Another common dish is pasta with beans and mussels, which includes rigatoni or other cut pasta, mussels, cannellini beans, red chili flakes and fresh parsley.
The second course, the secondo, is usually a plain fish, chicken or meat course with a vegetable. Artichokes, spinach, fennel, baked potatoes and roasted peppers are common choices. Osso buco is a veal dish with rosemary, thyme and cloves. Grilled Tuscan chicken uses a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary.
Fruits and biscotti or other sweets make up the dessert course, called the dolce. Lemon and orange may flavor desserts such as Italian ices or cookies. Chocolate and coffee flavorings are popular in cakes and tiramisu.