The Perfect Antipasto Plate

A Long Tradition

What do these three things all have in common: pasta, ice cream and good table manners? They’re all just part of the list of enduring Italian culinary contributions, all as varied and delicious as the history of Italy itself.

Antipasto, which literally means "before the meal," is one of those contributions and similar to French hors d'oeuvres or Spanish tapas, it’s a beloved combination of small bites of tasty food, usually accompanied by wine and meant to stimulate the appetite before digging into the main meal.

When it’s done right, an antipasto plate will bring a relaxed spirit and friendly, casual conversation to your meal. No matter the occasion, serving antipasto is the perfect way to slow things down and savor great food at a dinner, picnic, cocktail party—you name it.

Antipasto 101: The Simple Plate

Antipasto plates are simply colorful offerings of marinated vegetables—think artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or pickled garlic—salty olives, rustic artisan breads, natural deli meats, small bites of seafood delicacies and rich cheeses.

With antipasto, it’s always best to keep things simple. Narrow your choices down to two or three items, then incorporate a few fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables and you’re set. Try these simple ideas on for size:

  • Jarred marinated artichoke hearts served with water crackers and Camembert cheese

  • Sliced tomatoes marinated in Italian dressing, served with slices of havarti cheese and garlic-stuffed green olives

  • Thinly sliced Genoa salami and Cacio de Roma cheese served with crusty bread

  • Shaved prosciutto with chunks of fresh cantaloupe and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts

  • Jarred roasted red and yellow peppers, garlic hummus and pita bread

  • Toasted focaccia bread with sardines and sweet onions

  • Olives, capers, sweet pickles and natural pepperoni or smoked peppered turkey breast

  • Roasted almonds, walnuts and pine nuts served with dried and fresh figs in season

  • Homemade garlic bread served with tomato relish and cold shrimp

  • Grilled deli vegetables with marinated fresh mozzarella

Advanced Antipasto

Think of this like the day after graduation. You’ve mastered Antipasto 101, evidenced by the cheers and full bellies around your table. Why not take it a step further? When planning for a large group or party, mix and match an assortment of items for your antipasto plate, like this:

Meat: Start with a selection of natural deli meats—maybe pepperoni, salami and prosciutto—then add mixed olives, a wheel of creamy brie, deviled eggs, roasted vegetables and crackers.

Vegetarian: Present marinated olives or olive tapenade, sliced semolina bread, fire-roasted peppers, vegetarian stuffed dolmas and roasted garlic hummus.

Seafood: This can be one of the most varied categories for antipasto. Consider a plate of mild crackers served with fish roe, sardines, anchovies, seared fresh tuna and smoked salmon, then add cream cheese, sliced marinated onions and capers.

Fresh Fruit and Nuts: Serve chunks of fresh cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon alongside natural deli meats, and then add toasted walnuts and roasted, salted pistachios.

Roasted Vegetables with Cheese: Pair roasted vegetables with tangy cheeses like feta, Gruyère or aged Manchego. For the roasted veggies, think about eggplant, beets, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and garlic. (Look for roasted vegetables in the prepared foods section of the store, or simply toss raw veggies with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a 450°F oven until tender.)

Cheese and More Cheese: Ah, yes ... we love the stuff. Look for out-of-the-ordinary cheeses like Rustica cheese with red peppers or black peppercorns, rosemary coated Manchego, Caciotta cheese with green olives, Gouda with mustard seeds or cumin, drunken goat cheese made with red wine and Sotocenere cheese with truffles and a hint of cinnamon. Then combine them with a few traditional ones like provolone or fresh mozzarella. Serve with slices of fresh bread.

Antipasto Rules

  • Unless you’re planning a party with lots of guests, keep the antipasto simple so you don’t crowd out the main meal.

  • No matter how basic or lavish, antipasto should simply complement the meal you’re planning.

  • The fragrance and appearance of the food that you serve is important, so blending flavors, aromas and colors will make for the most interesting antipasto plates.