Antipasto, which literally means "before the meal" in Italian, is a combination of small tasty bites, usually accompanied by wine and meant to stimulate the appetite before digging into the main meal. (If French hors d'oeuvres or Spanish tapas came to mind, you’ve got the right idea.)
Whatever the setting, serving antipasto is the perfect way to slow things down and savor great food and company. Notably, it is doesn’t take much effort to prepare a winning combination of antipasto plates.
Think marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers or pickled garlic, salty olives, rustic artisan breads, deli meats, small bites of seafood delicacies and rich cheeses, and presto antipasto!
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind when planning your plates:
- If the party is small, keep the antipasto simple. Remember, you want to stimulate the appetite, not squelch it.
- Antipasto should 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.
The Simple Plate Narrow your choices down to two or three items, then incorporate a few fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables and you’re set! (I told you it was easy. Make it even easier and more cost effective by shopping your store’s salad bar, olive bar or bulk bins if you only need a small amount of something.) Try these simple ideas:
- 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 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 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 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 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. (Tip: 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: 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. (Tip: Your store’s cheese mongers can help you pick the perfect cheeses for your plate and cut just the amount you need!)
If you have a bit more time and want to make something in advance, try Antipasto Skewers. They can be made up to 3 hours before serving. Balsamic-Glazed Antipasto Skewers with Fresh Mozzarella and Dried Fig, Brie and Rosemary Bites are two more recipes likely to steal the spotlight…at least until you serve the main meal.
Do you have any winning combinations for antipasto that receive acclaim from your guests? Let me know in the comments below.