It's not a holiday in my family without a big platter of antipasti. Every holiday, my aunt Estelle brings all the goodies from an amazing deli in Brooklyn. She leaves the presentation of the plate up to my friend Marisa and me, and then, without fail, proceeds to yell at us for putting out the wrong cheeses or meats. Next, my dad picks at the platter for two hours before inevitably whining for the next two hours about how much food there is. It goes something like this - Him: "Ugh, too much food. Estelle why do you bring all this crap? Why do we need to put out anything before dinner anyway? It's gluttonous -- we should all be ashamed!" Me: "Dad, you have red pepper in your teeth...also why did you just fill up your fifth plate of antipasti?" Ahh tradition - it's a beautiful thing isn't it? Everyone enjoys the antipasti in the end, and it continues to make an appearance year after year.
Literally meaning "before the meal," antipasto is the first course of a formal Italian meal, traditionally served at the table. My family likes to set it out in the early afternoon so everyone can pick at it throughout the day (and listen to my dad complain, as is tradition).
The perfect antipasto platter entices the appetite without filling you up. It has a good balance of meats, cheeses, vegetables and olives and is accompanied with breads and oils. It's incredibly easy to put together, looks beautiful and tastes even better (as long as you get the good stuff - you can't go wrong at your favorite local specialty food store or Italian deli).
Here are a few tips on how to impress your family and guests before the meal:
If you ask me, antipasto is 50 percent presentation.
Start with a large decorative tray or platter or go for a rustic look with a large wooden cutting board. Fill the plate with rolled or layered meats, wedges of cheese, and sliced vegetables, alternating in groups for color and balance. If your platter is looking a little too neutral, try adding chunks of celery, fresh basil or arugula to amp up the color.
For items like olives, chickpeas, or pickled cauliflower, use small bowls arranged in the center of the platter.
Some like to finish the antipasti platter with a drizzle of good olive oil or balsamic vinegar, but I prefer to set these in small bowls or dispensers on the side for guests to add on as they please.
Place forks around the platter for serving and set out appetizer plates and small forks for guests on the side.
Meats Served on the platter, rolled, layered, sliced, or cubed. Choose two to four.
Roll or layer thinly sliced deli meats like prosciutto, ham, salami, capicola, pancetta, bresaola, pepperoni or soppressata. Set out on platter in groups.
Slice or cube chunks of dried sausages, like chorizo, pepperoni, salami, sweet and hot Italian sausage, andouille or kielbasa. Set on platter in groups.
For a variation, try a seafood antipasto plate with seared shrimp, fresh tuna, smoked salmon, sardines, anchovies or caviar. Serve on platter with cream cheese, thick slices of tomato, chunks of cucumber, marinated red onion, capers and halved bagels or bagel chips.
Cheeses Served on the platter, rolled, sliced, or cubed. Choose two to four.
Roll or layer thinly sliced provolone or Swiss into long thin pieces and arrange next to rolled meats.
Slice or wedge chunks of your favorite cheeses like parmesan, pecorino, provolone, gruyere, manchego, ricotta salata, gouda, feta, brie, blue cheese or goat cheese.
I prefer to serve fresh mozzarella layered with roasted red peppers or thick slices of tomatoes on a separate platter. Drizzle this with good extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Vegetables & Olives Served on the platter or in small bowls arranged in the platter. Choose three to five.
Serve sliced celery, tomatoes, marinated sun dried tomatoes, pickled eggplant and zucchini, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted asparagus, carrots, stuffed cherry peppers, marinated mushrooms, cauliflower, chickpeas, mixed green and black olives, roasted cipollini onions, capers, small pickles, or pepperoncini peppers.
Breads Served aside the antipasti. Choose one or two.
Line a bread basket with decorative napkins or cloths and fill with your favorite breads and crackers. For more traditional antipasti, use sliced fresh French or Italian bread, breadsticks, or thin garlic crackers. Or for a new twist, try toasted pita, foccacia, garlic rosemary bread, naan, lavash, bagel chips, olive bread, or thyme and parmesan crisps.
Add on - Fruits & Nuts Served in bunches on the platter or in small bowls arranged on the platter.
Choose from chunks of fresh fruits like pears, apples, cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, or raspberries. Or serve dried fruits like cranberries, apricots, dates, raisins, or my personal favorite, roasted figs.
Try adding small bowls toasted nuts like pistachios, walnuts, pecans, or almonds.
Add on - Spreads & Dips Served alongside the platter or in small bowls arranged on the platter.
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Set out small bowls with spoons or dispensers of infused olive oils, like rosemary garlic, hot chili, or lemon & thyme. Serve spreads like black olive tapenade, tomato relish, fig jam, garlic hummus, baba ghanoush, chutney or honey.
In case you couldn't already tell, you really can't go wrong with antipasti. Just choose a variety of flavors, colors, and textures, prepare the plate ahead of time and get ready to enjoy that extra time out of the kitchen with your family and friends.