Every meal at my grandparents’ starts the same way. A giant platter of rolled-up Italian deli meats, cheese, olives and bread lands on the table and we dig in while we wait for the main course.
This is antipasto, Italian for “before the meal,” a traditional appetizer plate of cured meats, vegetables, olives, cheese and other finger foods.
It’s not fancy, and that’s exactly how it’s intended. My grandparents use salami and mortadella (Italian bologna) from the grocery store deli, black olives from a can and their favorite fresh mozzarella from Costco.
But walk into an Italian deli or an upscale grocer and you’ll find an array of options that can bump your antipasto platter up a notch, making it a perfect party plate or even a meal unto itself.
Steve Rawson, a deli manager, said crafting a great antipasto platter is all about creating “that best bite.”
With each bite, “you want to hit two to three flavor profiles at once – sweet, salty, savory, bitter,” he said.
Do that by providing a variety of flavors that can be mixed and matched.
▪ Salty prosciutto
▪ Savory finocchiona (fennel salami)
▪ Spicy calabrese salami or pepperoni
▪ Garlicky Genoa salami
▪ Mortadella, with or without pistachios
▪ Sharp provolone
▪ Salty Asiago or Parmesan
▪ Fresh mozzarella balls
▪ Sweet dried fruits, such as figs
▪ Briny olives at various stages of ripeness
▪ Crackers or sliced bread
▪ Nuts, like buttery marcona almonds
▪ Marinated vegetables, such as mushrooms, artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers
▪ Fresh fruit and vegetables, such as sliced pears, grapes, cantaloupe, asparagus or cherry tomatoes
▪ Seasonal jam, compote or relish
▪ Extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar
▪ Wine – Pinot noir pairs well with Italian meats.
Tips for putting together an antipasto platter
▪ Know your guests. Do they like spicy foods? How about olives? Do they eat meat? Plan your platter accordingly.
▪ Ask to sample items at the deli. Meat, cheese and olives can be expensive, so make sure you like it before you buy it.
▪ Keep the meat to cheese ratio at about 1:1. Plan on about 3 slices of each per person.
▪ Pay attention to platter presentation. Get a variety of colors on the plate, roll or fold meats and sliced cheese so they look appetizing, place complementary flavors near one another and get artistic with how you arrange the food.
▪ Try a themed platter to reflect a region or season. It doesn’t have to be Italian – include serrano ham for a Spanish platter or brie cheese for a French take.
▪ Let the cheese sit at room temperature for 45 minutes before serving. This will bring out more flavor and aroma.
▪ Follow the recommendation of the Food Safety and Inspection Service and don’t let deli meat sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
▪ If you’re serving olives, set out a small bowl for guests to discard pits.
▪ Antipasto is casual, so it’s meant to be eaten with your hands, combining foods and flavors to suit your taste buds.