Nothing starts an Italian meal like antipasti. Plates of cheeses, cured meats and pickled vegetables signify a meal’s first chapter. Shareable foods welcome interaction and conversation for everyone at the table. Antipasto are meant to be eaten slowly and savored in anticipation of more to come. In Italy, dining tends to be slower paced, a time when family members gather and share food for thought.
Why is antipasti so big Italy? “They love to course,” says Adam Smith, Arezzo Ristorante owner. “It’s all about coursing.” The extent of a meal is impressive. Full course Italian dining progresses from antipasto to primo, secondo, contorno, insalata, formaggi e frutta, dolce, café and digestive—well maybe just for Christmas and other big holidays. But even on an ordinary day, antipasti makes a fitting beginning.
These Italian appetizers can be made from just about anything with a Mediterranean bent. Besides meat and cheese staples, consider combinations of fish or fruit served cold. While unpretentiously prepared, antipasti should be big on taste. Briny olives are easy to serve and key players. Fresh, high quality ingredients showcase Italian
flavors leaning more savory and salty than sweet.
Antipasto consumption often necessitates a drink in hand. The rejuvenating fizz of prosecco or other Italian wines wash away a salty thirst in style. It’s a tradition going back longer than anyone can remember.
Arezzo puts together authentic Italian antipasto plates sure to please. A dish of Italian olives and cheese harbors scents of rosemary sealed by olive oil. The smoked salmon carpaccio transforms fish, arugula, capers and oranges into a sublime starter. Healthy ingredients, congregating like good friends, bring out the best in each other.
The insalata finocchi nere e mandarini of shaved fennel and blood oranges redefines vegetable and fruit parings with its harmonious balance of crisp-sweet-astringency. Elegance radiates from every mouthwatering morsel.
Honeydew melon wedges wrapped with thin layers of prosciutto are not only eye catching, they’re delicious.
The appealing combination graces tables throughout Italy, Smith says.
Call it prosciutto e melone for a true Italian moniker.
Match your antipasto selection with a varying assortment of sangrias, Aperol cocktails and other wine drink innovations. Prosecco, the Italian version of Champagne, “opens the appetite,” Cristina Monesterio, Arezzo manager, says. Besides the sparkling bubbles are just plain fun! Look for a new line of spring cocktails designed to pair with antipasto flavors. Any continental antipasti aficionado will feel at home here.
Antipasti at Home
Stock the pantry with Italian goodies such as extra virgin olive oil, capers, fresh arugula, blood oranges, lemons, limes and smoked salmon for starters. “Italian food is meant to be simple,” Smith says. “They don’t really do a lot of garnishing.” Maybe a fresh rosemary sprig will do?
Expert tips for at home antipasti include:
• Use fresh ingredients
• Ask local experts at Lunds & Byerlys, Jerry’s Foods and France 44.
• Seek additional freshness with Minnesota-grown produce sold seasonally at local farmers markets.
• Use imaginative presentation: Repetitive layering adds symmetry when designing a plate, garnishes can heighten interest and color contrast.
• Be authentic: Use olive oil and cheeses from Italy.
• A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can heighten flavors.
According to Larry D’Amico, president and co-founder at D’Amico and Partners, “Antipasti is a very general term … if you look up antipasti, it’s whatever you eat before the pasta.” The definition includes foods “that are picked.” While in Italy, D’Amico noticed a recurring trio of roasted almonds, green olives and potato chips set out on bar counters. American-style potato chips fit in because they are salty.
Warning: Many antipasti olives probably have pits. Be sure to set out an empty bowl for polite disposal of those.
D’Amico takes note of olives. “When I go to Lunds, I hang out in the olive bar. I love all olives, I really do—the big fat black ones, the skinny green ones.” For those who prefer to have antipasto from a caterer, D’Amico & Sons offers platters brimming with Italian delicacies. “The food is so colorful it’s a garnish in itself,” D’Amico says. Beautiful arrangements of cured meats, cheeses, nuts, olives and crostini platters serve 8–12 people. Order 24 hours in advance. $40 to $60.
Be sure to check out our next article on Antipasti Cocktails!