Antipasti or antipasto? This sort of semantic confusion can put a real spanner in the works when you’re trying to host the perfect Italian dinner party. And when you’ve worked out what to say - we recommend using antipasti (the plural form) when referring to a whole selection of foods but sticking to antipasto if talking about a singular dish - then you’ve got to choose what to serve, another overwhelming task. But worry not, we’re here to help. With our expert knowledge of Italian cuisine we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the perfect pre-dinner dishes that will wow your guests.
What antipasti should I serve?
The key to antipasti, as with many things Italian, is simplicity. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to prepare, from scratch, the finest appetisers you can think of. Instead, spend a little time working out where to source the best-quality produce to serve to your guests which will keep the hunger pangs at bay without filling them up too much before your main course.
Depending on the size of your party, and the ratio of vegetarian and vegan guests to those who eat meat, you will want to tailor the quantities of food you buy so that nothing goes to waste and there is something there for everyone. A basic principle we like to follow is to serve antipasti that falls into four different categories, within these it’s pretty much up to you what you fancy plating up! These categories are piccoli pezzi (little pieces), pane (bread), formaggio (cheese) and carni (meats). Within this basic framework you can pick from endless combinations of delicious Italian goods, but we’ve selected some of our favourites to give you a few ideas.
For fruit and vegetables you can’t go wrong with a selection of fresh olives and sundried tomatoes. Both of these delicacies are found in abundance in Italia and are bound to go down extremely well, and if in doubt, the fresher the better is what we say. Try and avoid olives that come in a jar or a tin and instead pick fresh ones from your local delicatessen (or the deli counter of your favourite supermarket). Another popular antipasto is the grilled pepper, sweet Italian red peppers are particularly tasty and are super easy to grill or roast yourself, just add a generous helping of garlic and a splash of olive oil. We can also recommend serving artichoke hearts as part of your antipasti, though possibly a more acquired taste these yummy morsels often go down a treat!
When serving bread as part of your antipasti the key is not to overdo it. The last thing you want is for your dinner party guests to carb-load before you even get to the main event, but serving bread alongside your other components is a great way of making sure that none of the delicious oils go to waste. A fresh slice of ciabatta is the perfect vessel for mopping up the flavoursome juices left in an empty bowl of olives, you’ve just got to make sure when you cut up the pane that you’re not too generous with the slices. If you want to get a little more creative, then focaccia would be a great way to get the compliments flowing early on. This Roman flatbread, which was traditionally baked in the hearth, can be packed with all manner of delicious herbs and will transport your guests on a sensory journey. If time is on your side, we encourage you to try your hand at making your own, but you should also be able to find delicious focaccia in many bakeries too!
Next, the cheese. Though you might expect this to feature as more of an after dinner treat, there is nothing that pairs better with olives and bread than a small portion of soft Italian cheese. We can recommend a lovely creamy pecorino or little pieces of fresh mozzarella to make your antipasti a platter of dreams. If you fancy adding something even more sophisticated to your table, then an aged, hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano will do the trick.
Finally, to complete your antipasto selection, adding a few well-chosen cured meats will never be a mistake. A favourite for us is prosciutto, a delicious dry-cured ham served in very thin slices. Salami is also a popular choice for antipasti and there are many varieties of this cured sausage available, often inspired by different regions of Italy or different seasons.
How should I present my antipasti?
There is no ‘right’ way to serve your antipasti. However, if you really want to impress then aesthetically arranging your selection on a large board or platter will be sure to wow your friends. Alternatively, if you’re keen for your guests to mingle before you serve dinner then placing smaller plates containing different types of antipasto around the room will help encourage people to circulate (we recommend leaving some napkins and cocktail sticks near each antipasto station, so things don’t get too messy).
What drinks should I serve with my antipasti?
The aperitivo tradition in Italy means that often small portions of food, like the antipasti in question here, are served alongside cocktails in trendy bars. You could emulate this at your own dinner party by serving traditional Italian beverages, like the Negroni Sbagliato or the Peach Bellini to your guests as they arrive. But if this isn’t quite your cup of tea, don’t panic. Popping open a bottle of chilled Prosecco will kickstart your party in authentic Italian style, and your guests can tuck into the array antipasti with a glass of fizz in hand.
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