MIXED ANTIPASTO

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All Mixed Up !

Antipasto_7

Buon giorno!

There have been some requests for a discussion of traditional Antipasto. Many of you who were born and raised on Mortadella and Provolone might scratch your heads and say “why”? Yes, it comes as second nature to us who may have teethed on pepperoni. However, there are many out there who really don’t know how to create one properly, and also many who might be intimidated by the elaborate designs of the Antipasti they have seen or sampled. Before all of the Italians start yawning and those intimidated non-Italians start to run for the hills  – ASPETTA!! (WAIT!) The Mixed Antipasto of today’s post is not quite what you might expect. It is easy, quick, and beautiful to look at.  So listen up!

A quick tutorial: In Italian, Antipasto is one. The plural is Antipasti. Very simply, it means “before the meal”.

Tradition: The traditional image is that of a platter of several different types of Italian cold meats, cheeses, olives, anchovies, and pickled or marinated vegetables, all lined up and served with crusty bread. Another visual is Antipasto served on a very special “relish” platter with separate compartments for each item kind of like that old Swanson TV dinner container we all remember which creates a kind of deconstructed arrangement. No two items touch or mingle. Other traditional forms include all sorts of elaborate flower or kaleidoscope-like patterns with meats rolled tightly, lined up like little tin soldiers, resembling the choreography of the Rockettes. I think this might be where the intimidation got started. If you didn’t have the time, the“knack” or better yet, a degree in Architecture, why would you bother to pursue it?

Types: Aside from the one described above which is the image we most often conjure when we think of Antipasto, there are other types. There is the one made entirely of fish – all types of seafood including octopus, calamari, shrimp, cuttlefish, sardines, mussels, clams, anchovies – I am out of breath… There is the Easter Antipasto of my youth which was the essence of spring with devilled eggs, basket cheese, spring green onions, olives, orange slices, fennel etc.

Universal item: If someone were to ask me what I thought might be the one item you would probably find in all good Antipasti, I would say… the olive! I can’t even imagine an Antipasto of any kind with some kind of olive. In this arena, there are no limits – ANY olive is great but you MUST have at least one type. Of course, the Gaeta, Cerignola, and the vivid green Castelvetrano etc are divine – but be prepared to pit them. This is definitely worth the trouble, if you have the time. Biting into an olive pit can be dangerous to one’s million dollar smile, and really lets the air out of the balloon, if you know what I mean in terms of an unpleasant experience. However, even pitted Kalamatas or regular old black olives are very acceptable. Just make sure you include the olives.

The Secret: Once again, the secret to making the best possible anything when it comes to Italian food including Antipasto is the ingredients. Always select the best and freshest ingredients, and even the simplest Antipasto will be heavenly. Look for good Italian cold meats. Use aged provolone or fresh mozzarella. Drizzle or marinate with the best of the Extra Virgins and Balsamicos .If you can roast your own peppers as in our post, Sovana and the Mystery Dish (LINK), all the better. Last but hardly least, always use fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice. The ingredients will be the difference between the bad fake and la cosa reale. Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing!

Shake it up, Baby: Keeping all of the do’s and don’ts in mind, the very best in Italian cooking was not carved into tablets and presented on Mt. Sinai. As long as your ingredients are good and true, you can tweak things once in a while and still keep the faith. We’ll take what we know, and just shake it up a little. It is in that spirit, that we will make a MIXED ANTIPASTO today. This is perfect for the cook who doesn’t have a lot of time but wants to serve something that looks like she/he does.  Our ingredients will be good, our herbs and lemons fresh, and our oils the best we can afford. Today, THAT is where we will depart from tradition and “mix it up”.

The MIXED ANTIPASTO feeds a crowd. We don’t have to labor over design with a set of blueprints. We can mix it ahead, and it will make incredible leftovers for sandwiches. Uh – don’t expect much in the way of leftovers. They usually can’t leave this one alone. You won’t have to worry about it sitting out as it does not have a tendency to spoil.  It is a conversation inducer: everyone gathers around talking and eating versus wandering about with a cracker. With just one spoon, you get a little of everything on your plate. It is great for a lunch, a buffet, a first course, an appetizer, and outdoors – On the Patio!

MIXED ANTIPASTO

Prep: 35-40 minutes

Serves: About 10  (just cut in half if you need less- but it keeps well for leftovers)

Ingredients:

Marinated Mushrooms: Marinate 3/4 lb fresh cremini or baby bella mushroom halves several hours ahead of putting your antipasto together. Marinate mushrooms with:  1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, fresh basil chopped, 1 clove garlic chopped and salt and pepper to taste. I like to add a small amount of red pepper flakes. Refrigerate until ready to combine with the rest of ingredients.

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Meats: Any combination of the following meats can be used. Use all or a few. Cut all meats into pieces. I’ll show you some of them.

1/3 lb Genoa or Hard Salami

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1/4 lb Mortadella

Mortadella-1

1/4 lb Prosciuttto

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1/3 lb Capicolla

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1/4 lb Pepperoni or Sopressata

1/4 lb Bresaola

 

Cheeses: Cut into edible sized chunks

1/2 lb Aged Provolone ( make sure to use aged – the one that smells like sox!)

1/2 lb Fresh Mozzarella

Other ingredients: Again, use any combination – best using all!

2 c. Cherry, Grape, or Campari tomatoes – cut in halves or quarters

Antipasto_2

3/4 c. Peperoncini cut up

1 c. Roasted Red Peppers (can be home roasted or from the jar)- cut into strips

1 c. Olives – Pitted Kalamatas were used for the demonstration here –Gaetas, Castelvetranos, Cerignolas all good – but make sure to pit them.

14 oz can rinsed and quartered artichoke hearts

2 oz. can anchovies cut up – or use just a few – you SHOULD use them – they melt into the dish when mixed, but the flavor they add is incomparable.

1/2 c. capers, rinsed and drained

Any other pickled vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower etc. are always welcome.

Dressing: Mix the following together:

Juice of 1/2 Fresh Lemon

1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

3 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped

Instructions:

Gently toss all of the meats, cheeses, and other ingredients together. Then pour the dressing over and toss together well.

Garnish and mix again:

1/2 c. Chopped Fresh Basil ( or use whole leaves)

1/2 c. Chopped Fresh Parsley

Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

At this point taste for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Important: Refrigerate Antipasto until ready to serve. Just before serving taste for seasoning and add more of dressing, salt, pepper if needed. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serving: This makes a beautiful and colorful presentation in a large glass bowl. Serve with small plates as an appetizer. The beauty of this is that everyone gets a little of everything quickly by spooning it onto their plate. Find a fresh loaf of Italian bread or Focaccia and have PLENTY on hand to serve with this dish.

Vino: Because of the dominance of meats and the earthy nature of the cheeses, I like a red wine and suggest a Ripassa Valpolicella, a Barbera D’Alba, Aglianico, or even a good Chianti Classico Riserva.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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April: Easter Frittata

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Buon giorno!

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The Easter Frittata was always a much anticipated part of our Easter meal – served and eaten cold, usually the second course behind the antipasto – and after the blessing always offered by my father. Every year, he told an old tale that cautioned us not to eat the Frittata until it was blessed lest a serpent might emerge. As a child, just in case I might have wanted to sneak a bite – I heeded this warning with great trepidation!

Tradition: My parents, Loretta and Attilio, made the Frittata, a day ahead – a huge ritual – using a cast iron frying pan. The ingredients for the Easter Frittata were always the same and reflected some of the freshness of spring. They always included my father’s homemade sausage – the best I ever had or will probably ever have again. My memory is still vivid, picturing us all gathered round, hoping a crumb would drop for us to catch. We watched them prepare the ingredients and create the finished product together. This process involved much drama in the flipping and turning of this giant omelet in the very heavy pan with all the appropriate Bravo’s and gasps at the finish.

Today: For today’s kitchen, it is surprisingly easy to make, can be made a day in advance, and chilled. Besides the Easter presentation, this Frittata has many “anytime” uses: as a preliminary course to a meal, a meal in itself, a brunch dish, or as a delicious appetizer cut into small pieces and served with cocktails. It is a perfect selection for serving On the Patio – making it a great “go-to” dish for my favorite place to dine.

With the holiday and spring fast approaching – let’s get to work! Andiamo!

EASTER FRITTATA

This recipe makes one large frittata. For a smaller version – just cut the ingredients in half!

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: About 20 minutes

1 dozen eggs

¼ c. heavy cream

Salt, pepper

¾ c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

1 bunch fresh asparagus

Olive oil to drizzle asparagus

Salt, pepper

1 ¼ lb Italian Sausage -out of casings – broken up into bits (combination of hot and mild is always good)

2 tbsp Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. Butter

4 Cloves fresh garlic – chopped finely

2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Parsley

2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Basil

1 bunch of green spring onions – with green tops – coarsely chopped

¾ lb-1 lb Basket Cheese or Fresh Mozzarella – cubed

(Basket Cheese is a bland and very moist cheese made from cow’s milk and very traditional to this dish. It is very difficult to find in Atlanta and some other areas. Fresh Mozzarella is a perfectly good substitute.)

Instructions:

Whisk the eggs together with ¼ cup heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste, and ¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – Set aside.

Roast the bunch of asparagus – I like the flavor provided by roasting the asparagus. Cut off the ends and bake drizzled with a little olive oil and a little salt and pepper at 400 degrees for about 12-15 min. til just fork tender – do not over cook! Cut the roasted asparagus into 1 1/2-2 inch pieces. Set aside.

In a large non-stick fry pan, saute 1 ¼ lb Italian Sausage in 2 tbsp. Olive oil til no longer pink. Remove sausage from pan with slotted spoon and set aside. Take the fry pan and swirl the drippings around so that the sides are coated. Now add 1 tbsp butter – melt in pan and swirl around the sides again.

Place this fry pan over medium high heat, and add the garlic and green onions. Saute a couple of min. til just tender.

To this pan over medium high heat, now add the parsley and basil – mix together – followed by the eggs. Give it a quick stir. Add the asparagus, sausage and cubed cheese – stir just a little to distribute.

Continue to cook over medium high heat being careful not to burn. After a bit –it should be set on the sides and bottom and be just a little runny in the middle – peek at the bottom – it should appear golden brown. At this point, place it in a 400 degree oven until completely set and firm in the middle.I always tap it with a knife in the middle. If it shakes – it is not yet set. Do not over cook or it will be dry. It should be just set throughout – takes just a few minutes depending on your oven. Check it after about 10.

Two ways: There are two ways to serve this:

1. You can either pop it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the top and then gently slide it onto a plate (use your spatula to coax if needed). OR -

2. You can invert it onto a plate. In this case you don’t need to use the broiler step as it will appear browned on the top when you invert it.

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This Easter Frittata a very easy dish to make – just takes a few steps, and it can and should be made a day ahead and served cold! How can you beat that?

BUONA PASQUA!

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