All Mixed Up !
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!
Prep: 35-40 minutes
Serves: About 10 (just cut in half if you need less- but it keeps well for leftovers)
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.
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
1/4 lb Mortadella
1/4 lb Prosciuttto
1/3 lb Capicolla
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
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
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!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography