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Make your next cocktail party an Italian affair by serving Italian appetizers, known as antipasto
by Francesca Di Meglio
The delectable first bites of an Italian meal are known as antipasto. Perhaps, the name is meant to warn people that these appetizers or anti pasto will kill your appetite for the rest of the meal. Still, you'll want to take your chances and indulge in antipasto. You might just make antipasto alone your next meal. Here is a roundup of some Italy's best antipasto –
Tray of Italian cold cuts
An oval serving platter or a tray with dividers is the perfect bed for your favorite Italian cold cuts. Whenever I'm making an antipasto platter, I usually include prosciutto, mortadella (Italian bologna), dried sausage, and assorted Italian cheeses, such as Asiago or Parmigiana. Display these in a pretty way on the platter, making sure to use the colors to create a pattern.
Crisp tomatoes and fresh mozzarella highlight the ingredients in this simple salad. Start with a round platter, and slightly layer slices of juicy red tomato and fresh white mozzarella one after the other. Top the tomatoes and mozzarella with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh basil, and salt. For a non-traditional kick, you might add chopped hot pepper or red hot pepper flakes. Add some flourish, by placing two or three whole fresh basil leaves at the center of the dish. If you really want to impress guests, you can place cherry tomatoes and bocconcini (small mozzarella balls) on toothpicks and attach them to a Styrofoam cone to make them look like a tree. You can even include the fresh basil leaves in between tomatoes and mozzarella balls with toothpicks as well. Be sure to leave some olive oil and salt nearby for guests to serve themselves.
Marinated Vegetables and Olives
Many Italians pickle their own vegetables in olive oil – and perhaps even a few herbs – and then serve them with antipasto. My family does this with baby artichokes, mushrooms, and eggplant. You can also buy these vegetables at Italian specialty stores or even some supermarkets. Olives – from black to Neapolitan ones – are also a welcome addition to the antipasto table.
In Italy, this dish can both be served as an antipasto or contorno (side dish). It is not a main dish as Americans consider it. The eggplant is also never breaded. In fact, most Italians gag at the thought. It is, however, thinly sliced and fried before being smothered in tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella (not the packaged American version), and Parmigiana cheese. Most Italians will expect a hunk of Italian bread with wich to eat “La Parmigiana” as it's often called.
Although many Americans mistakenly call this antipasto “brushetta,” it should be pronounced “brusketta.” Take a loaf of Italian bread, slice it, brush each piece with extra virgin olive oil, rub it with a sliced piece of garlic, and place it on a baking sheet. Put the bread slices in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to toast them. Then, toss quartered cherry or grape tomatoes with basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. Once the juice has started to ooze from your tomato salad and your bread is toasted, spoon the salad on top of each slice and place it on a serving platter. Some Italians like to add drained and cooked cannellini beans to the bruschetta. Others add tuna fish. You can experiment with all sorts of toppings.
Savory fried zeppole
Most people know sweet zeppole or fried dough with powdered sugar on top. You get those for dessert at your local Italian feast. But in Italy many chefs have created savory zeppoles or friend dough with a salty kick. In Ischia, the small Neapolitan island, for example, many restaurants offer guests zeppole with seaweed in them. The seaweed is chopped for very finely and is barely noticeable but gives the dough a saltier taste. Others make a simple, non-sweet fried dough and smother it in tomato sauce with just a hint of melted mozzarella cheese. Of course, these fried treats should be eaten in small quantities.
The list could go on and on. But I'll stop here. You, of course, should include aperitivi or cocktails that are perfect for before the meal. They tend to be sweet and are intended to work up your appetite. Your local liquor store salesmen can give you some suggestions. They are usually low in alcohol content or are not even alcoholic. In Italy, some people in recent years have turned to spumante, prosecco, or even a good wine as a pairing to stuzzichini or these little bites of antipasto that are available at your local Italian pub or bar.
Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can read about her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.
Article Published 3/18/2011
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