The Antipasto Platter
Antipasto is as ubiquitous to the beginning of an Italian meal as is dolce at the end. It translates to “before the meal”, and is served individually plated or on a large platter, family style. Though hosting like a proper Italian, serving each guest an individual plate of antipasto (very tipico of Italian meals), may not be the most efficient use of one’s time, or dinnerware.
So, serve it instead, on a large platter, dressed with an abundance of garnishes for guests to pick at, aperitif in hand, before dinner is served.
Once all of the ingredients are selected, there isn’t much to putting together an Antipasto platter, only a few guidelines to keep in mind:
The 4 components of an Antipasto platter
1. The Selection: Cured meats and/or cheeses
2. Garnish: preserved or dried fruits and vegetables, olives, nuts
3. Spreads: sweet or savory jam, olive paste, mustard, hummus, meat mousse
4. Vehicle: bread, crackers, breadsticks
- Preferably wood or marble, or a graphite tile so the food stands out. Something oblong, weirdly shaped and colored, with groves and holes. The more warped and rustic looking, the better.
- Meats should be sliced as thinly as humanly possible. Transparent enough to hold over a newspaper article and be able to make out the words.
- Don’t roll meats into little taquitos. Gently drape everything into little bundles.
- Small hard sausages, like cacciatore, should be cut into little disks no thicker than half a centimeter.
- Use a combination of something spicy, something sweet, something cured, something cooked, and/or something spreadable (ex. mortadella mousse or pate), vary the countries of origin and try to add one non pork product, like bresaola.
- Small wheels of hard cheese should be cut into triangles, showing the rind (whether edible or not) so the cheese can be identified. The only exception to this rule is Parmigiano, which should be broken off into small 1 inch chunks.
- Medium hard cheeses can be cut into cubes.
- Blue cheeses, depending on how well they hold together, can be gently cut into chunks similar to Parmigiano. If it’s super soft, like Gorgonzola, leave it whole (see next point).
- Leave soft cheese (like brie, or goat) whole, with a sharp-ish spreading knife stabbed through it, so guests can keep their fingers clean.
- Cheese is best cut when it is cold, but best served at room temperature.
- Use a combination of different animals (cow, goat, sheep), a variety of textures and colors. And there should be at least one showstopper, like a pungent blue, something soaked in red wine, something filled with ash, truffle, edible flowers, etc.
- If you choose to add savory and sweet garnishes on the platter, try to separate from your cheese and meat selection by putting them in separate containers.
- Best fruits: Blackberries, raspberries, physalis (orange berry in husk), figs (the more seasonal the better), quince paste, dried fruits
- Best vegetables: olives (warmed), grilled artichokes, sundried tomatoes, pickled eggplant, small cornichons, lupine beans, roasted red pepper, marinated garlic, marinated mushrooms
- Place your garnish bowls down on the board first and fit the meats and cheeses around them. Then add more garnish in and around to fill the gaps.
- Use as many colors as possible!
- Roasted nuts warmed in honey offer a glorious salty/sweet dimension
- Avoid the NFG (Non-functional Garnish). If the garnish doesn’t compliment the selection, if it’s not meant to be eaten, or if it is drastically out of season, don’t add it.
- Seasonal edible flowers however, are encouraged.
- Only add one or two spreads per platter, choose something that compliments all meats and cheeses being served.
- Blending cooked red beets or roasted butternut squash into hummus, or cooked green peas into pesto are great ways to add color. Black olive paste is also striking.
- Keep spreads in a separate container, like a mini mason jar, for easier access.
- Jams, fruit preserves, and fancy honey should be reserved for cheese platters.
- Grainy mustard, hummus, pesto, and olive paste for more savory platters (i.e. platters with mostly meats, and containing little to no fruit).
- Don’t forget the spreading knife!
- Accompany your board well toasted bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt
- A variety of crackers, breadsticks, and cheese twists are a worthy textural component as well
- Be creative with the serving container: A basket, a mason jar, a flower vase, etc.
- Based on the amount of food on the board, only serve 1/4 of bread and crackers. So your guests don’t fill up on carbs.
The Best Antipasto Platters…
Reflect the season
Contain odd numbers of everything
Serve 1-2 pieces of each item per person
Look abundant, with no empty space
Are served at room temperature
Are casually thrown together, not too contrived