Antipasto means literally “before the meal.” It is an Italian platter of cured meats, various cheeses and marinated vegetables served as a first course before the entrée. “Antipasta” is an erroneous colloquialism for “antipasto,” a mistranslation of “before the pasta.” The plural form of antipasto is “antipasti.” Unlike hors d’oeuvres or appetizers, antipasti are served before traditional Italian meals to stimulate the appetite.
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The term “antipasto” was first used in 16th century Italy. Much like French hors d’oeuvres and Spanish tapas, small bites signified the beginning of a meal by stimulating the appetite without filling the stomach. Meals traditionally lasted for hours, including several courses and wines. Though the food was not always lavish, it was savored. Antipasto is served at room temperature and incorporates many colors, textures and flavors to stimulate all of the senses before the main course.
Meats and Seafood
Various cold cuts appear on antipasti platters. Traditionally, meats were butchered and cured during the cold months and preserved throughout the warm months. Traditional Italian cured meats include prosciutto, pancetta, lardo, finocchiona, capocollo and saliccia. Italian sausages are featured in antipasti, particularly in America, where pepperoni and salami are familiar. Cold cuts are often accompanied by crusty bread and breadsticks. Sardines, smoked salmon and anchovies are served alongside capers and marinated onions. Calamari, shrimp, mussels and scallops also make an appearance. On very traditional antipasti platters, you'll receive crudo, thin slices of raw meat. Pate is also included atop crostini, or toasted bread.
Cheeses of varying textures are a primary element of antipasto. Hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and asiago, crumbling semi-hard cheeses like Gorgonzola, semi-soft cheeses like mozzarella and soft cheeses like Taleggio are served with fruits, crackers, honey and tomatoes. These cheeses lend saltiness and pungency balanced with the sweetness of fruit.
Marinated and pickled vegetables are salty, tangy additions to the antipasto platter. Marinated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini, roasted red peppers, pickled peperoncini, olives and olive tapenade are rounded out with fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables. Giardiniera is a combination of pickled onions, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini and celery jarred in red or white wine vinegar. Bruschetta, tomato and basil atop crusty Italian bread, is a popular addition as well.