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Ah, Antipasto! Let the meal begin!
Italian antipasto---which means “before the meal”--- is the American equivalent of the appetizer, or “tapas”, as it is known in trendy cafes. Serving antipasto as a first
course has also been compared to having hors d’oeuvres before a meal, with one big difference---hors d’oeuvres are casually served to guests at parties or gatherings, while people are standing or mingling. Antipasto is served at the table, usually from a huge tray or favorite family plate used for such an occasion, where guests fill their smaller plates with traditional antipasto fixings. Antipasto ingredients are lovingly layered in mouth-watering configurations defined by individual food preferences and, more often than not, by family tradition. True Italian antipastos are often individual pieces of art, created and repeated by family cooks.
The social intent is much the same as passing hors’oeuvres---to interact, talk, and enjoy the experience of beginning a meal with cherished family and friends.
Traditional Italian antipasto consists of a variety of marinated vegetables, such as olives, cauliflower, carrots and celery, peppers and pimentos; cold cut meats (mortadella, Genoa salami, prosciutto and others) and fresh cheeses (mozzarella, provolone, asagio, fontina and others) and sometimes with anchovies, chunks of tuna or sliced, hard-boiled eggs. A good olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar may be lightly drizzled over the antipasto.
Antipasto at an Italian dinner table is a welcoming course. It says, “We’re glad you’re here, let’s linger and enjoy this time together”.