While many may interpret this as “before the pasta”, a more accurate translation would be “before the meal”. Antipasto is a formal course in Italian dining, but we are going to take some liberties and think broadly about antipasto as anything from an appetizer course to a snack.

You can put together an impressive looking antipasto course with minimal effort, and since there are no hard rules here (only some guidelines and suggestions) there is no wrong way to do it. Take some inspiration here, adjust to what you like and or have on hand or can find locally and go with it.

Some basic guidelines:

This is light starter course, generally served cold. In Italy, what is served reflects local tastes and agriculture. I take that as permission to include your personal tastes and local availability in your antipasto course. I approach this as finger food, and try to offer variety so everyone can find a few things they like. We’ll go over some of the basic items you are likely to find by category.

Meat – I like to include a variety of cured meats cut into slices or with a knife for dinner guests to slice for themselves. Hard salami, summer salami, prosciutto, capicola, etc.

Cheese – There are so many Italian cheeses to choose from. Fresh mozzarella, fontina, provolone, asiago, etc.. Consider a mix of firm and softer cheeses.

Dried or fresh fruit. Consider dried figs or dates as well as some fresh apple or pear slices. Maybe some berries in the spring, or summer melon. Grapes are always good, but go with what you like.

Fresh or pickled vegetables. Consider cherry tomatoes, green olives, kalamata olives, tomato bruschetta, sliced basil or pesto, cold roasted peppers, giardiniera (pickled spicy vegetable mix with pepperoncini, cauliflower, carrots, etc.). Any fresh vegetable is fair game – carrots, zucchini, peppers, totally up to you. Some marinated mushrooms can be a nice touch.

Nuts are less common, but can add variety especially if you are skipping the meat. Consider cashews, pistachios, walnuts or pecans.

Bread, toast or crackers. I like some fresh Italian bread and some toasted baguette slices for bruschetta. Crackers go with almost anything – spend an extra buck and get the fancy variety.

To make an authentic bruschetta, toast some Italian bread slices and rub them with a sliced clove of garlic. For the topping dice about 1 pound of Roma tomatoes and remove the seeds. Mix with 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil, 1/4 cup finely diced white onion, 1 Tbsp of minced garlic, a generous drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spoon onto the toast and serve.

You don’t need every item from every category. The goal is to get a nice mix of sweet, salty and savory. Feel free to omit the meat if you want to take a vegetarian approach. Go vegan and skip the meat and cheese – just go heavier on the other items and definitely include some nuts for the savory and salty notes.

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