When I was a kid, one of the restaurants we went to was an Italian pizzeria. There was a chef in the front, throwing and stretching pizza dough for all to see. We always ordered a huge family size pizza and I always burned my tongue on the hot melted cheese, too impatient to wait for it to cool.
I can still taste it. It had a heavy tomato sauce, dried oregano and a rubbery thick melted mozzarella cheese on top.
This wasn’t just a pizza joint and with our pizza we always ordered Italian salads. These were mixed green salads dressed with a red wine vinaigrette topped with a few exotic black olives, slices of Italian salami, garbanzo beans and cubes of white cheese, most likely provolone or mozzarella.
It seemed very exotic at the time. I was used to Jewish deli salami and black olives from California. I always loved this salad even though the dressing was way too acidic for a kid. There was something about the salami, marinated garbanzo beans, olives and cheese that was fantastic.
Years later when I traveled to Italy, I saw that most restaurants had a small buffet area set-up during lunch and dinner that had a gorgeous assortment of marinated beans, roasted peppers, beautiful olives, grilled zucchini, and multiple variations of eggplant. Just looking at the buffet as I walked past made my mouth water.
I loved this idea. It was not an all-you-can-eat American buffet. You asked the waiter to bring you an assortment as a first course, the waiter arranged his selection on a plate and presented it as a work of art.
It was beautiful, healthy and delectable. I’m inspired by this and reminded of those Italian salads when I create my antipasto platter.
With a bit of thought, imagination and creative shopping, you too can create a stunning antipasto platter.
I always start with a base of fresh baby arugula or baby spinach. Then it’s time to get creative. Combine store bought with homemade. Usually, the day before or even hours before, I marinate beans and artichoke hearts. I always include some type of cheese, marinated mozzarella balls, fresh creamy burrata or even hunks of Parmesan Reggiano.
I usually add some type of meat unless all of my guests are vegetarian. Italian salami, thin sliced prosciutto are all good choices. (I buy the Italian salami and prosciutto at Costco.)
Add some really good imported olives, green or black, hot peppers, grilled vegetables, roasted peppers and any raw vegetables such as tiny tomatoes, carrots or cucumbers.
Since most items are dressed with olive oil or a marinade, you don’t have to dress the salad. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon or a tiny drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and you’re all set.