Antipasto. It’s a name you’ve surely seen before, especially if you have been to an Italian restaurant and browsed its menu. Antipasto is the food offered to diners before the actual meal. For Americans, it is called appetizer. But for the Italians, antipasto is more than just a food that is offered before the meal.
In Italy, antipasti are chosen for their color, texture, and flavor. Italians also choose antipasti based on the way the food complement the meals that are to come. In fact, a meal in Italy isn’t one unless there is an antipasto.
One of the misconceptions about antipasto is that it is served only before a pasta course. In reality, antipasto is not actually served prior to eating pasta like spaghetti. The word antipasto actually comes from two words—‘anti’ meaning before and ‘pastus’ meaning meal. So if you think about it, antipasto simply means food that is served first before any other meal.
But the regular Italian family does not have an antipasto for everyday meals. This is contrary to what many people think that Italians would just open their refrigerators and get slices of salami or cheese for their pre-meal food. In fact, the Italians reserve antipasti for special occasions. Thus they take time to prepare and arrange the plates with slices of cured meat, fish, and vegetables for special occasions like family reunions, birthdays, romantic dinners, special gatherings, and celebrations after a religious event.
In Italy, antipasto is not often served for breakfast. This is because the people there usually take lighter fare like pastry and a cup of tea in the morning. The Italians, however, serve antipasti for lunch and dinner especially during special occasions like holidays.
Most restaurants in the said European country offer a diverse range of antipasti. In fact some of them even display their antipasti on buffet tables and even refrigerated bars so guests can take a sample. In most fine dining restaurants around the world, antipasto course is given much importance that chefs come up with truly creative and unusual specialties presented in an amazing manner.
Antipasto plates usually carry a mixture of cold cuts. These are cured meats, or ‘salumi’ in Italian, which were made through smoking, salting, or air drying meat. The process of preserving meat, or cured meat, actually goes back to the times of the ancient Romans.
Some of the more popular cured meats are salami, sausage, pepperoni, lardo, capocollo, prosciutto, and pancetta. These meats are typically seasoned with herbs and secret spices. These delicacies can be bought at a salumeria or Italian delicatessen.
Aside from cured meats, traditional antipasto includes olives, pepperoni, anchovies, mushrooms, cheeses, and vegetables in oil. The contents of antipasto may vary depending on the regional cuisine. For instance, in the southern part of Italy the antipasto is often inclusive of cured meats and saltwater fish. While in the northern tip of the country, cured meats, freshwater fish, cheese and mushroom are typically included.
Speaking of fish, antipasti plates are likewise traditionally served with Italian fishes like smoked salmon, sardines, seared tuna, and anchovies. These fish delights complement the other foods included in the antipasto like onions and anchovies. In some parts of Italy, shellfish, shrimp, scallops, mussels and other seafood are also included in their antipasto.
Restaurants like Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill have different antipasti (plural form of antipasto) on their menu. But there are some familiar antipasti foods that you may find in the menu of restaurants serving Italian cuisine.
One of these is bruschetta which consists of grilled bread wiped with garlic and topped with olive oil, tomatoes, pepper, and salt. Other variations include toppings of beans, cheese, and cured meat. In fact, this antipasto is so popular that other nationalities serve this as a snack and not just an appetizer.
According to the Italians, the origin of the bruschetta goes back to 800 B.C. The early Italians dressed a salt-less bread, cut it into slices and brushed it with garlic and olive oil before placing it in the early form of the oven.
The antipasti salad, or appetizer salad, is another common antipasto that you’ll find in the menu of Italian restaurants. Many consider this to be the healthiest antipasti around because of its combination of ingredients like pepper, sun dried tomatos, asparagus, and deli meats ranging from parma ham, salami, and pepperoni. The antipasti salad is usually served on a cold platter.
There’s also toasted bread with olive oil. In Italy, this antipasto is usually served late in the year starting in November when there are lots of freshly gathered olives around, and hence plenty of olive oil. The bread called crostini is also topped with tomatoes especially during the summer months, or boiled cannellini beans during the winter season.