Antepasto means “before the meal*.” Technically, the antepasto is any kind of appetizer. In Italy an antipasto in a restaurant can be a small dish with a smattering variety of little foods to stimulate the appetite for the main course. In America the ingredients of a traditional antipasto usually consist of cured foods such as salami, prosciutto, olives, eggplant, peppers, artichokes, cheese and sometimes anchovies or sardines. In the Italian American kitchen, the antipasto is usually served on holidays and special occasions. Unlike the small restaurant dish, the Italian American home style antipasto is usually a most elaborate preparation. In my family the antepasto, usually pronounced andy-pahst, was served on very large platter with all the elements artfully arranged. The platter was garnished with slices of sweet oranges. (The addition of orange slices may be due to our Sorrentine roots.) The antepasto was served after the soup and before the pasta and main course. At my table I serve the antepasto in third place after the soup and the pasta. In this way, it bridges the way to the meat course.
The most important part of a good antepasto is the selection of ingredients. Since there is nothing in this dish that involves cooking, the beauty of this dish is the finest and thinnest slices of meats, the best olives and cured foods and the most delicate fresh mozzarella. An important ingredient to leave out is the tomato. Most holidays occur outside tomato season and tomatoes or any other fresh vegetable, other than a salad green, are never found in an antepasto. Other than this prohibition, your antepasto is limited only by your imagination.
Prepare a mixture of fine olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing.
Allow each person to dress their own dish,
*Note: Don’t confuse “pasto” with “pasta.” “Pasta,” with the feminine “a” ending means paste or “pasta” as in spaghetti. “Pasto” with the masculine “o” ending means “meal.”
What you need
Assemble the ingredients decoratively on a very large platter.