2009 February: In the Beginning

2009 February: In the BeginningWith its variety of colorful ingredients served in small, approachable bites, its no wonder diners enjoy kicking off their meal with antipasto platters. An Italian term, antipasto translates to “before the meal” and refers to an assortment of hot and cold appetizers usually including, but not limited to, cheese, meats and vegetables. Picture cured meats like salami, pepperoni or prosciutto; marinated, roasted, grilled or pickled vegetables such as olives, artichokes, peppers and eggplant; and sliced cheese. Garnishes of bread, crackers, olive oil, vinegar or fruit often round out platters.

Don’t be discouraged by the abundance of ingredients. It’s easy to incorporate antipasto platters into existing appetizer menus. In fact, a glance around the walk-in will prove that many ingredient staples are already in use on pizzas and pastas. Partnering with a local deli, specialty grocery store or gourmet food vendor can fi ll in any missing components. The platter may be a simple two-to-four-item plate or a more extravagant presentation of various cheeses, vegetables, meats and accompaniments.

Brett Corrieri, corporate chef/owner, of MAFIAoZA’s Pizzeria in Nashville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, invites guests to build their own antipasto platter. “We call our antipasto plates ‘Piccolo Morsi’, meaning ‘little bites.’ There can be as little as three items or as many as 21 items plus garnishes and crostini. It is up to the client,” he says.

At MAFIAoZA’s Nashville location, guests may order three ($8), fi ve ($12) or all items ($35). The Birmingham location charges $9.50 (three items), $13.50 (fi ve items) and $36 (all items). All platters arrive with sliced apples, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, strawberry preserves, black pepper honey and crostini. Guests may select meats ranging from herbed brussetto or pistachio mortadella. A selection of artisanal cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk cheeses are also available. Corrieri doesn’t stop with cheese and meat. Guests may also consider adding olive tapenade, white bean hummus, goat cheese with peppers or mascarpone artichoke dip to their platters.

At Il Villaggio Osteria in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, antipasto items are listed individually on the menu. “It makes it more affordable for the customer and creates a tapas-style dining experience,” says Roger Freedman, executive chef/partner.

Guest may opt for three ($8), fi ve ($13) or seven ($20) cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses or salami ($5, per slice) such as bresaola or coppa. “The antipasto is a great way for guests to sample a large variety of cheeses and meats. They are especially popular with parties of six or more,” says Freedman.

Freedman also prepares different antipasto side dishes ($6 each). Eggplant caponata combines roasted eggplant, garlic, grilled artichoke hearts, red onion, blistered cherry tomatoes, capers, fresh basil, salt, pepper, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Alici features imported Sicilian anchovies served over a bed of roasted red and yellow peppers. (Freedman also places Alici on Caesar salads and bruschetta.) An olive sampler features four different marinated olives. Each table receives house-made breads and olive oil to further enhance their antipasto selections. “Our high-quality ingredients, including regional and imported cheeses and cured meats from Italy, really makes our antipasto stand out,” says Freedman.

It made perfect sense for sisters Christine and Carla Pallota, co-owners of the Boston-based pizzeria/enoteca Nebo to prepare antipasto since many antipasto ingredients overlap with their other menu items. “Our antipasto ingredients are standard Italian ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Our pizzas share those ingredients,” says Carla.

Nebo divides its antipasto platters by vegetable, meat and cheese. Each platter showcases a variety of ingredients. For example, Antipasti di Vedure ($15) displays grilled, marinated vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onion and cipollini. Warm country olives — Italian olives marinated in lemon zest, orange zest and rosemary — accompany the vegetables. Piatto di Formaggi ($12) exhibits seven to eight cheeses like imported Gorgonzola and house-made ricotta. Salumi Misti ($12, for individual, $26 serves 4 to 6) includes slices of Prosciutto di Parma, hot capicola, bresaola, abruzzese sausage and fontina cheese. It comes with fresh arugula and homemade pepperonata (Italian relish). “Our whole menu is based on antipasti. It’s set up to be shared like in an Italian household,” says Christine.

The key to satiating guests with the idea of a “platter” and earning a profi t is fi nding the right balance between food, portion size and menu price. The Pallota sisters derive their antipasto platter prices based on food costs. “There’s really no other way to do it. We fi nd that people are willing to pay what it costs to have an outstanding and authentic experience,” says Carla.

Freedman fi nds his menu and pricing are economy and customer driven. “We try to be consumer friendly and economy conscious. For example, we might use a less expensive cut of meat but accompany it with high-quality garnishes and fresh ingredients,” he says. Corrieri looks at his product mix and develops a pricing plan based upon food cost, sales volume and perceived value. No matter how you plate it — and price it— this big-fl avored starter will surely turn heads. ?

Beyond the platter

Don’t limit the antipasto concept to platters. Consider the suggestions below to stretch antipasto across the menu:
? Create an antipasto salad where assorted meats, cheese and vegetables sit over mixed greens.
? Offer antipasto-style subs, paninis, wraps or sandwiches built around standard platter ingredients such as salami, pepperoni and cheese or roasted artichoke hearts, peppers and olives.
? Create a specialty antipasto pizza topped with roasted vegetables, cured meats and cheese. Instead of pizza sauce, consider covering the pizza with olive oil and herbs.
? Enhance traditional bruschetta with antipasto ingredients.
? Serve a bite-sized amuseboche of olives, sliced cheese or vegetables to diners before the meal.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.

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