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WV Farm2Fork: Viva Italia! Throw an antipasti party! | Wv Culinary Team

We love a summer gathering with traditional summer fare – hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, steaks, potato salad, three bean salad and corn on the cob. Yet, somewhere between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we start to think about having a picnic with a little something different.

How about going Italian with an antipasti party? With the great selection of fresh vegetables and fruits during the summer and the addition of some Italian staples, you can host a party that’s just a little different.

And, if a few families are getting together, each can have a hand in bringing treats for the feast, making it easier for everyone. Best of all, most of the work is done ahead, so there’s little last-minute prep for the host.

An antipasti party is a visual treat as well as a culinary treat, and a true example of the sensory experiences of an Italian meal. The antipasta (it s plural is antipasti) is a traditional first course and the word is based on Latin – ante (before) and pastus (meal).

The course is designed to whet your appetite and prepare your taste buds for more. We think with a good spread, the antipasti party will carry you through. Though you could curb your enthusiasm, go with a small spread of teasers and head into a full blown Italian feast. That’s your call!

Antipasti are usually a combination of flavors — sweet to salty, sour to bitter – and textures — soft to firm, chewy and crisp – that are fun to combine and savor. That means when you are planning your antipasti party, the sky is the limit.

In his 1965 “Menus for Entertaining” cookbook, James Beard suggests an antipasti picnic menu can include sardines, anchovies, tuna fish, mortadella, salami, prosciutto, caponata, black and green olives, fresh peaches, cherries and melon. He advises his readers to use paper plates and napkins for serving, but real glassware for the drinks and wines.

Much of what you’ll need for your antipasti party can be found with a trip through Capitol Market. Fresh produce and herbs are available both inside and outside; wines, meats, cheeses, seafood and sweet chocolate treats can be found at shops inside. Charleston Bread, on Capitol Street, can help with the breads.

At WV Marketplace, you can find Oliverio’s mild and hot pepper rings, pickled cauliflower, and Giardiniera, which are Italian mixed vegetable pickles. Ordinary Evelyn’s Red Hot Pepper Dip and Cheese Ball mix would add definite spice to your party.

Smoke Camp’s salt-free Italian Spice Blend can add zip to a tomato and mozzarella salad. WV Marketplace just added the Hot Sauce and Vinaigrette products from Huntington’s La Famiglia Restaurant. The vinaigrette would be nice on a tomato and mozzarella salad.

The Purple Onion also offers a variety of Italian food products that can be used for an antipasti party. The new CalabriaMia line includes a mushroom medley, chili peppers, and anchovies in oil that can go from jar to bowl on your platter.

In the Bona Fortuna line, there are seasoning and sea salt selections that you can use on homemade crostini and breadsticks. If you aren’t planning to make your own breads, we have a Bruschitini line of toasts that include Cracked Blacked Pepper, Rosemary and Olive, and Garlic flavors.

Now, to put it all together.

Large cutting boards for cheeses are great. Large serving platters for the meats, breads/crackers and for a fruit platter are great. You can also serve things like frittata or flatbreads on these. For olives, salads, and dips, bowls are perfect and can be tucked onto the platters for visual interest and height. Select a few herbs from your garden or the market to dress up the platters.

Here are some suggestions for the food at your party.

n Cheeses: Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Havarti, Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan can all be put out in wedges or pre-cut for easier handling. For a change of pace, try the Parmesan Appetizer Log from the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival cookbook.

n Meats and seafood: Genoa salami, prosciutto, mortadella, cappacola, shrimp, sardines, anchovies and tuna work well. All meats should be thinly sliced. Shrimp can be grilled or boiled. Italian tuna in olive oil can be served as is, but the Tuna Mousse recipe we share here can be made ahead and takes so little time, we think you’ll want to add it to the menu. It the grill master in your house is feeling left out, you could add grilled Italian Sausages to the menu. Once grilled, slice them in bite-sized diagonals.

n Vegetables: Marinated artichoke hearts or mushrooms, olives, pickled vegetables and fresh crudities all work. Don’t forget that grill! The Grilled Zucchini with Fresh Thyme is a simple recipe that cooks quickly and can be served hot off the grill. Another traditional Italian staple on antipasti platters is white bean salad. We’re sharing a savory salad that’s served at room temperature from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria cookbook.

n Specialty foods: Serve something hot and/or room temperature to add some different tastes to the antipasti selections. Here are two ideas that we like because they can be made a bit ahead and served at room temperature. The Fig and Prosciutto Flatbreads come together in a flash with store bought pizza dough. Our recipe calls for them to bake in the oven, but you could do it on the grill as well. The Spinach and Parmesan Frittata is a do-ahead dish.

n Breads: Include crostini, freshly sliced baguettes, garlic toast or crackers

n Fruits and nuts: Fresh berries, cherries, melon and watermelon are bright additions. Dried fruits like figs and apricots are nice as well. Salted and honey roasted nuts add salty and sweet tastes as well as nice texture. Add a selection of dark-chocolate coated nuts, too.