Antipasti: Eat Like An Italian
It’s no secret that Italians love their food. A common misconception is that Italian food is simple to make. I guess the simplicity stems from the uncomplicated recipes. Fresh, quality ingredients are the key to any recipe, and Italian food is no exception.
When it comes to antipasti, quality olive oils, meats, cheeses, vegetables and warm, crusty breads are staples found in any Italian home. Antipasti literally means “before the meal” to the entree portions of a large Italian spread. However, small plates and tapas are ruling the restaurant world and antipasti can literally be your whole meal. From prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe to roasted red peppers, these combinations along with plenty of vino are perfect pairings for your next dinner party.
Growing up in a household with a shared love for Italian food and Central European cuisine, there was always plenty of food around so you better bring your appetite. I bring to you three of my own “go-to” Italian antipasti dishes that are sure-fire crowd pleasers. Asiago Bundles of Joy are a nickname that my best friend and I dubbed for my prosciutto wrapped asiago/asparagus bites. I recently learned how to whip grilled polenta with tomato jam and goat cheese at a Yelp Event at a cooking school and quickly fell in love. I know you will too. Finally, I leave you with panzanella or (bread salad). I’ve put a twist on my version melding Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis’ recipes. Please see below for my take on antipasti.
Asiago Bundles of Joy
- 1 lb of sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
- 1 lb of asparagus, chopped into pinky finger length (discard ends)
- 1 lb of Asiago cheese, cut into strips
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for drizzling)
- Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper
- Heat oven to 350º.
- Assemble all chopped ingredients into assembly line: prosciutto, asparagus, and asiago.
- Take chunk of asiago and asparagus and wrap slice of prosciutto around, and secure with toothpick.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Place bundles onto greased foiled baking sheet.
- Drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper onto bundles.
- Bake at 350º for 8-10 minutes or until prosciutto is crispy and cheese is melted.
Grilled Polenta with Quick Tomato Jam and Goat Cheese
- 3-4 cups of vegetable stock or water
- 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal
- 2 tsp of Kosher Salt
- 1 cup of frozen corn
- 2 tbsp of parsley, chopped fine
- 2 tbsp of butter, plus more for pan
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup of Olive Oil for grilling
- 2 oz of goat cheese, room temperature
- 2 oz of cream cheese, room temperature
Ingredients for Tomato Jam
- 1 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes (on the vine)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 tbsp of fresh lime juice
- 1 tbsp of minced fresh ginger
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp of ground cloves
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes
- For the tomato jam, core and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes until it has the consistency of thick jam.
- Taste and season the jam with salt or additional dried spices then transfer it to a separate bowl to cool.
- Refrigerate the jam until ready to use.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the water and the salt just to a boil. Reduce the heat, slowly whisk in the polenta and season with pepper.
- Continue to whisk until the mixture starts to tighten up, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the herbs, corn, and 2 tablespoons of the butter.
- Continue to stir until well combined and very thick.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Liberally butter a sheet pan and cover the bottom with parchment paper.
- Pour the hot polenta in and with a rubber spatula, spread it evenly and smooth out the top.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes.
- When ready to grill, brush the top lightly with oil, then remove the polenta from the pan by flipping it onto a countertop.
- Lightly brush with oil and cut it into squares or triangles.
- Oil and heat a grill pan.
- Grill or pan sear the polentapieces until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.
- Whip the two cheeses together (or blend in a mixer).
- Arrange the polenta on a serving platter. Place in a pastry bag and pipe a small swirl on the top of each serving.
- Spoon a small teaspoon of the tomato jam on top of each cheese piping.
Often times, I find that panzanella contains red onion and our cannellini beans, both of which I am not a fan of. You can still add these in, but I prefer them without.
- 1 (1-pound) loaf ciabatta or other Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup of drained capers
- 1/2 cup of loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
- 1/2 pound of red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground white pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup of pitted olives, halved lengthwise
- 1 cup (drained) of roasted red bell pepper strips
- 1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound of baby arugula
- Pecorino cheese, crumbled
- Soak the capers in 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a small bowl for 10 minutes. Drain.
- Toss bread cubes with 1/4 cup olive oil to coat. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- Whisk together 6 tablespoons olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, shallots, capers and basil.
- Pour over tomatoes.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand 1 hour.
- Sauté garlic and rosemary in 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Combine remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice; pour over fennel.
- Toss together croutons, marinated tomatoes, bean mixture, fennel and arugula.
- Sprinkle with crumbled pecorino, and serve.
I hope you try and recreate these recipes for family and friends at your next dinner party. I promise you they will be a big hit!