I was just back on the East Coast and had to attend a few large gatherings. One of the prerequisites for any large get-together is, of course, food.
There was not a formal sit-down meal at the table, but instead, it was a lot more casual with everything on the counter and you just helped yourself. There were different salads and cold meat trays and bread so you could make your own sandwich and even a few hot items such as meatballs and chicken parmesan that you could either eat as is or make into a sandwich. There was also one platter that got a lot of attention and that was the antipasto platter.
Traditionally, an antipasto platter is served at the table and signifies the beginning of an Italian meal, unlike hors d’oeuvres, which are served before everyone sits down at the table. The platter is almost a meal in itself with meat, cheese, vegetables, bread, lettuce and dressing. Sometimes it can be hard to make sure you still have room for dinner. Italians know how to eat.
Anyway, although the antipasto platter is traditionally served at the table as the first course, it also works as a great platter to use as a station item — when you are trying to place different foods around the area so people will mingle, there aren’t enough places at the table or it is an informal gathering.
The meats are normally cured: capicola, prosciutto, pancetta, salami and maybe some other hams. The vegetables are usually marinated: hot and sweet peppers, artichoke hearts, pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower and olives. The usual cheeses include provolone and mozzarella. This is all served on a bed of lettuce and there is usually a vinaigrette or nice olive oil over the top. You might see toasted bread served with it so you can make your own bruschetta. As is the case with all foods, these are some traditional items, but feel free to change it according to what you prefer. Vary the presentation on the tray. You might like to lay the meats and cheeses out or shape them into rolls, cones or triangles.
Buy all your vegetables already marinated or marinate your own veggies. The process will take a little time but is not hard at all and you can make large batches and keep extras in sterile jars to use later. The next time you are having a large gathering, try putting one of these platters together and enjoy.
Marinated Vegetables for Antipasto Platter
½ head cauliflower, cut into flowerets
12 pearl onions, peeled
1 red pepper, seeded & cut into strips
1 green pepper, seeded & cut into strips
4 stalks of celery, cut into sticks
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut into half moons
12 mushrooms, with stem sliced off even with the edge of the cap
24 baby carrots
2 C vegetable oil
2 C white vinegar
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 T pickling spices, wrapped in cheese cloth (available at most grocery stores)
Cover the cauliflower, onions, peppers, celery and cucumbers in lightly salted water and refrigerate overnight. In a separate container, do the same to the carrots. Sauté or bake the mushrooms enough to blanch them so they are tender.
The next day, bring the oil, vinegar, tomato paste and pickling spices to a boil. Rinse the carrots and add to the boiling mixture. Boil for 5 minutes.
Rinse the other veggies and add them to boil for another 5 minutes or until the carrots and cauliflower are cooked, but still have a little crunch. Stir in the mushrooms after about the first 2 to 3 minutes after adding the last veggies. Discard the spice wrap and jar your veggies in sterile jars.