I’m sorry to say that Handsome and I live a life that borders on the side of mundane and even geeky. We love us our hobbies and we will listen/watch/read the ramblings of anyone who shares a similar interest and who captures our attention, via written, spoken or video blogs, podcasts, articles and other media (we spend far too much time glued to the cooking and home channels too). Thus you might find us on a Friday evening on the I-95 (a brutal stretch of road not dissimilar to the M25 or North Circular) in bumper to bumper traffic, listening to some fella talk about how he grows vegetables in repurposed canoes, or brews beer in a repurposed fridge, or some guy talk about how he makes the best ever antipasti and instructing us how to recreate his family’s favorite dish.
It just so happened on the night that we heard the chap talking about antipasti, that we were already hungry. He talked beautifully about the flavors he puts into his antipasti, how he doesn’t cook anything, how he arranged it on big platters, and how he marinated all of it, such that all the meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, and other culinary delights had a uniformity of flavor, whilst conveying such individual burst of freshness and explosions of goodness that you would crave this dish again and again. Our inspiring chap sold this dish to us as a starter, before other main courses to follow. We decided to create such a smorgasbord of food that other food would be impossible… and create it we did…
When we were released from the sweaty jaws of the I-95, we swiftly crossed country and made our way to the supermarket and on to Handsome’s holiday cottage. That night we ate like kings and it is a meal we repeat often, but not often enough. It has become a mark of a special occasion for us… and we have eaten it on picnics, on a boat, in front of a movie, always with bottles of good wine, sparkling water and good cheer. I have tried to repeat the inspiring fellow’s instructions below, in order that you might absorb the same inspiration, but I fear it is impossible… maybe the photo will be enough to tempt you…
Everyone has their own preference for Italian meats, and you should serve the ones you love the most. They are never cheap, but they are so good and the saltiness from the curing gives excellent contrast to the fruits, vegetables and cheeses. I use a good genoa salami, prosciutto or parma ham and if I needed to feed more people, I might include my roast garlic and lemon chicken that I had allowed to cool to room temperature in the oven and then pulled apart with my hands.
Without a doubt, there should be mozzarella on this plate, but there should also be slices of a hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino and even a medium hard cheese, it doesn’t have to be Italian, but should stand up to the other flavors on the plate and be rich, and maybe even nutty. Add your favorite to the plate… be daring! For this photo, I used an Italian merlot bellavitano (expensive but worth it).
For this, you need as much freshness as possible. Add sliced pears, oranges, apples, I think grapes are a bit passé, but if you like them, add them. It needs to be beautiful and tasty, it doesn’t need to be trendy.
It’s the jarred vegetables that come into their own here. Add olives (spicy if you can stand it), add roasted red peppers, add tinned artichokes and sundried tomatoes. All those amazing Italian gourmet delicacies that you can make yourself, but easily buy at the store too. Try soaking zucchini and eggplant in equal parts lemon juice and olive oil with a few cloves of garlic and salt and pepper thrown in, then fry on a griddle so they get wonderfully marked, cooked through, then cooled again to room temperature. Delicious. My marinated mushrooms, red pepper and zucchini recipe is also excellent with this. Also, for simple fresh flavors, add very ripe cherry tomatoes and a big handful of wonderful arugula…
This really comes down to your preference. The inspiring guy recommended baguettes. I think a ciabatta straight out of the oven is perfect. Find something crusty and hearty and that can stand up to all the flavors on this plate. Something with rosemary or olive bread would be incredible.
Presentation and Marination
The guy that inspired us told stories of rolling up the meats, cutting the cheese just so, arranging platters with all the ingredients so you could take a little of everything. Let’s be honest here folks, you’re going to arrange it however you arrange it, but don’t make it too formal. The food will create its own work of art. The ingredients are so beautiful with such a wonderful array of colors, it doesn’t need a special setting to impress. I use a huge platter (with sides so I don’t lose the marinade). If it’s not big enough, I spread it over a few. I make sure the ingredients are at a relatively easy to manage size and I slice the cheese, but I don’t cut up the meat.
It’s all about how you like to eat. Once you have arranged the ingredients how you want them, sprinkle every ingredient with a little oregano, drizzle olive oil over everything. Then let it sit at room temperature for half an hour. If you need to wait longer than that, put it in the fridge, covered, until half an hour before you need it. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and a dash of balsamic all over and serve. I promise, you won’t regret it for a second…