Antipasto, or antipasti (plural), is a selection of Italian appetisers. In Italian cuisine, every meal is traditionally preceded by an antipasti plate. This is served in order to excite diners and prepare their appetites for the meal ahead. Antipasto is made from a wide selection of simple and flavoursome appetisers, and will usually feature a range of different textures, colours, and tastes. Since it is an appetiser, the dish is designed to be light to digest. It is also relatively quick and easy to prepare – made by artfully arranging several ingredients on a platter.
The combination of flavours on an antipasti plate work together to engage all taste buds – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. The creative display of an antipasto platter is admired. They are usually colourful and visually appealing so as to entice diners and engage their senses. Antipasti’s history begins in medieval Italy. During this period, diners started their meals with sweet and savoury finger foods like sugared nuts and sliced hams. Today, different regions in Italy have their own methods for preparing and displaying antipasti platters. The different types of regional antipasti are based on the selection of local ingredients and cuisines.
What is in antipasto?
The base of antipasto is a selection of simple ingredients which all together combine to form complex and delicious flavours. Antipasto is served in small portions, and ingredients are typically sliced into smaller pieces. A usual antipasto platter will include dried tomatoes, various cheeses, olive and olive tapenades, anchovies, artichoke hearts, prosciutto and cured deli meats. Some popular antipasto include:
- Insalata Caprese – An infamous element of Italian antipasto is Insalata Caprese (or Caprese salad), made from fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.
- Carpaccio – Carpaccio is another antipasto must-have, made from beef sirloin, parmesan, and rucola.
- Bruschetta – The much-loved bruschetta is also a typical antipasto, toasted with different toppings such as tuna, olives, or the usual tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.
- Prosciutto con Melone – Prosciutto con Melone is another feature on many antipasti, made from pieces of melon wrapped with prosciutto or parma ham.
- Olive in herbs – A classic taste of Italy, you’ll also find the simple ‘olives in herbs’ antipasti – a selection of olives prepared with fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, or basil.
Antipasto in Northern Italy
Northern Italy is close to the alps, and the region’s cuisine reflects the cooler climate by preferring creamier, heavier foods. This is mostly thanks to the rich selection of dairy farms in the region. The southern part of Northern Italy is lined by the Mediterranean and Adriatic sea and brings an array of fresh herb flavours and quality oils. These flavours are all reflected on a Northern Italian antipasti platter. You’ll find ingredients like fresh mozzarella, fried polenta, pesto, fresh figs, olive tapenade, fresh fennel, prosciutto di parma, mortadella, and tuna and cannellini bean salad.
Antipasto in Central Italy
In the heart of Central Italy is the culinary heaven that is Tuscany. The flavours from this region encompass decadent sauces, famous cheeses, and a focus on olive oil. Tuscan antipasti will fuse sea and land, with everything from roasted tomato, Caprese salad, prosciutto, smoked salmon, sautéed seafood, roasted eggplant, and deluxe cheeses like gorgonzola and fontina.
Antipasto in Southern Italy
In the south of Italy, you’ll find bold flavours focused on tomato-based sauces, wild herbs, and the fresh seafood of the region. Cheeses are creamier in this part of Italy. Southern Italy antipasti will typically feature such Mediterranean delicacies as black olive tapenade, escarole, flat fillet anchovies, soppressata, castelvetrano olives, ricotta salad, garlic and pepper, romano cheese, artichokes, and bruschetta.