Truth be told, I have gotten a bit carried away over the years in making antipasti for dinner parties – at times, spending way more time on preparing the antipasti than the actual meal. I always worry there is not enough food for the guests (the apple does not fall far) so better to err on the side of caution. But recently, appetizer boards have become a ‘thing’ and they, very candidly, have revolutionized the way I serve antipasto for company. Now preparing my antipasti has become a super simple, yet incredibly fun and creative expression of the season and my fancy. Almost no prep involved – just a little planning and the results are better than I could have ever imagined!
I get asked a lot about putting these together so decided to do a blog post on them. This is not a recipe but rather my approach for pulling one of these together when company is coming.
First, figure out the game plan. My first decision is how many boards to make. (I search flea markets and antique stores for boards on which I can serve the antipasto. They are a treasure trove for unique finds! Another great source is Etsy – especially, vintage boards from France – although they can be a bit pricey to ship to the US.) If a large gathering, I typically do a meat board, a cheese board and a veggie board. Smaller gatherings usually call for a combined meat and cheese board and a veggie board. If vegan or gluten free guests, I try to have one board to accommodate. And depending on the meal, I may skip the meat entirely to keep things lighter.
Next up, which dips? I used to make one dip per party but soon figured out how much more fun (and tasty) it is to have a few, smaller bowls of various dips on the boards – and they do not need to be a ton of work! Some of my faves:
- Roasted beet and goat cheese: mix one diced roasted beet into goat cheese, stir vigorously until blended (or use a food processor; less cleanup if you do by hand however); stir in a bit of honey; top with sliced figs or a drizzle of honey (I must admit that not everyone loves a hot pink dip – so use your discretion depending on the company invited! :-))
- Store-bought good quality hummus: Good quality hummus is so easy to find these days. I usually beef it up with some additional spices and definitely transfer to a serving bowl; top with some toasted chickpeas, a drizzle of the best quality olive oil you own, a sprinkle of paprika and some chopped parsley.
- Roasted tomatoes: This is great all year and especially dead of winter when tomatoes are not fresh. Open a few cans of whole tomatoes. Drain. Drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of an 8 ½ X 11 glass baking dish. Lay out the whole tomatoes on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, oregano, a little bit of sugar. Drizzle with more olive oil. Roast in a slow oven – about 250 degrees F – until the tomatoes are caramelized and beginning to brown on the edges. This will take a few hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Chop the tomatoes and transfer to a bowl. Adjust seasonings and then put in serving bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and chopped fresh herbs.
Then plan your veggie board. I almost always have a veggie board. My big decision is whether to include any roasted veggies. At times, this comes down to amount of prep time I have. I love to mix both roasted and raw veggies and also include a small bowl of super high quality extra virgin olive oil mixed with coarse salt and pepper. My fave roasted veggies are asparagus, mushrooms and carrots (especially drizzled with honey). Prep all the raw veggies the day before to save time.
Make your list and head to the market. Make a list as more of a guide than an exact list. Which meats are you in the mood for? Cheeses? And the really fun part – the fillers between the meats, cheese and veggies. Let the market be your guide. Crackers – select a mix of round, square and long. Fruits – select whatever is in season and looks fresh – different color grapes, kiwis, mango, figs, big fat black or blue berries. Nuts – I love pistachios or mixed nuts in a little bowl. Dried fruits – don’t overlook the dried fruit aisle. Find things to sprinkle on top like microgreens or tuck fresh herbs around the platter (rosemary works great). And then just let your imagination have fun while shopping. I sometimes ‘color’ my board by grouping things in like colors – green things (grapes, kiwis, celery…), red things (grapes, beets, figs, radishes, sun-dried tomatoes…), yellow things (peppers, mangoes…). With a little patience, this can be a fun exercise.
And finally, pour a glass of wine and create! This is my fave step – about an hour before the guests arrive, I start to build the board. A glass of wine helps to get my creativity flowing and then just create! Mix it up, make it messy but most importantly – have fun in the process! Just let it flow. Your guests will rave.