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8 of the best antipasti recipes

8 of the best antipasti recipes

by Great Italian Chefs 03 June 2019

Planning a get-together with friends over a few early evening drinks? Inject some Italian flair into the festivities with these incredible antipasti dishes – perfect for serving alongside a spritz or two.

Antipasti (or antipasto) literally means 'before the meal' in Italian. It's essentially a warm-up – a chance for you to wake up your taste buds with a tasty morsel as you enjoy a glass of something cold and some pleasant conversation with friends.

Though we often focus on pasta and secondi when we think about Italian food, antipasti provide some of the most compelling and delicious moments in the course of an Italian meal. Because antipasti are small – sometimes just a single mouthful – they have to be perfectly balanced and provide textural contrasts that sing on the palate. The concept is similar to a French amuse-bouche, but Italy boasts a huge collection of delicious antipasti dishes, many of which are easy to put together at home.

Certain ingredients excel in this format; Parma Ham, for one, is an essential part of many great antipasti. Its saltiness means it pairs well with classic aperitivo cocktails like Aperol spritz and negroni, but it also ticks the boxes on many other levels. There's the creaminess of the cured fat, sweetness from the meat and a soft, almost melt-in-the-mouth texture. These elements mean that it plays well with all sorts of other ingredients, from cheeses and nuts to fresh fruits, vegetables and salad leaves. It's a great place to start if you're working out what to serve your dinner guests as an appetiser.

Read on for a selection of our favourite antipasti recipes, starting with a gorgeous Parma Ham, strawberry, balsamic and Parmesan salad from Valeria Necchio.

Mesclun salad with Parma Ham, strawberries, balsamic and Parmesan

This vibrant summer salad can be thrown together in a matter of minutes, but that doesn't make it any less delicious than something more complex. The beauty is in the balance of textures and flavours – strawberry and balsamic work famously well together, and their sweet and sour notes bounce off the salt and umami of the parmesan and Parma Ham, creating a symphony of contrasting flavours. This is a salad that relies on quality ingredients from top to bottom – have it in mind when you come across perfectly ripe strawberries, and used aged balsamic and a good extra virgin olive oil if possible.

Parma Ham parcels with asparagus and peas

Luca Marchiori's Parma Ham parcels are an ode to Emilia-Romagna in the spring; he combines tender slices of Prosciutto di Parma with fresh asparagus, peas and squacquerone cheese, made just a few miles down the road from Parma. The cheese can easily be replaced with stracchino or ricotta if necessary, and if you can find it wild asparagus is a fantastic addition. These thinner spears are native to Italy and very commonly used in antipasti.

Crostini with rocket, buffalo stracciatella, Parma Ham and pine nuts

Valeria Necchio proves that the simplest antipasti are often the best with her gorgeous crostini. Again, it's all about the marriage of flavours and textures – the sweet, salty, creamy combination of Parma Ham and buffalo stracciatella, the crunch of crostini and pine nuts, and peppery bitterness from rocket to balance. Take care in toasting your pine nuts – this is what really brings this antipasto to life, but if they're toasted for too long they can turn bitter, so err on the side of caution.

Savoury cannoli with Parma Ham mousse

Cannoli are usually sweet – in Sicily you'll often find them piped full of sweetened ricotta or pistachio cream – but the crunchy pastry works just as well in a savoury context. Luca fills his savoury cannoli with a luxurious Parma Ham and ricotta mousse, finishing with tangy capers to cut through the rich filling.

Taralli Pugliesi

A classic Pugliese snack – taralli are eaten throughout the day in Puglia, but they're particularly good alongside an aperitivo and some cold cuts of meat and cheese in the evening sun. They're easy to make too – just combine flour, salt, dry white wine and olive oil and knead into a dough, then shape into taralli, boil them and crisp up in the oven. You can make up a big batch and store in an airtight container, too – they'll keep for a long time.

Pickled cherry peppers stuffed with tuna, capers and anchovies

These pickled cherry peppers stuffed with tuna and anchovy are typical of Calabria, where beautiful fish comes in every day by the boatload. Take special care when you're deseeding and pickling the peppers – they can be quite spicy sometimes! Things are fairly simple from thereon out – make your filling by blitzing anchovy fillets, tuna, capers and store in a sterilised jar with olive oil. The resulting antipasto is a wonderful sweet and salty combination.

Giardiniera

Giardiniera (meaning 'from the garden' in Italian) has a long, storied history in Italy, harking back to a time when fresh garden produce would be pickled and preserved to last over the winter. Carrot, cauliflower, celery, pepper and cucumber are all very commonly used in giardiniera, but you can use whatever vegetables you have to hand. The dish makes a fantastic antipasto in its own right with a nice aperitivo, or you can eat them as a side with a meal, where their sharpness provides a nice contrast to meat and fish.

Bagna cauda

One of Piedmont's great gifts to Italy's culinary landscape, bagna cauda is not the most attractive thing to look at, but it's thoroughly addictive. The key is in the long, gentle infusion of garlic into the sauce – if you do it too quickly or colour your garlic too much, it'll overpower the dish. Let your garlic infuse in the milk overnight, then gently fry it in butter, add anchovies and melt it all down into a delicious dip. Serve with your choice of crudités for a wonderful start to any evening.

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