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Acing Antipasto


Acing Antipasto

Who doesn’t love a good platter? When done well, the perfect smorgasbord of nibbles should look almost too good to disturb, but entirely impossible to resist.

As well as providing a visual feast, antipasto ticks quite a few other boxes for the home entertainer. Thanks to the great deli sections in supermarkets and specialty food stores, it’s an excellent option when you’re time-poor (while still looking impressive), and a laden platter provides a great focal point for guests, causing them to gather around and kick off conversation.

Antipasto translates to "before the meal” in Italian – a selection of small, tasty bites served with drinks to whet the appetite before dinner. While traditionally antipasto would have been a finger-food selection of cured meats, olives, cheese and marinated vegetables, in the modern entertaining world, you can be a little more inventive. So, while the Italians may have come up with the concept, in typical Kiwi style, we’ve adapted the antipasto platter to suit our love of casual entertaining and culinary adventure.

Kiwi platters typically roam the globe — you’re as likely to find Middle Eastern hummus as you are cured Italian-style meat or Thai-inspired fishcakes. But before you get too excited and throw all your favourite nibbles together, remember that the different bites should complement each other. In short, try to avoid a culture clash of cuisines.

People eat with their eyes before they’ve even taken a mouthful so platter presentation is key – get creative and think of the platter or board as your canvas and the food as your palette. Different platters will work well for different kinds of food and different times of year - in winter, you can create a fabulous dark-toned offering on a piece of slate with cured meats, little meatballs, warm-toned dips and so on; in summer, a white backdrop is perfect for bright red berries, sunny coloured cheeses and colourful vegetable crudites.

To really nail your platter game, follow Steven’s 10 simple tips to success:

1) Choose a large platter or board – you don’t want to visually overwhelm with a serving dish that’s too crowded, and allowing space among the components also ensures that there’s enough room to properly cut cheese, spoon up dips and so on.

2) Think about the colour and texture of your selection – place contrasting but complementary colours together so that food stands out but doesn’t clash. For instance, on an Italian-style spread you might arrange cured meats at one end of a board, away from a red-toned dip but next to a creamy-coloured mozzarella. Olives and nuts are similar shapes, so present them in little bowls away from each other, and split up neutral-coloured breads and crackers.

3) Unless you’re planning a long wait before the main is served, keep the antipasto selection generous but not so much so that guests lose interest in the next course. As a general rule, if your platter includes sliced meat, provide three slices per person.

4) Avoid culinary clashes - if you’re serving a Thai curry for dinner, provolone and prosciutto is a no-go, but baby Thai fish cakes, spicy prawns and a bowl of carrot sticks with lime juice squeezed over the top would be the perfect prelim.

5) Make each offering bite-sized and easy for people to manage. Slice, dice and roll so that your guests don’t have to.

6) If you’re serving olives, remember to provide a small dish for pits.

7) If cheese is starring on your platter, take it out of the fridge 45 minutes before your guests arrive, to bring out the flavour and aroma. Choose plain but high-quality crackers or biscuits (we love oatcakes and water crackers) to accompany it; anything too flavoured with herbs or spices will detract from the cheese. And don’t forget some great cheese knives.

8) Think about different heights on your platter - including little bowls of dips, nuts and olives creates visual interest, and you can also pile up slices of bread or vegetable crudites.

9) Set out plenty of serving spoons, forks and knives to prevent flavours being mixed up and to ensure no one has to use the paté knife to slice the cheese. If you don’t mind a bit of extra washing up, it’s also a nice touch to provide small side plates so guests can gather a selection from the platter.

10) Make sure to provide plenty of stylish napkins - this is also a nice way to add a bit of extra colour and personality to your platter presentation.

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