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AN ANTIPASTI PLATTER

Ah, the antipasti platter – grazie mille, Italia! This is probably the perfect way to eat while you’re drinking and ideal for a party. A little bit of ham, a little bit of cheese, olives, artichoke hearts – it’s perfect, it’s simple, it’s low maintenance when it seems high maintenance. In short, it’s effortless, like classic Italian style. (Let’s face it, a perfectly sliced sliver of prosciutto di Parma is just as elegant as a perfectly cut Pucci dress…)

 

There aren’t any real rules to assembling a good platter of antipasti – just add lots of what you like. I suggest you hop on your Vespa (or the number 22 bus) and head to an Italian deli to pick up a few things. I like to include 4–6 of the following:

SALAMI:
There are so many types, from all across Italy. Among my favourites are:
• Milano: finely chopped, smooth, mildly peppery pork-based sausage.
• Calabrese: spicy and fatty – just gorgeous.
• Finocchiona: in a thick white casing, this salami is full of fennel. It must be sliced very thinly – if you manage
to get a whole one, ask your local deli to slice it for you.

 

PROSCIUTTO CRUDO:
Dry cured ham that is made using the hind legs of heritage-breed pigs, which are salted and then hung. The most famous are prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele. They are both excellent, though the San Daniele has a sweeter flavour because less salt is used in the curing process.

PROSCIUTTO COTTO:
Simple boiled ham, sometimes flavoured with herbs and spices.

MORTADELLA:
Smoked sausage from Bologna – this is where the American term “baloney” comes from. It is very smoothly minced pork and beef, dotted with pieces of pork fat. To be a real mortadella, the sausage must contain 15 per cent pork fat.

 

BRESAOLA:
Hailing from Lombardy, this is dark ruby-red salted and air-dried beef. Delicious with rocket, Parmesan and lemon juice.

 

GORGONZOLA CHEESE: Made from full-fat cows’ milk in Lombardy and Piedmont, this is a blue-veined cheese with a crumbly texture and a sharp taste. Great with a handful of walnuts.

PECORINO ROMANO: Salty, sharp sheep’s milk cheese from Lazio and Sardinia, with a long history. Ancient scribes from Pliny the Elder to Hippocrates raved about the stuff, and it was a staple of the Roman soldier’s diet. I love it with a Negroni (see page 24) – something about its saltiness makes it a perfect pairing.

 

MOZZARELLA DI BUFALA:
Probably the most famous Italian cheese after Parmesan. I must say, I’d usually serve this separately with some figs or perfectly ripe tomatoes, basil and good olive oil, but it’s up to you…

 

PEARS DRIZZLED WITH HONEY:
On the first night of our honeymoon in Rome, the restaurant was closed (well, it was Sunday, but still, HORRORS!). The bartender kindly served us this along with a selection of cheeses. I was smitten. And given the honey, I suppose it was rather apt.

FIGS OR PLUMS: One rule, and one rule only: they must be ripe.

ROASTED RED PEPPERS: You could buy these ready roasted in a jar, but they are so easy to make.

MAKES 8–12
4 red peppers
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

 

Holding them with tongs, one at a time, place the peppers over the gas flame of your hob. Turn them a few times until they are completely charred and blackened. If you don’t cook on gas, you can also char them under a hot grill. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with clingfilm, or put them in a plastic bag and seal. Leave for about 30 minutes
– the steam will make them easier to peel. When they are cool, peel them gently and cut into strips,
removing the seeds and stalks. Toss in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

 

BREAD: A good crusty loaf of your choosing.

 

OLIVES: Choose your favourites – mine are French: Picholines. Just perfect! But taste the different types and pick your own olive hero.

 

ARTICHOKE HEARTS: These usually come from a jar or a can. Try to find the roasted ones, and serve with a drizzle of
extra virgin olive oil and some parsley.

 

TALEGGIO:
I always have a chunk of this funky, stinky cows’ milk cheese from Lombardy ready to smear on bread. Someone once said there is something almost “beefy” about its flavour – and I agree.

 

This recipe is from The Art of the Party by Kay Plunkett-Hogge