Anyone that grew up in or around the Italian-American community surely encountered antipasto. Antipasto is traditionally the first course in an Italian meal. Antipasto most often consists of cured meats, cheeses, olives, pepperoncini (hot peppers), anchovies, mushrooms and pickled vegetables — served individually or combined into small plates or large family style platters. Antipasto can range from the simple and rustic to the extravagant.

In my family antipasto was reserved for Holidays and large gatherings. There were two ways antipasto was served…. first there was the elaborate salad presented on a large platter with a bed of greens topped with layer upon layer of salami, capicola, prosciutto, provolone, mozzarella, pepperoncini, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, and giardiniera. (This, of course, might vary depending on what was available or the mood and budget of the preparer.) 

The other way antipasto was served was generally called “olive salad” and it was a combination of olives, pepperoncini, celery and onions, with chunks of provolone, salami or pepperoni. This salad was dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and crushed red pepper. It was best served after a day or two of marinating… and this was one of my Dad’s favorites (and one of mine too).

At Lista’s Italian Cuisine we served a variation of the former, but rarely the latter (unless it was for a catered event). The restaurant menu featured an Antipasto Platter that was big enough to share. The original recipe card calls for a large dinner plate lined with chopped lettuce, topped with chick peas, ripe olives, pepperoncini, tomato wedges, onions, sliced beets, and eggplant then drizzled with our house made Italian dressing — this was topped with slices of pepperoni, salami, ham, mozzarella and provolone, and then it was garnished with a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano and an anchovy fillet. It was a real work of art when presented to the customer.

For this post I’m featuring the second type of antipasto or “olive salad” simply because I have recently been making this salad for my father-in-law who loves it even more than my Dad did. When I found out that my father-in-law was going to the grocery store weekly and paying about $9.00 a pound for olive salad, I decided to make it for him instead. Of course, when all is said and done I might have invested about that much myself — but the result was far superior and much more authentic to my family roots.

This recipe make a large quantity of antipasto since it calls for several components that come in 12 or 16 oz. jars (the easiest and most cost effective way to buy them). There are some fresh elements, and a couple of more expensive items — you can choose what you want to add to your version based on your own particular taste. My father-in-law and I like our antipasto on the hot and spicy side, but that can be dialed down by using little or no hot peppers.

So if you’re feeling adventurous and want to make a batch of antipasto salad for a family gathering or large dinner party try this recipe and my combination of ingredients…I think it has great flavor and balance and looks really nice presented on the table.

Dan’s Antipasto

Prep time:  30 minutes
Cook time:  15 minutes
Marinate time:  4 to 24 hours
Makes: about 12 cups

2 stalks Celery – cut into 1 inch pieces
1 Yellow Onion – peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Carrots – peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3-4 cloves Garlic – peeled
1/2 cup White Vinegar
1 tsp Salt
pinch Crushed Red Pepper
1 jar Pitted Kalamata Olives – drained

1 jar Pimento Stuffed Green Olives – drained
1 can Pitted Ripe Olives (California type) – drained
1 jar Pepperoncini – drained, stems removed and halved
1 jar Giardiniera Pickled Vegetables (hot or mild) – drained
1 jar Button Mushrooms – drained
1 can Quartered Artichoke Hearts – drained
1 jar Whole Roasted Red Peppers – drained and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb. Pepperoni Stick – cut into 1/2 inch half circles
1/2 lb. Hard Salami or Soppressata – cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 lb. Ham or Capicola or Prosciutto – cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 lb. Sharp Provolone (or Asiago) – cut  into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 lb. Mozzarella – cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp Dry Oregano
1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper (optional)

1. In a medium covered sauce pan combine the cut celery, onion, carrots and garlic cloves with white vinegar, salt, pinch red pepper and enough water to just cover vegetables. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow to stand in the hot liquid for another 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine the next 8 ingredients (the jarred olives, etc.) that have been drained. Add the cooked celery mixture and toss to combine.
3. Add the diced meats and cheeses to the vegetables and toss to combine. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano and red pepper. Pour dressing over the antipasto salad and toss to coat. Cover an refrigerate for at least 4 hours up to overnight. Stirring occasionally if possible.
4. Before serving remove from refrigerator, stir to distribute dressing, spoon antipasto into a shallow serving dish and serve with tongs or a slotted serving spoon. Leftover antipasto can be kept in refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to one week.

There you have it, my version of Antipasto — a beautiful combination of colors, flavors and textures with a spicy kick and an authentic taste. This recipe makes a lot of antipasto but it keeps in the fridge for a 7-10 days. It’s a great item to share with others. I hope you find a reason to make this salad for your family and maybe it will become one of their favorites too.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

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