Having a father of Italian descent, I was introduced to the joys of food from a very young age. As my father frequently reminds me, “you were eating spaghetti at 3 months!”. Whether that is true or not, I cannot verify. Growing up, many of the delicious and interesting foods my brother and I were exposed to, were enjoyed around the summer holidays. We would have big platters of creamy cheeses with different meats like salami, prosciutto, and mortadella. Pasta, pizza, and bread was seldom bought from the store and our kitchen always smelt (and still does to this day) of freshly baked bread and Napoli sauce. Christmas in particular was a real treat, we would head down to the Italian shop and come home laden with Torrone, Panettone, Panforte, and many other Christmas sweets.

Whilst reminiscing about these holiday moments that were always filled with such delicious sights, smells, tastes, and happy sounds, I decided to host a Christmas party of my own –  the Italian way. Many of my friends have never tasted (or heard of) these foods before, so it was really special to follow in my father’s footsteps and bring the same joy to my guests as he brought to me.

Italians rarely share their recipes, but you’re in luck, the more benevolent South African in me will be sharing the secret to a really great antipasti platter as well as an incredibly quick and easy bruschetta recipe. Try these dishes for your holiday parties or your next get together!

Bruschetta

ANTIPASTI

The secret to a really great antipasti platter lies in its creator’s imagination. There is no perfect formula and no complete list to refer to, instead it is up to you to put your guests in the right mood for the upcoming meal. That is why I made an Antipasti as a starter, it is a social approach to food and allows one’s guests to be creative.

Antipasti can basically be divided into seven groups: sott’acetosott’oliosotto salea base di carnea base di pescea base di formaggio, and a base di pane. The sott’aceto group includes vegetables pickled in vinegar, like pickled onions, gherkins, olives, or artichokes. Next, the sott’olio consists of vegetables preserved in oil, like sundried tomatoes. Sotto sale are salted starters, for example salted olives, tomatoes, or other vegetables preserved in salt. Antipasti a base di carne as I’m sure one can guess consists of meats, like salami, mortadella, or prosciutto. Likewise, a base di pesce consists of fish, like oysters and mussels. Antipasti a base di formaggio are usually served at the end of a meal with dried and preserved fruits like figs and grapes as they are cheeses. Italian cheeses include mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. I may have cheated a bit and included the softer French cheeses like camembert and brie, as they pair very nicely with the meats and preserves. Finally, antipasti a base di pane includes all starters based on bread, for example you could use biscuits and freshly baked olive focaccias as I did.

The Antipasti starters I used for my Christmas party were:

– Sott’aceto: pickled artichokes, button mushrooms

– Sott’olio: sundried tomatoes

– Sotto sale: black olives

– A base di carne: mortadella, prosciutto, salami, pastrami

– A base di formaggio: camembert, brie, mozzarella, gorgonzola, feta spread with pesto

– A base di pane: biscuits, olive focaccia, tomato and basil bruschetta

I included some preserved figs to pair with the gorgonzola and threw some grapes onto the cheese board too – they look pretty and go really well together.

Bruschetta

BRUSCHETTA

What you’ll  need:

– Ciabatta loaf

– Cherry tomatoes

– Basil

– Garlic

– Olive oil

– Salt & Pepper

Chop the cherry tomatoes into small pieces (I usually do quarters), and put them in a bowl. Then roughly chop the basil and garlic. Mix the basil and garlic with the tomatoes and a glug of olive oil, make sure it’s not too oily but that everything is coated. Finally add a crack of salt and pepper to season and set the mixture aside.

Next, slice the ciabatta loaf, cutting the slices into snack-sized halves. Place the pieces of ciabatta on a baking tray and place under the grill of an oven. Keep a watchful eye on them for about 5 minutes. Turn halfway using a pair of tongs to ensure an even toast. Once toasted place on a cooling rack until just warm. Simply spoon the muddled tomatoes and basil onto the toast, place on a platter or board, and serve.

Using these Antipasti guidelines and this easy and tasty recipe for bruschetta, you’ll be well on your way to hosting an Italian get together that even my father would be proud of! Salute!