Like most things in the Italian culture, passion and romance always seem to be a part of the equation. Italians also seem to have a way with words; Chef Marcella Hazan once wrote a recipe with details like, “two turns of the pepper mill” instead of salt and pepper to taste — it’s hard to not fall in love with Italian Art and tradition that finds beauty in every imaginable way. Food is an integral part of the culture and the focus on taste is of optimism value to an Italian kitchen. The tradition of antipasti is no different, and is the beginning of the story for the meal.
Keeping it traditional
Like many traditions sharing a meal is rooted in family. Whether it’s a holiday or the weekly family dinner, it is always a time to reflect and reconnect. The literal translation of antipasti is “before the meal,” and in many cases was proceeded by one to two courses of pasta, salads, and dessert. While each version of antipasti incorporates different flavors and elements, there are a few traditions that hold true for most.
It’s all about the meat
“Prosciutto is an essential element in an antipasti set up and I feel a sense of being ‘in love’ with prosciutto,” chef Tony Priolo exclaimed as we walked into the kitchen. Chef Tony of Piccolo Sogno and Nonnina, invited us into his kitchen to really understand and appreciate what Italian food is about. You could hear the reverence as he spoke about not just the prosciutto, but the way it was cut to the way it is served in his restaurants.
Chef Tony is one of Chicago’s top chefs for Italian food since he was raised in a traditional Italian household himself. Quality is of high importance, when it comes to his antipasti and therefore choosing the best elements out there is necessary. “Quality is very important”, he shares. “It’s one of the reasons why we have repeat customers at our restaurant”. Most of his ingredients are imported from Italy and his selection for the industry’s finest and most delicate Prosciutto di Parma triumphs any antipasti board you will find. “I would never use any other Prosciutto other than Prociutto di Parma due to it’s finest you can find”. Currently Piccolo Sogno and Nonnina are serving an 18th-month aged rotund that can only be freshly sliced to serve and may need to be consumed as quickly as it is sliced to avoid any quick drying of the delicate cuts.
Simple and elegant
Not much has changed with how antipasto is prepared.
“It should be simple,” according to chef Tony.
The Prosciutto di Parma is basically the star of the show, with other vegetables and legumes decorating and framing the feast. From the Berkel that is used to cut the Prosciutto di Parma into paper thin slices to the plating, you want to make the prosciutto stand out. Simple flavors from melon to grilled vegetables like golden beets and zucchini to elevate the nutty, salty notes of the prosciutto.
Antipasti at home
What goes better with an Italian meal than wine? The goal is to elevate each flavor and not to overwhelm your tastebuds. The sommelier at Piccolo Sogno recommends pairing the Prosciutto with a fine Prosecco or a Sparkling Rosé. You want to try and avoid heavy red wines that don’t compliment something as delicate and gentle as Prosciutto.
When it comes to eating Prosciutto, be sure to serve it at just below room temperature. The balanced flavor from the meat and fat, blend with almost anything; Chef Tony suggests using Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino that is perfect to add to the richness cut by the Prosciutto di Parma. Mixed-marinated olives and sun dried tomatoes always are a crowdpleaser. If you’re looking for other vegetables, try to keep your antipasto seasonal. Right now (spring) vegetables like white cannelloni beans, eggplant, and asparagus are a good accompaniment.
Whether your having antipasti out at a restaurant or serving it to your guest for party at home, it will get the celebration and conversation started in no time.
This post is sponsored by Proscuitto di Parma, however, all opinions remain as our own.