Italian Appetizers, Snacks and Hors d’oeuvre Recipes
Italy is internationally famous for their widely varied, elegant cuisine. Italian appetizers are a perfect example of the diversity of ingredients and cooking techniques. Whether the party appetizers are served casually with drinks as they arrive or seated at a formal meal, there is something to please every palate.
Guests who are waiting to be seated for a party are often greeted with an aperitivo. This pre-dinner informal course is served standing while mingling. Glasses of wine or sparkling wines such as prosecco or champagne are offered along with finger foods. Nuts, olives, or miniature quiches are popular, as are dips and fonduta. These Italian appetizers are intended to complement the drinks, rather than to satisfy the appetite.
Antipasto, or the course served “before the meal”, is offered at all traditional Italian meals. The selection of antipasti (plural for antipasto) may be extensive, but are each eaten in small amounts. While these dishes are more filling than the aperitivo, Italian appetizers are not intended to be overly filling.
Italian appetizers, like Italian cooking in general, use a few high quality ingredients, rather than complex ingredient lists. The sunny climate and fertile soil in Italy helps grow lush produce. The results are dishes that highlight beautifully colored and flavorful vegetables. Mediterranean appetizers often contain marinated olives, artichoke hearts, earthy mushrooms and sweet roasted red peppers cold or at room temperature.
Bagna cauda is a luscious antipasto made from butter and olive oil flavored with garlic and anchovies. The flavorful dip is served bubbling in a chafing dish. Crisp, chilled slices of fennel, celery, carrot sticks and sweet bell peppers are dipped into shared pots.
Salume, preserved meats, are thinly sliced and arranged decoratively. Most meat selections in Italian appetizers are salted or dried, rather than smoked, giving these antipasti their distinctive flavor and textures. Speck is similar to ham, but is flavored with juniper berries and is salt cured before cold smoking. Other regional specialties, such as the pistacchio studded mortadella sausages and dry, chewy salami, will also be offered on an Italian antipasto platter.
Bresaola is a lean beef that is flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and juniper berries, heavily salted and air dried until a deep purplish red. The meat is thinly sliced and eaten alone or over arugula salad with cracked pepper, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Air dried salted pork known as prosciutto is sliced thinly enough to be translucent and served with ripe melons and fresh figs.
Cheese may be served as part of the Italian antipasto platter, though is sometimes reserved for an after dinner course. There are more than four hundred varieties of cheeses made in Italy, many made as specialty items in one of the twenty Italian regions. Many areas of Italy produce fresh buffalo milk mozzarella. Unlike the processed mozzarella in the United States, Italian mozzarella is made from fresh, pastured buffalo milk then packed in water to retain the flavor. Italian appetizers containing this cheese should be eaten within a few days of being made for the best flavor.
Fonduta, a hot cheese fondue, is a popular antipasto. It is made from fontina cheese, enriched with milk and eggs. Shaved fresh white truffles give these northern Italian appetizers a signature musky aroma that most foreigners rarely experience. Cassoncini, or fried dough, is wrapped around a filling made from cooked swiss chard and melted crescenza cheese.
In regions of Italy along the coast, seafood appetizers are likely to be served as part of the antipasto course. Bottarga is an Mediterranean appetizer unique to this area of Italy. Tuna or mackerel roe is preserved by salting and drying. When the egg sacks are completely dry, they can be shaved thinly over buttered bread, thickly sliced tomatoes or buttered celery stalks. Splash the appetizers with olive oil and lemon juice and serve.
Plump, fresh anchovies are grilled and served whole for seafood appetizers. They can also be preserved in salt and used to flavor chicken liver or vegetable spreads that are served on slices of bread. These open faced sandwiches are known as crostini. Other popular crostini appetizers include meat, cheese or vegetables. They may be brushed with herbs and olive oil, but also are served garnished with sauces.
Other Italian appetizers prepared on bread include open faced sandwiches known as bruschetta. These were originally created to prevent wasting stale bread. Large slices of bread are toasted, rubbed with cut garlic cloves and topped with vegetables, meats, cheeses or beans. Lastly, the sandwiches are seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. In Abruzzo, this is antipasto grilled after being spread with a pork sausage paste called ventricina.
Italian appetizers are appropriate whether they are being served at formal parties or for casual family meals. Many easy antipasto recipes make use of fresh, local ingredients. The best appetizers will always be local specialties.