Taking the traditional app from basic to stand out
An antipasto is your chance for a wow factor at the beginning of a meal. Eight hundred years ago, in Italy the antipasto was a social starting point for the beginning of a meal. For me, as a kid I thought the word “antipasto” translated to “not pasta” … and technically I was correct. “Anti” meaning “not” and “pasto” sounds like “pasta. ” In reality, any Italian starter is an “antipasto” — but it’s such a broad term that it doesn’t have a lot of boundaries of what clearly defines one as great or impressive. Most base American menus have a caprese or a meat plate to fill this role on the menu. This month, we dive into all things antipasto to see what makes one solid, how to make it yours and how to do so impressively.
Base items that are extremely typical on an antipasto are mozzarella and tomato for your standard caprese, as well as prosciutto and olives with a hard cheese for your standard meat plate antipasto. Even on something that simple, let’s break down the variances.
– Basic – Ovaline pre-sliced or from a premade ball.
– Next Level – Curd that you stretch and slice in a way that it’s obvious it was not prepared ahead of time.
– Basic – Beefsteak or Roma tomato.
– Next Level – Heirloom tomatoes when in season or some variance of color or any rarer style of tomato.
• Everything else:
– Basic – Stopping at just this much effort and adding some EVOO and calling it a day.
– Next Level – At Andolini’s, my pizzeria, we kitchen sink this classic and give it olives, artichokes, sautéed portabellos as well as prosciutto, roasted red peppers that we actually roast in house, as well as pecorino Romano, balsamic and basil.
– Basic – Pre-sliced prosciutto or non-Italian cuts.
– Next Level – Cutting aged Parma prosciutto yourself and also folding it in a floret or something to draw the eye. Use varying styles of salami with different sizes to create contrast and interest.
– Basic – Precut cubes of anything will look pedestrian.
– Next Level – Going for really eclectic Italian cheeses for an Italian Antipasto is a great win. Varying age of the same type of cheese, like six-month 12-month and 18-month Parmigiano Reggiano for a very impressive experience.
• Everything Else:
– Basic – Anything you have seen before that could be bought from a non-gourmet grocery store.
– Next Level – Put your stamp on it. Build a story to sell, and then sell it. Olives you’ve sourced from Italy, actual Italian Olive Oil, something from your lineage region if you are Italian. Sautéed squash, squash blossoms, broccoli rabe all are great items. For bread, use your pizza dough and fry or bake slices of dough. All of these add color, flavor and individuality to an antipasto.
When it comes to WOW factor plating, your best bet is a plate that stands out on its own as impressive. Large silver circular platters with the items separated into each section are becoming more popular. Simplicity on your classic 10-inch white plate is not going out of style anytime soon. I believe that the butcher board for more charcuterie-esque antipastos is on its way out stylewise. Melamine or plastic plate ware is a big no for showing off an entrée. When the food cost is worth more than the plate, you are upside-down on your presentation.
Take your antipasto very seriously. When executed with care and passion it tells the customer that you are in for something special. When it’s thrown together the assumption is everything else will be as well. For the most part, antipasto items don’t take a lot of prep or execution, more likely than not it’s simply placement of things you love. I hand stretch my mozzarella and roast my red bell peppers, but salami and prosciutto are as easy as picking your favorites. If anything, researching everything on the scene and deciding what excites you is a much better practice than just putting on the plate what you feel you are “expected” to plate.
Along with plating it can’t be underestimated how pivotal an item a solid antipasto can be to your catering program. Not only is it shareable and can be a beautiful centerpiece to a table, if you are serving it cold it can be your cornerstone of drop off hors d’oeuvre style events that pizzas are just not as ideal for. Any non-seating event is easy to sell an antipasto platter to. For us at Andolini’s, we take all the items on our caprese Antipasto and put them on wooden skewers, so they are easily picked up by people mingling and socializing at events where a fork and napkin aren’t as suitable. An investment in some cheapo depot wood skewers can fetch an extra $15 to $20 per platter.
That leads into pricing strategy. I have said before: price according to your ideal food cost, be aware of competition’s pricing, and then make your final decision based on what you believe you can sell it for. A gorgeous, well-plated platter can easily fetch $50 to $75 at events if you sell it properly. For in house dining, your demo and style will determine your price point. If you are apprehensive about the price of the antipasto being too high I suggest making a half size that’s only 30-percent cheaper so you can tell the customer you have a cheaper option but their “best value” is the full antipasto. People don’t like to be price gouged, but they sure do love a bargain … and “best value” achieves that.
When it comes to what to name your antipasto, do something special but go beyond just calling it antipasto. Look for a name that resonates with you and your pizzeria’s style. If you’re a classic Italian rooted establishment, use a name that connotates that. If you are kitschier and/or in-your-face, then come up with something that you would describe to a friend and name it that. “The Best Damn Antipasto You’ve Ever Had Period End Of Sentence” comes to mind as an eye-catching name if that’s the style you have and can pull it off. Again, the headline here is STAND OUT.
Nothing about your antipasto should seek to blend in. Items that blend in are items that don’t get ordered.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.