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A Casual Antipasto Party

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For relaxed entertaining, make a variety of colorful salads and side dishes ahead and then serve them family-style.

Cooking in the Italian spirit isn’t about slavishly following recipes but rather about finding good, fresh ingredients, preparing them simply, and seasoning well. In the summer and early fall, there’s no easier way to entertain than in the antipasto tradition–big bowls and platters of room-temperature dishes that can be set out on the table and served family-style. All of the dishes together will generously serve about ten people, but for a smaller crowd, you might make only two or three of the antipasti. If you do make the entire menu and refrigerate some of the dishes, let them sit out for a good half hour before serving, to let their flavors perk up, and then adjust the seasoning if needed.

Menu Timeline

Up to two days before:

  • Make the mayonnaise for the roasted chicken salad (if using homemade)
  • Make and assemble the summer berry pudding.

Up to a day before:

  • Roast the chicken and shred the meat.
  • Grill and marinate the eggplant.
  • Grill the corn, make the shallot vinaigrette, and wash the arugula.
  • Make the calamari salad.
  • Gather serving platters, bowls, and spoons.

The day of the party:

  • Soak the onion and assemble the chicken salad.
  • Peel and slice the melon.
  • Slice the tomatoes for the corn salad.

Thirty to forty-five minutes before serving:

  • Bring the calamari and eggplant salads to room temperature.

Just before serving:

  • Dress the melon with the lime juice and mint and top with the prosciutto.
  • Dress and toss the corn salad with the vinaigrette and ricotta salata.
  • Whip the cream for the summer berry pudding.
  • Unmold the summer pudding.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 4 pints strawberries
  • 3 pints associated berries (blackberries, raspberries and/or blueberries)
  • 4-pound ripe honeydew melon
  • 1 lime
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 small globe eggplant (about 1 3/4 pounds total)
  • 5 ears corn
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound small zucchini
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs
  • 6 ribs celery
  • 2 small red onions
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 2 to 3 bunches arugula (about 1/2 pound) or 1/4 pound baby arugula
  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 1 bunch fresh mint

Meat and Seafood

  • 1 pound cleaned calamari tentacles and bodies
  • 6 ounces prosciutto di Parma or prosciutto San Daniele, sliced paper-thin
  • 3 1/2-pound whole chicken

Groceries

  • 2 19-ounce cans cooked chickpeas
  • 1 loaf fine-crumbed sliced white bread (such as Pepperidge Farm)
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 2 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 bottle Moscato d’Asti or other sparkling dessert wine

Pantry Staples

  • Champagne vinegar
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Crushed red chile flakes
  • Granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Drink Suggestions

Try light, easy-drinking wines for this menu. For a casual menu like this one, why not open a few different bottles? Here are some pairings that I think work especially well.

The prosciutto with marinated melon offers a unique wine pairing challenge in the form of saltiness from the prosciutto, spiciness from chile flakes, and tartness from the lime juice. The answer to this vinous riddle comes in the form of a delightfully fruity sparkler called Prosecco, from Italy’s Veneto region. The wine’s ripe fruit, bubbles, and crisp acidity are just the right combination, not to mention a good value. Try the Bele Casel Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($15) or the Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($14). With the chickpeas, calamari, and zucchini salad, try a zesty, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc like the 2002 Villa Maria from the Marlborough region of New Zealand ($14), or the 2001 Frog’s Leap from Napa Valley ($15). For the chicken salad, a light- to medium-bodied red with fresh, supple fruit and bright acidity is the right match. Barbera comes to mind; two of the best I’ve recently tasted are the 2001 Correggia Barbera d’Alba ($16) and the 2000 Vietti Barbera d’Asti “Tre Vigne” ($16).

As long as you have a bottle of Moscato open for the whipped cream to accompany the summer pudding, go ahead and pour a glass for dessert; you can’t go wrong with this utterly charming bubbly. The 2001 Bera Moscato d’Asti ($9) and the 2002 Bonny Doon Muscato del Solo Frizzante ($14) are two of my current favorites.

Tim Gaiser, a contributing editor to Fine Cooking, is a master sommelier.

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