Antipasto is the first course of a formal Italian meal and means “before the meal”. Unlike hors d’oeuvres, which are often served off trays while guests are still standing, antipasto is usually served at the table and signifies the beginning of the Italian meal. The table setting will feature the antipasto plate with small plates for each guest to enjoy this warm-up to the other courses.

Antipasto can consist of many things. The most traditional offerings are cured meats, marinated vegetables, olives, peperoni (not to be confused with the meat), which are marinated small peppers, and various cheeses, perhaps provolone, or fresh mozzarella. Other additions may be anchovies, or bruschetta, toasted bread, upon which one may stack the meats or cheeses. The antipasto is usually topped off with some olive oil.

Though antipasto varies in form, and numerous adaptations and recipes exist, its main purpose is to extend the meal. Traditional European dining is nothing like the fast-paced meals we most often consume today. Instead, the food is enjoyed slowly, and is only one part of the dining experience. The other part, is of, course, good conversation. A typical meal, consisting of antipasto, salad, soup, pasta and a meat dish, perhaps followed by a light dessert, is supposed to take time, as it is meant to build and maintain relationships with friends and family.

Source: wiseGEEK

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