Monday, December 13, 2010

Some Thoughts About Antipasti for Christmas Eve

It is a tradition in my family that the Christmas Eve dinner begin with a course of antipasti.  My grandparents would prepare a platter of baccala, or salted cod.  They also prepared another platter of meats and cheese, along with anchovies, olives and vegetables (like celery or fennel).  This first course would involve a substantial amount of food, all of which was slowly enjoyed with the knowledge of several more courses -- and a lot more food -- were still to come.

Now, I've made antipasti platters for holidays, like Easter and Christmas Eve in the past.  (That's me with platters prepared for Christmas Eve back in December 2007.)  My antipasti platters never included baccala, because, although I used to eat it, I just don't care much for salted cod anymore.  Instead, I've focused on the meats and cheeses. 

I would try to get certain cheeses and/or meats that were special to me and that I wanted to share with my family. I would try to get certain cheeses and/or meats that were special to me and that I wanted to share with my family. For example, I would get Prosciutto di Parma, which would bring back memories of my trip to Emilia-Romagna, where I got to see how this delicious meat was made.  Rows and rows of the rear haunches of pork rubbed down with a salt and pepper mixture, air dried and cured according to specifications that date back hundreds of years. I would also get Soppresata, dried cured sausage, from Abruzzo, from where the relatives on my mom's side of the family emigrated in the early twentieth century.

Boschetto al Tartufo at Il Forteto
And then there is the cheese.  Again, I would select cheeses that draw from my memories of being in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.  I would serve Parmigiano Reggiano, which is sometimes referred to as the "King" of Italian cheeses (a title that is undoubtedly in dispute, because Italians love the wide array of cheeses that they produce).  I would also serve other cheeses, such as Boschetto al Tartufo, a pecorino cheese with black truffles.   

Burrata Appetizer with Tri-Color Crostini at Cesco Trattoria
So, the question is what to do for this Christmas Eve?  It's been more than four years since I've been to Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.  Over those four years, as I have gotten back into cooking, there are a lot of new memories that could serve as inspiration for creating the antipasti course.  For example, after proposing to my beautiful wife Clare at Cesco Trattoria, we were served a three course dinner that included, as an appetizer, a serving of burrata, which is an amazing version of mozzarella cheese made from the milk of water buffaloes in Apulia, Italy.  There is also Melon Wrapped with Proscuitto, which was one of the appetizers served during our wedding reception.  

But, a good course of antipasti should be based on more than just the memories of the cook; it should also be based upon what each individual meat, cheese, fish or vegetable contributes to the overall course.  When selecting meats and/or cheeses, you should choose a selection that provides different flavors and, hence, different experiences for the guests. 

Just a few thoughts as I start to plan the antipasti course for the Christmas Eve dinner. 


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