TIP! Offer a variety of cheeses, both firm and soft. Think Pecorino, sharp blue, goat cheese, Havarti, mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Gouda, feta and Dutch Edam.

The Art of Antipasto: Tips for Creating Your Own Masterpieces

Titillate your customers' appetites with the flavors and hues of this traditional first course.

Antipasto (“before the meal” in Italian) is a wide-open category that lets the imagination run wild. Featuring rolled or layered meats, sliced veggies, wedges of cheese, fruits and fresh herbs, antipasto could be a meal in itself, but its real function is to whet the customer’s appetite without filling up the belly. With possibilities ranging from roasted peppers, marinated anchovies and sautéed zucchini to mini-meatballs, spinach and cheese fritters and Parmesan-stuffed mushrooms, you’re free to stick with tradition, get wildly experimental or do a little bit of both. Here, we share tips for creating your own antipasto masterpieces along with beautiful photos by renowned pizza industry photographer David Fischer. Mangia!

TIP! High-quality extra-virgin olive oil is a must-have. Brush it on breads before toasting, use it to marinate or preserve veggies, or drizzle it on pretty much anything and everything. For bruschetta with maximum flavor, rub toasted bread with halved garlic cloves after baking.

Recipe Idea: Heat green olives in a pan with parsley, finely chopped garlic, a pinch of red pepper and a tablespoon of red or white wine vinegar until the vinegar has evaporated. Remove the olives and add breadcrumbs to the pan. Toast evenly, then toss olives with the breadcrumbs.

Antipasto is at least 50% presentation. Color, design and plating are all essential elements of an antipasto course that opens the senses and rouses the palate for the main course to come.

TIP! Slice meats thinly. You want to stimulate your customers’ appetites, not encourage them to gorge before the pizza arrives. Possibilities include salami, prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata and capicola.

TIP! Combine savory cheeses and meats with melons, such as cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon. Use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit in ball shapes.
TIP! For a more avant-garde approach to antipasto, create a salad with nectarine slices, tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil.

Recipe Idea: Fry quartered baby artichokes in hot olive oil until browned and crisp. Drain, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and parsley.

Pair a white wine (such as a sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio) with artichoke hearts to tone down the latter’s sweetness. A Cabernet Franc pairs nicely with green olives, while a Pinot Noir makes a delicious match with Kalamata olives.

Recipe Idea: Heat garlic cloves in extra-virgin oil. Let cool, then add to diced tomatoes, sliced basil, balsamic vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Toss and let marinate for 30 minutes. Spoon on toasted baguette.

Melon and prosciutto form a classic sweet-and-salty combo. Try pairing prosciutto with honeydew, pineapple, pears or peaches as well.