A quick and easy solution to serving a crowd when entertaining is to make an antipasto platter. Having a variety of store bought cured meats, cheeses, olives, peppers, among other items, leaves the host extra time to focus on the details of the day. Assembling these savory ingredients can be as simple as setting out a few bowls and plates of them, but if you want to create a focal point for a buffet table, get a large platter and arrange the tasty components in a colorful way. Make sure to have plenty of everything so that you make the platter look full, abundant and very enticing.
Determining what you put out for individuals is all based on your preferences, and many regions in Italy have specialty items that are a must for antipasto. Whatever ingredient combination you decide on, do purchase your ingredients from a reputable food purveyor that sees high volume sales. Luckily for me, I have Di Bruno Brothers here in the Philadelphia region that I rely on for cured meats, cheeses and savory olives. They have the best of the best, and their customers know it.
Composing your antipasto platter can be done a couple of hours before guests arrive. What I advise is for you to find a platter large enough to accommodate the ingredients you will be serving. If you've bought items in bulk, it's best to remove everything from their original packaging and set them out in bowls and plates so that composing them can go like an assembly line. Line things up and pair food items based on flavors and color.
Here is an antipasto that has a good amount of delicious nibbles for a crowd. The required prosciutto di Parma is a must, as is the soppressata. Cheese items usually include provolone and baby mozzarella balls, but for this particular platter, I decided to go with a milder caciocavallo cheese which I cut and cubed. The little ciliegine were bought without any additives; these were enhanced with minced flat leaf parsley, crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of lemon zest. An offering of mixed olives add color and flavor, as do the hand-stuffed cherry peppers and pepperoncini. All of this is placed on a platter which has been lined with hand-washed radicchio.
The cored radicchio made it easy for me to remove the large outer leaves which were placed along the perimeter of the large ironstone platter. This particular platter by Wedgwood is meant for a large roast. The 'tree-in-well' pattern is designed to catch the juices of the roast and have them channel & collect at the bottom (the well).
However, I saw it a perfect match for this gigantic antipasto platter. My pudding bowls and square platters were used to hold everything in place as I began to construct the platter.
Fresh mozzarella balls are highly perishable and should be used within days of purchasing. Delicious on their own, they are greatly enhanced with a bit of seasoning. Drain the cheese of its whey in a colander and place them in a bowl. Drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, add a bit of red pepper flakes for some zip, and mix a little minced parsley and lemon zest. These are highly delicious. The caciocavallo will come in a two-sphere shaped package, almost like a brioche-a-tete. Once you remove the outer plastic casing, you can then cut the cheese in half lengthwise and then divide it into sections and cubes. The cheese is great for nibbling, but it is also great if used on pizzas or other dishes which require a good melting cheese. Look for it the next time you're in the Italian section of your gourmet market.
Cherry peppers usually come in jars without any other ingredient. They are great to eat just as they are, but if you take a moment to blend a good cheese, they can be stuffed quite successfully. What I did was blend a smooth neufchâtel with some chopped artichokes, lemon zest and freshly ground pepper. This mixture was then placed into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" round plain piping tip, and the cheese was then piped into each pepper. Easy!
The soppressata was lined and ready, and each tender slice of prosciutto was rolled up into bite size pieces.
After I had everything ready to go, it was only a matter of assembling the ingredients in an appetizing way. The mozzarella balls were placed at the bottom and then the pepperoncini were stacked next to them. The other ingredients were placed alongside one another and were piled high. This was a large platter, so everything that you see here is inches deep. Placed this way, the arrangement was colorful, appetizing and very much suitable for entertaining.
I already know of one friend who is inspired to make an antipasto platter for a book reading at his bed and breakfast this spring. An antipasto platter is a great way to serve a large party, and it's a fantastic way to create a bounty at any buffet table. Whether you use all of these ingredients or a handful of them, make sure that you have plenty so that guests feel like they can take several helpings of each item.