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One favorite type of antipasti is a spread. Defined literally as one food that is spread on another food product (usually bread or crackers), spreads are specifically designed to add a particular flavor or texture to a dish. The way they are applied, as well as their culinary purpose, distinguishes them from condiments (such as mustard) and dips (such as salsa and chutneys).
Three of the most common and delicious spreads are hummus, baba ghanoush, and pâté.
A staple in Middle Eastern and Arabic food, the word hummus comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas.” The full name in Arabic is ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna, which means “chickpeas with tahini.” The name accurately describes the spread, which is made of mashed chickpeas mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Hummus is most often served with a flatbread (such as pita) and can either be eaten plain or topped with tomato, cucumber, caramelized onions, coriander, olives, pickles, or pine nuts.
Baba Ghanoush is a dish that originates from the eastern Mediterranean region. The Arabic term means “father of coquetry” and it is believed that the original creator of the dish was a member of a harem.
The main ingredient in baba ghanoush is eggplant. Baked or broiled over an open flame to give it a nice smoky flavor, the pulp of the eggplant is then mashed and mixed with olive oil and various seasonings, such as tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, mint, salt, and parsley. Baba ghanoush is most often spread on khubz (a type of flatbread) or pita bread.
Considered a delicacy in many culinary traditions, pâté consists of a mixture of cooked ground meat (most often liver) and fat that is finely minced until it becomes a spreadable paste. The meat and fat can be combined with other ingredients, including spices, herbs, alcohol (most often wine, cognac, brandy, or Armagnac), and vegetables. Pâté is usually served on soft bread, garnished with dill or other fresh herbs.
Antipasti (singular: antipasto) are a beloved part of the Italian culinary tradition. The traditional first course of any formal Italian meal, the term was coined in the sixteenth century and literally means “before the meal.”
Antipasti are often compared to the French hors d’oeuvres. However, unlike the French tradition where the food is usually passed on trays to guests to enjoy with drinks before a meal begins, the antipasti are served once everyone is sitting around the table. The serving of antipasti signifies that the meal has officially started.
The main purpose of the antipasti is to extend the length of the meal. Reflecting the Italian tradition where a meal revolves around both the food and the conversation, the antipasti is the first of many individual courses (including salad, soup, pasta, meat, fruit, and a dessert) that allows a family the time to build strong relationships around the table. Antipasti are usually served as numerous small plates, often cold or room temperature, and are meant to awaken the taste buds without filling your stomach.
The contents of an antipasto dish vary according to the different regions of Italy. Some of the most common offerings include cured meats, a variety of cheeses, bread, olives, and marinated vegetables. In the south of Italy, seafood plates are often included. Classic recipes such as bruschetta (toasted bread topped with marinated tomatoes and herbs) and prosciutto wrapped melon are some favorite antipasti offerings, though antipasti can also be adapted to suit the taste buds of the individuals at the table.
Whether you’re hosting a party or having a simple family dinner, serving antipasti is a signal that you are inviting a warm, friendly, and lingering meal full of conversation. Don’t be afraid to let your creative juices flow in the choosing of your offerings. No matter what combination of antipasti you put on the table, you will be following a long and beloved culinary tradition.
In Italy, the salumeria is part of the great tradition of individual shops for individual items. Just as there is a specific store for the cheese or the bread, there is also a store for the salumi (cured meats). Though a salumeria is specifically defined as a “cured meat shop,” in today’s society it often serves more as a delicatessen or deli. In an Italian salumeria you will find many of the classic cured and cooked meats, such as prosciutto, sausage, salami, bologna and traditional cold cuts, as well as many traditional deli favorites.
The salumeria has been a part of Italy’s culinary tradition since the time of the Ancient Romans. Due to the ever-present problem of keeping their food supply fresh, the Romans valued the curing process as a way to preserve their fresh meat and dedicated a great amount of attention to that process. The process of curing, including the combination of certain spices and meats, eventually transformed from basic necessity into a great culinary art. The experimentation of these early salumerias led to the current extensive variety of meats that can be found in any salumeria. Visitors to a salumeria are often amazed by the sheer amount of choices that are held behind the glass.
Outside of Italy, the salumeria can be a great place for finding your favorite Italian imports. Salumerias in the United States often carry the unique Italian brands of pasta, chocolate, breads, desserts, wines, and cheeses that are necessary for creating authentic Italian recipes. For those less inclined to cook, salumerias are often equipped with a full kitchen where they can prepare special Italian salads, sandwiches, and cold dishes. Either way, each salumeria is unique in its offerings and can create a culinary experience similar to that which is found in Italy.
Thanks to developments in technology and transportation, you can enjoy the great meats, cheeses, and condiments from a salumeria delivered straight to your home from online food distributors as well. Shop our selection of gourmet salumeria delicacies.