From start to finish, an authentic Italian meal is a true sensory adventure that involves each sense and has made it one of the most popular cuisines in the world today. Everyone can name a few Italian dishes like ravioli, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, gnocchi and others. However, to really indulge in a traditional Italian meal, you must experience the antipasti course. If you’re like me, you may have thought at some point while reading an authentic Italian restaurant menu that “antipasto” meant anti-pasta or something involving salad (opposite of pasta carbs would be lettuce, right?). Antipasti (plural) meaning comes from the Latin words “anti” (before) and “pastus” (meal), which is essentially an appetizer but in an authentic Italian meal, it’s so much more.
The antipasti tradition is believed to have originated in medieval Italy and they consisted of combinations of sweet and savory foods that not only got the diners excited for the meal but warmed up their taste buds so that they could enjoy every flavor that the ensuing meal would provide. Seasoned nuts and sliced, cured meats were the go-to choices back in the day but now the antipasto dish has taken on the form of a variety of new and exciting dishes. The emphasis of this course is on presentation and to engage the senses without being too filling because a traditional Italian meal has several courses. You can think of the antipasto course as a warm up for the rest of the meal.
Sweet, salty, savory, bitter, sour and umami can all be represented as well as a variety of textures by the combinations of foods that are selected. Remember, dining on Italian cuisine is an experience that is meant to stimulate all the senses, which is why it is perhaps so popular throughout the world. Sugared nuts, pickled sweet onion, olives, seasonal fruit, marinated artichoke and cured hard meats are some great examples of how each flavor and texture can be represented in an antipasto dish.
Similar to how each region of Italy is known for a culinary dialect, antipasti dishes from each region showcase a unique combination or specific ingredients. North, Central, and Southern Italy are the regions that are known to have distinct antipasto dishes.
Stretching all the way to the Alps, the Northern region of Italy is known to showcase creamier foods that utilize the fantastic dairy that is produced in the rolling hills and pastures. The other aspect that is unique to a northern antipasto dish is the use of fresh herbs to compliment the creamy dairy based foods. Some common items you’ll find are fresh mozzarella and basil pesto, balsamic onions, prosciutto di parma, polenta fritta and olive tapenade.
While the northern region is known for the dairy, the Central region is famous for the cheeses and rich, flavorful sauces. Tuscany is at the heart of the region and showcases a variety of wonderful items from both land and sea. You’ll find sautéed seafood, meats and cheeses like prosciutto, salami, gorgonzola and fontina cheese, smoked salmon and fennel.
Often a blend of Italian and Mediterranean cuisines, the Southern region features tomatoes and herbs that are combined with creamy cheeses and a variety of fresh seafood. Common staples of a southern antipasto dish include Romano and ricotta cheeses, a variety of olives, artichokes, sweet and hot soppressata, and anchovies.
At Toscana Divino in Miami, you can expect to find expertly paired and presented antipasto dishes that will not only satisfy all your taste buds but will also prepare you for one of the best authentic Italian dining experiences you can find outside of Italy. So, remember the next time you dine with us at Toscana Divino, don’t pass over the antipasti dishes because they serve a specific purpose in completing the Italian dining experience!.