I love it when folks reach out to me for advice about cooking and entertaining; it feeds my soul (pun intended).
It also gives me good topics for the blog and the impetus to pull together a post – from memory, experience or my own food mentors.
So, for the friend who asked for input on an antipasto tray she’s bringing to a party, here’s a special treat: advice from my Mom. She was an amazing cook and hostess and antipasto platters were a foundational appetizer for her parties. I am so grateful for everything she taught me about entertaining and cooking. If I’m guilty of ascribing to the “food is love” philosophy, it’s totally her fault.
Mom has been cooking for the angels since September of 2000 and my Dad joined her in heaven this past summer, but they left me with a wonderful legacy: a cookbook they compiled of their favorite recipes, with additional entries collected from friends and family. The Great Tastes from the Texas Coast cookbook project took place in the late 80s and was intended as give-away for clients at my Dad’s real estate office on the beach in Gilchrist, Texas. (Dad was a weekend realtor and a high-tech salesman for Motorola during the week.)
You know the kind of cookbook I’m talking about, paper-bound with a plastic binder, worn and torn, stained with use, stuffed with other recipes from family members on note cards and sticky notes that probably should have been in the cookbook (and probably would have been in the next version of Great Tastes from the Texas Coast if there was one). Oh my gosh, I just got a great idea: that’s the name for my first cookbook, whenever I publish it.
I didn’t realize at the time what a treasure Great Tastes from the Texas Coast would turn out to be, and now feel so blessed to have many of my parents’ recipes at my fingertips. That’s my Mom’s drawing there on the front, too. This bounty of family memories and codified parental cooking advice was the impetus for me to start on the Glover Gardens Cookbook (which eventually became the blog), so that our boys could have the same bounty of family recipes.
While Great Tastes from the Texas Coast is long on value through recipes and their associated memories, it is very, very short on words and and almost devoid of style (other than the cover art). Note Mom’s entry, Antipasto Ingredients, below. No one could accuse her of being verbose or flowery. This was serious business.
But what Mom lacked in creative writing skills, she more than made up for in the cooking and entertaining department. Here’s how she did the antipasto.
See the basket on the wall below, in the repeat of the kitchen picture? It was about 24 inches long, 15 inches wide and 3 inches deep, and was perfect for Mom’s antipasto treatment. I loved that basket and think I might have inherited it, many moons ago. It must have fallen apart, or I would still have it. But I digress. Mom lined that venerable old basket with plastic wrap and then covered the whole thing with overlapping red or green leaf lettuce, or both. (Leaf lettuce is good for lining a platter, because it is easy to flatten.)
After lining the basket, she stuffed it full with ingredients from her list, not neatly in little rows or stacks, but bunched together by type in a way that conveyed a sense of plenty and hospitality. She was careful to distribute the colors – a pile of kalamata olives would never be next to anchovies, smoked mussels or marinated mushrooms because those colors would be too drab together. You could almost see her artist’s mind working while she assembled, taking care to mix the textures, too: the kalamatas would go much better next to bright red roasted and marinated peppers, which in turn would be nestled next to generous chunks of provolone with big, fat, garlic-stuffed green olives on one side and her garlicky, pink marinated shrimp on the other. If there was a dip, it would be in a small ceramic bowl and garnished with parsley or dried herbs. Bunches of sliced mortadella, ham and salami would be strategically placed opposite each other, perhaps next to glistening sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, artichoke hearts or fresh, crunchy, pungent radishes. Breadsticks might be vertical in a pretty glass or two, and whole green onions would cut a bright green horizontal swath across the top. Mom would then drizzle a bit of vinaigrette on her masterpiece where appropriate and call it done.
I wish I had a picture to share – words cannot do justice to the welcome and hospitality that Mom’s antipasto platter conveyed. However, I found a photo in the site Honestly Yum that gives me the same feeling.
Mom left out a few of the items that I remember from her antipasto, so perhaps they came later: cornichons, grapes, halved cherry tomatoes, pepperdew peppers stuffed with bleu cheese, fresh vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower (although we are moving out of the antipasto neighborhood here and it might be controversial that French cornichons or bleu cheese would even be considered on this originally Italian spread).
If I was doing an antipasto platter, I’d probably add a couple of my go-to favorites, such as my super-easy treatment of grape tomatoes below that provides a composed, bite-sized, super-fresh yumminess.
And the picture below is from a smorgasbord night here at Glover Gardens, which on that night looked a bit like an antipasto platter, although heavy with crostini and bruschetta. Gosh, I’m getting hungry!
And so, to my friend who requested some information about antipasto platters, I hope the advice from Mom with a little more info from me is useful for you. Thanks for giving me a reason to spotlight Great Tastes from the Texas Gulf Coast and travel through the taste memories from Mom’s kitchen.
Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook