LAST MINUTE ANTIPASTI FOR HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING

Parties are part of the fun of the holiday season, and there’s no question that large gatherings are the traditional way to bring family and friends together. But it seems that nowadays most people work longer hours, have overcommitted lifestyles and don’t always have the time to prepare elaborate events. So why not forgo the concept of formal entertaining and celebrate the holidays by asking friends to come over for drinks and antipasti!

Select some dishes that can be fully prepared well ahead of time and keep the last minute preparations to a minimum. A few well-prepared balanced dishes of fresh, seasonal foods are a wiser choice than an overwhelming selection of fair, quickly assembled platters of run- of-the-mill dishes. Remember to have a meat-free and seafood dish for guests who are vegetarians or eat fish and shell-fish, but not meat. Try to offer dishes of mostly room-temperature antipasti, keeping the time spent at the stove to a minimum. Offer bread, bread sticks, olives, a bowl for olive pits and used toothpicks, and plenty of wine glasses, small plates and napkins, and knives and forks, if needed.

If you are pressed for time, one trip to the Salumeria (deli) will provide you with the ingredients to fill the table with a delicious assortment of sliced cured meats and traditional condiments. I like to arrange a large wooden cutting board with a beautiful display of salumi, prosciutto, and mortadella surrounded by a selection of vegetables sott’olio (preserved in oil) or sott’aceto (pickled). Some interesting choices might include preserved artichokes, roasted peppers, eggplant, mushrooms or caperberries. You might already have store-bought olive, artichoke or sun-dried tomato spread in your pantry. You can serve these in a small bowl with crackers or thinly sliced toasted bread.

What follows is a list of suggestions and thumbnail descriptions for some easy to prepare antipasti as well as a couple of recipes for some of my make ahead favorites.

1. Bruschetta: toast thick slices of country style bread. While its still hot, rub with cut clove of garlic on one side, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and serve. Or top bruschetta with chopped well-cooked broccoli rabe tossed with minced garlic, olive oil and peperoncino.

2. Pizza Bianca: Cut prepared dough into small pieces and press out into small pizzas. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of chopped fresh rosemary and coarse sea salt. Bake at 500°F until browned. Cut up to serve.

3. Top sliced fennel with strips of smoked salmon and paper-thin wedge of lemon.

4. Stuff Belgian endive leaves with Gorgonzola cheese mixed with mascarpone and walnuts.

5. Top torn red radicchio leaves with orange segments, toasted walnuts, shaved Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil.

6. Drizzle chunks of Parmesan cheese with aged balsamic vinegar.

7. Wrap prosciutto around thick slices of Fuyu persimmon or pear.

8. Sautéed squid: Marinate whole small squid for 15 minutes in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sauté both sides in a very hot pan for less then 3 minutes total. Cut into pieces and sprinkle with more salt. This can also be done with shrimp and scallops.

9. Stuff Medjool dates with a piece of cheese (parmesan, pecorino, goat, scamorza) and wrap with a bit of sliced pancetta. Bake until cheese begins to melt.

10. Scottaditto: Sprinkle rib lamb chops (rack of lamb, separated) with coarse sea-salt and pepper. Broil quickly, until crisp but not well-done. Serve hot.

11. Crostini al Ginepro e con Burro di Acciughe: Crostini are Italian canapés. They are very much a sign of hospitality in restaurants and homes, widely used with before dinner drinks and at the beginning of a buffet. Here, thin slices of rustic bread are presented with two spreads; liver paste cooked with juniper berries and anchovy butter.

CROSTINI: Small thin slices of Tuscan or similar bread with crusts left on the bread