Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Antipasto

Growing up Italian, one part of the fabric of my life which I assumed that everyone else knew about was antipasto, "food served before the pasta." What I knew as antipasto, most Americans refer to as appetizers. But the food that was served before a festive meal at my relatives' homes seldom resembled canapes or stuffed mushrooms, nor was it simply chips and pretzels. I look back on the ritual now and realize that the antipasto course taught me how to serve a feast that didn't revolve around starches and sugars, and how to keep kids from being excessively "sugared up" during holidays.

At my mother's home on Thanksgiving Day, eating begins at noon and continues into the night. During the morning, someone (usually my tireless Aunt Pam) spends a few hours cutting up every conceivable kind of raw vegetable and arranging them on a silver platter: zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, celery, bok choy, squash, broccoli, cauliflower. Then at noon the antipasto course is set out: the fresh vegetables (and dip) take center stage, surrounded by other simple finger foods. There's a tray of pickles and preserves: artichoke hearts, pickled cucumbers, peppers, and our family favorite, black olives. Usually several kinds of cheeses and breads or crackers accompany the spread, as well as fruit like grapes or pomagranate. Not to mention seafood: shrimp, mussels, or steamed clams might make a brief appearance on the table before being devoured. Aside from the rush for the seafood, the pace of the course is leisurely. Adults gather round the table and talk and eat: children take handfuls of cucumbers or olives on their rush through the room en route to other places. And the ceremonial touch is our beloved beverage, Asti: Italian sparkling wine, which has heralded virtually every event of importance in my life. The adults offer one another toasts over the antipasto: in thanksgiving for health, for marriages, for new babies, for family, for all the blessings of our lives.

The antipasto goes on for several hours. No wonder most of us put slivers of turkey and dabs of mashed potatoes on our plates by the time we actually sit down for the official Thanksgiving dinner! (Although, I've noted, antipasto seldom keeps us from dessert!)


SarahSignature.com/blog said...

After reading your descriptive and yummy post, you have inspired me to bring veggies, fruit and dip to our family Christmas potluck. Thank you!

Rebekka said...

Mm, yummy! What a cool heritage.

Kristyn said...

In my mish-mash American family, we do the same thing, only we call it "munchies." ;oD In fact, on Christmas Day all we have are munchies because no one is hungry for a meal after snacking constantly all day. My kids eat nothing but raw vegetables all day long and they love it. The moms love it too---very little clean-up. My 11 year old makes our lunches on (home) school days and she sometimes makes "snack packs" which are just small-scale versions of munchies. Party food!