Vegetable Antipasta and a weekend of entertaining

by Michelle

Ralph and I entertained all weekend. We love having friends and family come to visit ‘over-night’. There is something wonderful about sharing your home with people for longer than a couple of hours. However, it does take a bit of planning so that I do not end up spending all of my time in the kitchen! It is important to me that we have good food but it is more important that we have good ‘time’ together.

Whenever Ralph and I are in Italy, I am always drawn to the beautiful ‘groaning’ tables of antipasta offered in many of the trattorias that we visit. I am always inspired by the beautiful combination of colors and textures. I often make a meal of nothing but the antipasta. Our Italian waiters think it’s a little short-sighted of me given what could be waiting in the kitchen. None the less, I have never been disappointed.

One of my favorite ways of entertaining is family-style. I have everything that we will need on the table so that I am not up and down every ten minutes. I will prepare a variety of vegetable dishes in advance, that can be served either cold or at room temperature. I round things out with cheeses, crusty bread and just before we sit down Ralph will grill some fish or chops.

Add some wine and sparkling water and you have a feast! Entertaining like this allows everyone to feel completely relaxed. There is no pressure of trying to coordinate cooking times with eating speeds. There is also something intoxicating about having a bounty of food at your finger tips. It inspires amazing conversation and comfort. You are able to eat as much or as little as you want and feel totally comfortable.

Because the cook is not clearing plates, there is no disruption in the flow of conversation. It makes me nuts when I can only hear bits of a great conversation because I am in the kitchen finishing a dish and my guests are in the dining room!

Our guests this weekend brought some squid with them so that we could try a new recipe that they had discovered. We grilled it and added it to our table. There was not a scrap left. Another beautiful thing about this style of entertaining is that everything works. The fish was a lovely addition to what we were offering.

You will often read that your herbs have gone to far when the blossoms appear. I humbly disagree. Nothing could be prettier than delicate herb flowers scattered in a salad or as a garnish. I used my orange thyme blossoms in my roasted tomato dish. The aroma while they were in the oven was gorgeous. The taste when they were finished was delish.

When you are selecting a variety of vegetable dishes to serve at the same time it is important to offer both simple and more elaborate presentations to balance your meal. The eggplant dish that I prepared required a lot of time and ingredients. The tomato dish was effortless and straight forward. Either one, on its own, might have been lacking but when served together – spectacular.

Whenever I see miniature vegetables I grab them. It’s fun to be able to offer a classic like stuffed peppers as a tiny presentation .

Cipollini are not always available but if you see them they are worth trying. You can substitute pearl onions in this recipe with great success. Agrodolce is a sweet and sour way of serving this vegetable. They are incredible on their own, chopped for a salad or sliced on a sandwich. They will keep in the refrigerator, sealed, up to ten days.

Cipollini Agrodolce

1 lb cipollini, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons proscuitto fat, chopped finely

3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons sugar

Heat the oil in a large skillet, add proscuitto fat and saute for 5 minutes.

Finely chop 1 of the onions and add to skillet – saute for 3 minutes.

Add remaining onions in 1 layer and sprinkle with sugar.

Add enough water to barely cover – add bay leaves.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes.

The onions will be slightly caramelized and soft.

Thanks for reading.