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I like to eat. Because I like to eat, I like to cook, especially for friends I like to eat with. That’s what this blog is about: what I lik...

December 15, 2013

Blog the Twenty-second: On What Antipasto is.



The name antipasto originates from ante pastum, Latin for before the meal
(and not before the pasta, so it’s still antipasto even if you’re not having pasta for a first dish).  When I was a kid, it never occurred to me that the stuff I noshed on to take the edge off my hunger while waiting for the pasta to boil was antipasto.  
The Italian fridge and cupboard offer a delightful variety of noshers, and half the pleasure is to see what a little digging will turn up.  This pleasure of the tasty tidbit in advance of the meal proper gives the true origin and spirit of antipasto.  It’s more a foreword than an introduction, a little something to tease appetite, flirting with it rather than wooing it, and like a flirt, inventive, improvisational, opportunistic. 

The sort of antipasto served as a first course at a sit down meal seems to me a machination of the restauranteur and caterer, and when I was a kid that caterer’s first course was what the word antipasto was reserved for.  Knowing the half dozen courses our holiday meals at home ran through, I couldn’t imagine what of Nature’s species of pleasure was left to add on.  When I was told that you might be served prosciutto on melon, for example, such a miscegenous coupling of luncheon cold-cut and postprandial fruit struck me less as an invention of fancy than a creature of decadence.  To this day I think this combination of a wet summery-sweet fruit with a dry winter-cured meat incongruous, more likely to interest a jaded palate than satisfy a seasoned one.  For that matter, I think moist mortadella a better match with fresh mozzarella, and at a quarter of the price of prosciutto.

These days, the antipasto we have at home on holidays is usually eaten hanging out in the kitchen or lounging in the living room.  It is laid out for new arrivals to dig into as soon as they like, without ceremony.  I remember thinking it the height of discourtesy when one Thanksgiving a Gentile in-law who had been delayed two hours by Thanksgiving traffic, upon arriving and finding that we had gotten started on antipasto and champagne, threw a tantrum, thinking it the height of discourtesy in us not to wait for them to start.  Apparently she thought her pleasure in an inaugural toast was well worth our being tantalized by the sight of food and bottles untouchable until she should arrive.  It reminded me of yet another Thanksgiving when my Gentile host had us keep watch for a half hour over the platter of antipasti I brought, sitting in our midst on the coffee table as we sipped cocktails round about it, before he ventured to sample something and give the rest of us the signal to begin.  I felt like I had been hired by a choreographer for a pièce du scene.  Such restraints of formality are alien to the Italian way.  Italian customs aim to stimulate and gratify your appetites, not restrain them.   The idea is to enhance the joy of eating.

What is antipasto?  That's the question on the table, and in giving you its factual origin, I have evaded the question of its essence.  I could no doubt get away with this, given your indenture to modern natural science.  It teaches you that facts gathered by means of experimental method show us the truth of things.  But think about it:  when the historian gives you the time and place of a thing’s first appearance, or the scientist the quantities and proportions of its elements, have they not begged rather than addressed the question of its essence?  When the historian identifies for you the time and place of a thing's first appearance, has he not taken for granted a knowledge of its essencefor did he not have to recognize it for what it was when he saw it?  But does he tell us how?  Does he tell us its essence?  And if the scientist, in his turn, should decompose our antipasto into piles of powder and puddles of liquid, and give us their proportions in percentages, has he gotten to the bottom of it?  A human being, he tells us, is 97% water and 3% minerals—a quantification as sophistical as it is scientific. When was it that saying a human being is made of flesh and bone became a naïve answer, and saying that he’s a bucket of water and handful of minerals became a scientific one?

No, no, our quest here is metaphysical.  We seek that origin of a thing which is at the heart of its being.  We look not to the historian's dates and places or the scientist’s facts and figures, but to the thing’s properties and works.  It is through these perceptibles that an embodied mind pierces to the imperceptible essence that emanates and explains them.  The metaphysician wants to know, not what materials a thing has in common with other material things, but why its specific matter befits its specific form.  You know as well as I do that a human being’s essential matter is not a bucket of water and handful of minerals, but rather an organic body like your own, nicely organized to serve the activities of your rational soul.   

And I tell you, antipasto’s essential matter is piquant fat—fat apt to whet an appetite.  It’s all about the fats—toasty, tangy, and savory ones; salty, bitter, and tart; crunchy, creamy, and unctuous:  a panoply of piquant fat.

Aristotle, the inventor of the science of metaphysics  (at a time when Physics Tyrannus and its vassals was not the only ‘science’ recognized) said that when a metaphysician manages to grasp a universal form, he gains thereby the means of recognizing an infinity of particulars of that form. That’s how it is with antipasto.  There are so many particular forms it can take that a detailed list would be as long as it would be limiting.  Because antipasto admits of such free variation, you need to grasp its idea and work off that.  It’s not like baking, with all its precise measurements and times and temperatures.  The art of assembling antipasti is more precise than that—like hitting the right note to be in harmony with another voice, or saying just the right word at the just the right time in the just the right way to quell anger or console grief.

To confect a nice platter of antipasti, you must look to the what for of antipasto’s piquant fats:  they are there to meet and greet appetite; to engage, not satisfy it; to arouse, heighten, and hold it in suspense, not sate it.  [I won’t draw analogies with lovemaking.]  This means small bites but big flavor, and a multitude of them, at least three—the Platonists used to say that one is not a number at all; two, only barely a number; and three, the first real number—and I find that when trying to appease an urgent appetite, it won’t be appeased with fewer than three antipasti.  


My ferial favorite is a trio of roasted almonds, olives, and a slice of cheese or dried sausage.  Truth be told, this combination isn’t especially Italian.  I got the idea from typical tapas offering in Spanish bars.  But Spaniards are more or less Italians with a funny accent, like your cousins from Queens or the Bronx, so it’s all still in the family, even if only the extended one, and none of my Italian family ever greeted my Spanish-inspired trio as a foreign novelty.  This same ferial trio of almonds, olives, and cheese also forms the nucleus of my festal antipasto platters, which expand and vary upon these three greatest genera of fat—animal, mineral, and seminal—and their three modes of piquancy—the toasty, the tangy, and the savory.  Art imitates nature, and nature abhors a void, so too must your antipasto platter. 

Fats Seminal

Let’s begin with the toasty fat of roasted almonds.  How do almonds count as a fat?  Because that’s what makes them taste good.  I could point out to you that we get oil from nuts, but then our self-satisfied science-guy will wryly remark that almonds are, technically speaking (for how else does he know to speak?), not nuts but seeds (hence “seminal”), and by the way, have nearly as much protein and carbohydrate together as they do fat.  But that just goes to show how dangerous a little knowledge is, because science-guy mistakes knowing facts for recognizing essences.   

Truth is, speaking culinarily (for how else are we to speak about food?), what tastes good about those roasted almonds is their roasted fat, not their carbs or proteins—although those crisped carbs surely do our fat good delivery service—but it’s that roasted almond-fat that’s rousing your appetite, not to mention the olive oil you toss them in before roasting them in a 400 degree oven, flipping every 5 minutes for 10 to 15 (I used to have a toaster oven that would do them perfectly on the toast function without flipping), until they brown, and crack, and pop, and whistle, and anoint the kitchen air with their fatty perfume, at which point, pour them out onto a wooden cutting board, sprinkle liberally with coarse kosher salt, and allow them to cool to crunchy.   

[Maybe it’s not so minor a point that almonds are seeds and not nuts, since I find I don’t like most nuts as antipasto.  Nuts are the stuff of gentile cocktail hour, meant to induce thirst rather than rouse appetite, and to preclude having to assemble foods, never mind cook them.  As for chips and pretzels, I use them for chugging beer.]

But bread is another story, the gift of the grain!, devoted spouse to that mother of all vegetable fats, olive oil.  My mother tells me that back in the day of penury and hunger, my aunt would risk the wrath of her father by toasting bread at the hearth and then filching from the family’s precious store of olive oil a teaspoon to drizzle on it (she would have done well to rub that toast first with a raw garlic clove).   This is the first and simplest bruschetta, and if you want to expand on the toasty fat of roasted almonds on your antipasto platter, you can’t do better than toasted bread drizzled, dripping, or smeared with flavored fats.
 
In deep summer, I’d make tomato bruschetta by topping toasted rounds of bread, garlic-rubbed and oil-drizzled, with chopped tomato tossed with lots of finely chopped garlic and basil, dashes of salt and oregano, and lots of extra virgin olive oil.  In deep winter, I’d cream butter with sweet gorgonzola and mix in pin nuts, chopped parsley, and fresh ground black pepper, and then smear rounds of bread with this cheese spread and bake them in a moderate oven until bubbly 'n browned.   If I have some mortadella on hand, I might cream it in a food processor with a couple tablespoons of butter and chopped pickle, and spread this pâté alla Marcella on toasted rounds of bread.  If I can get some fresh ricotta, I’d season it with extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped anchovy and parsley, freshly ground pepper, and smear it on lightly toasted rounds of bread. 

Bread smeared, drizzled, or dripping with flavored fat, arouses appetite.   

Easier, if I can get good focaccia at an Italian bread bakery, I’d cut some of that up; if I can get a couple of slices of good Sicilian pizza (“deep dish”), I’d cut them up into bite-sized fingers.  In a pinch, I might pile up some store-bought crostini here and there on the platter, or breadsticks, or taralli.

Fats Vegetal

Olives are the quintessential fat vegetal.  How do olives count as a fat?  If you need it explained, you won’t understand.  What I can explain, though, is that when I buy olives, I drain them of their brine and put them in a jar under olive oil.  I keep fishing olives out as needed for antipasto, but also keep feeding the jar with new purchases as long as the oil smells delicious to a nose poked into the jar.  I’ll often dress my little sprawling pile of antipasto olives with some fresh extra virgin olive and a sprinkling of oregano (perhaps adorn it too with a bright sprig of parsley), because things dripping with olive oil taste good.  (If you can’t taste that for yourself, I can’t explain it to you.)  Also, I won’t mind if stragglers from the nearly sprawling pile of roasted almonds get wet with the olives’ oozing oil.  I want my antipasti, as I do my guests, to cluster and cuddle and mingle. 


It’s unpleasant to see antipasti compartmentalized into separate little dishes, each with its own little Victorian serving utensil. Antipasto appeals to the animal urge to snatch and gulp before the next animal over knows what he’s missed.  One civilizes this snatching impulse by using the tips of thumb and pointer finger, and optionally also middle finger, but with all unused fingers neatly folded in, to gently pluck and tuck (rather than snatch and gulp) bite-sized tidbits.  I’m giving this overdetermined protocol in hopes of your not asking me where the serving spoon is to transfer your few almonds and olives to your little plate.  Take the hint—it’s finger food.  So what if your finger tips get olive oil on them?  If you don’t like to lick them, then wipe them on your napkin.  Let’s all be sure not to touch anyone else’s nuts and olives when plucking our own, and we’ll all be fine.

By the way, if the antipasto platter is in the living room, take the hint:  that’s where I want you too.  My antipasto’s ulterior purpose is to keep you occupied in the living room while I do my thing in the kitchen.  That ingenuous notion you have that I want company in the kitchen only shows how clueless you are about how much I need to do to get an Italian dinner out there for you.  I need to pay attention to what I’m doing, which means I don’t have time to pay attention to you.  So go eat your antipasto and chatter away with the other guests in the other room.  You’re not precertified to help me out, and I don’t have time for a cooking lesson, never mind a heart-to-heart.  Go eat something.  That’s what you here for.

Where was I?  Oh yes, olives.  The other great thing about olives is the way they set off their unctuous fat with tartness or bitterness that makes you pucker, smack, or curl your tongue.  They limber you up for dinner.  Italian-pickled vegetables do the same.  There’s an Italian way of pickling where you boil the vegetable in water and vinegar, then dry it out and season it, before jarring it under olive oil.  Isn’t’ that a much  better idea than storing your pickled vegetables in brine?  (If you can’t see that for yourself, I can’t explain it to you.)  The Italian name for things pickled this way is sott’olio.

When I want to expand on the tangy fat of my olives, I go for vegetables sott’olio. If my guests are lucky, I’ll have on hand some of my mother’s eggplant sott’olio.  In summer, she’ll get a bushel of eggplant, peel it, and cut it up into rectangular strips, which she layers in a pot, salting each layer; the salt draws out their liquid, in which she leaves them to cure overnight.  Next morning, she wrings them dry, and then puts them in a colander under a weight to dry out some more.  All this, believe it or not, is to prepare them for boiling! and then more drying!  She boils the cured and dried eggplant slices in a pot of 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts salted water, until still quite al dente.  Then she drains and dries them out in a colander under a weight again (although I bet spinning them in a salad spinner would do the trick), and when they’re nice and dry, she lays them out and seasons them with light sprinklings of salt and oregano, a half garlic clove here and there, and a general drizzling of olive oil.  Then she presses them into a jar, tucking in a single whole hot red pepper as well, and then covers completely with olive oil.  The olive oil keeps the air out, and with it mold and bacteria.  It lasts for months this way (although you must be careful to use a clean utensil to take servings out, to cover completely with olive oil each time you do, and never to mix leftovers back into the jar). 
 

My mother does the same pickling with hot red cherry peppers.  After boiling them in water and vinegar, she removes some of the seeds from each with a gloved hand, and then stuffs each with the 4C brand of seasoned bread crumbs, enriched with finely chopped garlic and parsley, and grated Pecorino Romano. These labor-intensive stuffed cherry peppers go fast with Gentile foodies, so I’ve learned not to offer more than one a piece on any given antipasto platter, lest they finish my jar in a single sitting.

We also do a light pickling of sun dried tomatoes, boiling them briefly in water and just a little vinegar, until softened but still al dente, then drain, dry, and season with oregano and some halved garlic cloves, to be stored under olive oil, ready at hand for antipasto or cooking.  

Instead of pickling, another way to go is roasted vegetables dripping with olive oil.  A staple at my house, for both color and sweetness, is roasted sweet red bell peppers.  I put plump ones very close to a hot broiler, charring each side in turn with black mottling, fast enough to keep them al dente.  When cool enough to handle, I pull away all the blackened peel on the outside, then pull the fleshy sections away from the stem along their creases.  With a knife, I trim away all the pith along those creases, scrape away seeds, and slice them into fat strips. Then I smash a fat garlic clove hard against a platter and use the halves to rub this dish liberally with garlic milk.  I pour and spread out the pepper strips, salt the sinuous expanse of red liberally with even showers of salt and sprinklings of oregano, and then an overall drenching with extra virgin olive oil.  Then mix to marry, folding the peppers over one another, over and over, until the aromas have mingled.  They're deliciously sweet as they are, and don't want the vinegar used commercially to preserve them.  In fact,  capitalizing on their sweetness, I'll sometimes mix them with my mother's pickled eggplant for a double contrast of both sweet 'n sour and red on green.

If you're inspired by summer's bounty, you can roast a trio of peppers, eggplant, and onions, whole, in a 400 degree oven, until shriveled and fork-tender, then peel, section, and trim each, and dress this trio in the same way as the sweet peppers above above.  I'd probably never go to this much trouble for an antipasto platter especially, but I might have leftovers from an earlier contorno and would grace my platter with the windfall.   

If you want tanginess with your toastiness, then dry roast thinly cut slices of eggplant or zucchini, whether on the outdoor grill or stove top ridged pan.  The char-striped slices will look unappetizingly dried out and shriveled until you dress them with  a drenching of olive oil, and even sprinklings all over of both wine vinegar and lemon; chopped basil and parsely both; a shower of salt and dashes of oregano; and a goodly portion of very finely chopped garlic.  Fold over and over to mingle and marry.  Your nose'll know when the aromatic union is consummated.

While we’re talking tangy, let’s talk also about some accents for your antipasti.  As you well know, the substance of any antipasto platter is piquant fat.  But every essence has its complements, and piquant fats like to be set off by the freshness of crunchy or tart things, which revive the palate between sundry samplings of fat.  For clean crunch, think slices of fresh fennel (pre-soaked in cold water for a while); or radishes, whether whole or sliced (and if sliced, perhaps embedded in a very thick smear of unsalted butter on a round of fresh bread, showered with fresh grindings of black pepper and kosher salt); or brined caper berries (the fruit of capers, which are in fact flower buds); or cornichons; and so forth … but no fruit!  It’s not time for fruit.  And nothing sweet.  This is the time to provoke appetite with bite-sized bursts of the toasty, the tangy, and the savory.

Fats Animal

Speaking of savory, the third member of my ferial trio, after almonds and olives, is cheese, the savory fat. Who doesn't like salty congealed milk fat?  Nobody we want to have dinner with.  Cheese seems to me like fat at its densest.  (Again, science-guy, I have no idea how cheese is made or what it’s made of, and I don’t care, because what matters to eating it is what it tastes like.)  In Brooklyn, we mostly had cheese as a snack before dinner, although we did regularly have it with dinner after light main dishes, such as fish on Fridays, and I still reach for a piece of cheese after my salad if I’m still hungry, or want a last gulp of red wine. 

However, I must confess that, whereas my own people temperately leave off with drinking wine after the main dish, in the land of my exile I have adopted at dinner parties the Frankish custom of a cheese plate after the salad and before/with fruit, not only to gratify the conceits of my Gentile foody-favs, but also to gratify my own appetite for even more and bigger red wines.  

But when I stay true to the way of my people, I eat cheese as antipasto.  For paring with almonds and olives, I like dried cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano chunked with a fork, or its humbler cousin, Grana Padano, sliced.  I also like such cheesy cheeses as Parrano or aged Gouda.  Tender cheeses like Spanish Manchego or Iberico are also house staples.  Blue cheese I love, especially Italian Castello or sweet Gorgonzola, but not usually before dinner; rather, after, with ripe pears.


In addition to or even instead of cheese, I’ll use not-too-skinny slices of dried sausage on an antipasto platter; if I don’t have the real stuff from Bari or Pastosa in Brooklyn, Trader Joe’s Volpe or Pinot Grigio varieties please well enough.


To further beef up an antipasto platter, I’ll use sliced cold cuts, such as mortadella, sopressata, capiccola, prosciutto, or bresaola, folding them into cones or kerchiefs, layering them along the edge of the platter.  My personal favorite is mortadella (with pistachios), but the puerile sensitivity of some Gentile palates finds its flavor too strong (although one can find avid converts among you); prosciutto of course always impresses, but given it’s exorbitant price, I won’t buy it unless I see that I’m getting nice big fresh slices from the middle of the ham, and sliced thin by someone who knows the difference between not-thin-enough and too thin.  Good pâté also impresses, and given its convenience, is not to be eschewed; I find that lightly toasting rounds of fresh baguette for it makes all the difference, however, as does the accoutrement of good cornichons.

But perhaps the savory fat I most like to use to beef up my antipasto platter are fingers of frittata.  I can whip up a little frittata from any number of leftovers in my fridge—a spoonful of mushrooms garlicky, or of zucchini oniony, or a few stray stalks of asparagus, or else a handful of mint, basil, and parsley from my garden.  I slice my little frittata into finger-snatching strips (although I provide cocktail forks for the fussy).  The particular appeal of eggs in frittata is their having been cooked in the delectable duo of olive oil and butter, themselves delectably flavored with onion and/or garlic.


An egg thus transfigured doesn’t taste like a mere egg. But you can even transform a mere egg (i.e., a hard-boiled one) into antipasto by drizzling olive oil all over it, to the point of dripping—I say it again, it’s all about the fat—along with squirts of vinegar and/or lemon juice, and sprinklings of salt, pepper, and oregano—to accent the fat.  People will sop up the dressing with bread after the egg is long gone. It’s because of the fat.

Of course, our scientist-friend will no doubt smirk that the percentage of fat in the frittata is in fact relatively small.  There he goes again!, mistaking its bulk for its being.  Its being is found in its work, not its bulk.  Taste is not a quantity, but a relation; and not a relation between quantities, but a relation between an appetite and its object, which in turn gives a relation between a food and its function:  protein sates hunger; fat arouses appetite.  The same frittata served in a large portion to a vegetarian for a main dish (as a consolation for his not getting meat) serves to feed his hunger, but in small bites at antipasto time, serves to herald yet better to come, with the glad tidings of a piquant fat.  If you don’t believe me, then believe Scripture:  did not God himself take pleasure in the aroma of Noah’s roasting sacrifice—the rousing smell of browning animal fat—Revelation’s mystical token of the just human sacrifice, promising better things to come from man on earth than before that first barbeque?    

A really fancy way to fancify your festal antipasto platter is with fish.  Think fatty fish, think shrimp.  You can steam or boil it, then drizzle it to dripping with olive oil, perfumed with finely chopped garlic and parsley (maybe mint and basil too), refreshed with several squirts of lemon juice (and one of white wine vinegar), and spiced with sprinklings of coarse salt and pepper fresh ground.  (Isn’t that a much better idea, Gentle Reader, than dipping it in melted butter, which lacks imagination, and which is not piquant fat, but practically fat itself by itself, more liable to satiate than stimulate.  Gentile cocktail sauce, on the other hand, is an abuse of tomato nature for which someone should be indicted.  Let’s not mention it again.) 

The same shrimp could instead be grilled, after marinating all afternoon (whether in their shells or out) in chopped garlic, parsley, and lemon zest, and a light drizzling of olive oil; then grilled, whether on the outdoor grill or the indoor ridged pan.

But if you want to get really, really fancy, you can make my mother’s silver fish fritters. They’re tiny little fish that my father says were called neonati (newborns) back in Sicily, but they don’t look like babies to me, just really small fish worms.  They’re way too small to bother pinching their heads off, their little eyes looking like specks of black pepper to the unsuspecting Gentile, which is all for the best.  Back in the day, you could buy them in Brooklyn fresh from Chinese fishmongers, but now you can only get them in frozen one pound blocks. (Italian respect for Chinese cooking is expressed in Brooklyn by their calling “Chinese” any foodstuff they like that’s not recognizably Italian.  I notice that the Chinese return the compliment.  There’s a variety of small eggplant sold in Brooklyn Chinese markets as “Italian” eggplant, and in the Italian markets as “Chinese” eggplant.) 

I defrost the frozen block of silver fish in water salty as the sea, then rinse and drain them well, and add them to the batter; their own moisture thins the batter.  I make a thicker-than-pancake-like batter by beating together:  2 Large or 1 Jumbo egg, a couple scant tablespoons of flour, a couple rounded tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano, fresh chopped parsley, fresh ground black pepper, and (needless to say) salt.

Heat oil up on medium heat, and scoop a tablespoon of battered fish babies into the oil, which should sizzle in a friendly and not angry way.  Fry friendly, until gilding first appears at the edges, then turn them over to a golden face, and finish frying the other side to golden as well.  (Do only one at first, and taste; if need be, add more grated cheese to the batter.)  Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon to paper towels, and salt lightly on both sides, as you would fries.  Serve the fritters as soon as they cease to be too hot to eat; don’t bother trying to stop casual snatchers-by.


If you get them right, they will be snatched up at table in moments. Such snatching means you got your antipasto right.

Sparkling wine has become our family favorite with antipasto, perhaps under the influence of my brother’s wine-in-laws.  I wish I could say we prefer Prosecco, but truth is, we drink French champagne and Spanish cava at least as often.  What we never do is make anyone drink what they don’t like.  There’s no ceremony of opening bottles and rationing out portions to rows of glasses, with a communal toast and comments of appraisal.  We try to make sure there’s some bottle or other open to suit every palate present—something sweet for the aunts, bubbly for the mainstream, a red for my brother, a beer for my brother-in-law—something to make everyone happy—no script, no protocol, no choreography.  Let pleasure guide each.

*

Okay, so now you have the greatest genera of piquant fat, the primary modalities of fat flavor, paradigmatic instances of variation, and you still don’t know where to start, do you?  Okay, okay, so let me give you an example of a beautifully balanced antipasto improvised by me, and then ruined by my mother’s intemperance and my brother’s largesse.  Thanksgiving at my parents’ house this year was a very small affair of five, but at the last minute I decided that was no reason not to have antipasto, it being a holiday.  So I start digging in my mom’s fridge and come up with some Galbani “fresh” mozzarella (imported from Italy God knows when, rather than made fresh in Brooklyn that morning), some mortadella, a big jar of almonds (yes, my mother keeps almonds in the fridge—God only knows why), and some skinny asparagus stalks, for a frittata!

I roast the almonds, and meanwhile make a quick little asparagus frittata with spring onions.  I get an oval platter and lay out in its center an olive green lawn of my mother’s eggplant sott’olio, and dot it with several of her bright red stuffed cherry peppers sott’olio.  Then I dot the perimeter with clusters of brown olives.  Along the edges of the platter I layer folded mortadella slices staggered with slices of mozzarella.  I tuck in clusters of roasted almonds here and there, and parsley sprigs.  On a little cutting board apart, I lay out fingers of asparagus frittata, slices of a dry pecorino cheese, and a tumbling hill of roasted almonds.  I of course have crusty bread on hand too.  Beautiful, if I say so myself. 

I put out flutes for Martini and Rossi Prosecco.  I talk my mother out of making the silver fish fritters, because there are too few of us to merit the trouble, and it isn’t a good preface to a turkey dinner anyway.  She agrees.  But then she says we should also put out hot dried sausage, because my brother likes it.  I say no—we have plenty already [and the spicy, hot, chewy dried sausage isn't a good complement to moist and tender mortadella and mozzarella].  She says okay, but with eyes averted. 

Finally! the sound of a car in the driveway:  my brother and his fiancée have made it from Brooklyn to Jersey through Staten Island traffic!.  They come loudly in, bearing bags, out of which flow Brooklyn focaccia, and Brooklyn bread, and Brooklyn fresh ricotta, and more fresh mozzarella, and my mother grabs the hot dried sausage and starts cutting it up; Prosecco gets poured, and a good Chianti gets opened, and some of my father’s California jug wine comes out, and somehow in the rough and tumble of it all, everyone gets what they like to eat and drink.  That’s antipasto.