Few culinary traditions are as enduring, or delicious, as the antipasto plate. For the picky eater, you've got nice variety to choose from. For the gourmand, you've got a tongue-tingling mix of flavors and textures to get your salivary glands watering. The antipasto dish is literally an invitation to dine -- an appetizer to put you in the correct frame of mind (and appetite) for the main meal that follows.
Considered quintessential Italian fare, these popular before-the-meal dishes are even more flavorful, and better for you, when created with whole foods. According to Active.com's Christina Scannapiego, whole foods aren't necessarily organic foods, but instead are "unprocessed, unrefined, with the ability to be eaten without additives or modification in their natural state -- and therefore more nutritionally packed." They can include meats and fish, provided they are free of additives and preservatives, as well as brightly colored vegetables, fruits and cheeses. In other words: the fresher, the better. Look for local ingredients, or merchants at local markets that you trust.
As an added bonus, the antipasto plate is relatively easy to put together if you keep a few simple rules in mind. For a basic starter plate, the experts at Whole Foods Market suggest a mix of marinated vegetables -- such as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives and pickled garlic -- supplemented by natural deli meats, thick, hearty breads, robust cheeses and even a smattering of seafood. (This explains why antipasto dishes also make for great snacking fare.)
If all that seems a bit much, the Whole Food Market experts recommend narrowing your choices to three main ingredients. Experiment, and see what works well together. A few suggestions include combining jarred, roasted red and yellow peppers, garlic hummus and pita bread, marinated artichoke hearts served with water crackers and Camembert cheese, shaved prosciutto with fresh cantaloupe chunks and a bowl of mixed nuts, or toasted focaccia bread with sardines and sweet onions. Again, keep it simple (you don't want your antipasto dish overwhelming the main course), and expand your dishes one ingredient at a time.
Once you're mastered the basics, though, it's time to raise the antipasto ante.