The easiest way to spruce up your antipasto plate is to introduce matching wines. Not just one, mind you, but a nice assortment to compliment the many flavors, and especially the cheeses and meats that you've assembled. Though whites (particularly a clean, crisp Italian white) might seem the best bet, you can also experiment with champagnes, blush wines and even light reds. Can't-miss choices include a Pinot Grigio (for white), or Sangiovese, the grape used for the red Chianti Classico.
On the food side, your imagination is really the only limitation when it comes to the combinations of whole foods that your antipasto plate can feature. Again, this dish is still an appetizer, and you want it to complement -- and not compete with -- your main meal. That said, the idea of an appetizer is to "set the table," and you want to have fun with it. Blend big, bold flavors with more subtle, sprightly tastes.
The Whole Food Market experts again remind budding and experienced chefs alike to keep the plate's overall appearance in mind when blending aromas, colors and flavors. You can even create themed antipasto plates, such as vegetarian or meat-lovers variations. Some examples include a fresh-fruit-and-nuts plate that offers chunks of fresh cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon alongside natural deli meats, and then add toasted walnuts and salted pistachios, or a roasted-vegetables-with-cheese platter that pairs roasted vegetables -- such as eggplant, beets, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and garlic -- with tangy cheeses like feta, Gruyère or aged Manchego.
Even top culinarians love the idea of antipasto. Renowned chef Emeril Lagasse suggests combining a head of roasted garlic, portabello mushrooms (grilled and marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil) and eggplant -- sliced one-fourth of an inch (6.35 millimeters) thick and drizzled with olive oil -- to create a "less filling" plate. For one with more robust flavor, try combining asparagus (grilled and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and thyme), buffalo mozzarella, Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese, and picholine and Gaeta olives, says Emeril.
For an antipasto plate that seems more like a meal, consider this hearty rendition offered up by Rachel Ray of the Food Network. Ray's plate boasts smoked or plain fresh mozzarella, sweet and hot deli-sliced sopressata, Genoa salami, sharp provolone, large olives, giardiniera hot pickled-vegetable salad, marinated artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Hard to believe anyone would have any room left for the main course!