Monday, June 22, 2009

Vegan Antipasto—Great Alternative to Crudités

Artichoke heart, black olive, roasted red pepper and peperoncini antipasto.

When entertaining guests, healthy vegetarian appetizers can sometimes be a challenge. Often you end up with a bowl of vegetables surrounding some kind of dip—not a bad choice, but here is a more creative alternative.

Growing up in an Italian home, my parents would always create a beautiful antipasto when guests would visit or if we were to bring a dish over to someone’s home. Antipasto literally means “before the meal” and can either be served as an appetizer or as the first course. It can be simple or elaborate, large or small. This weekend I hosted a 2 day summer solstice party for my family (we decided Christmas was too stressful so we would have our holiday party later in the year). With all of the food preparation needed, I decided to do a very quick and easy antipasto as you can see.

Many antipasto recipes include heavy slices of salami and cheese but you can create a very imaginative and tasty vegan dish. Just start with a platter and arrange the ingredients in rows of contrasting colors. In the picture you’ll notice that I separated the green peperoncini and artichoke hearts with black olives and bright red roasted peppers.

Here are some of the ingredients you can use:
• Marinated artichoke hearts (they come pre-prepared in a jar or at a salad bar in your grocery store).
• Your favorite olives (many stores have olive bars where you can get oil cured, kalamata, Greek, or olives stuffed with pimentos, almonds or garlic, and other interesting things. Or, for simplicity, just use pitted black olives in a can. Kids generally will eat these.
• Peperoncini (comes prepared in a jar).
• Roasted red peppers (for simplicity, use the ones in a jar. Rinse under water, slice and marinate overnight with several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a clove or two of minced garlic).
• Grilled or broiled veggies (lightly brush a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic powder on the vegetables and cook them on a grill or broil them in an oven). I generally use zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant or red peppers.
• Pickled or marinated vegetables like cauliflower and carrots (you can usually find these premade).
• Marinated chick peas (drain and rinse a can of chick peas and combine with olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar and an herb like fresh thyme, tarragon or dill.
• Garnish the plate with several heads of roasted garlic. (Chop off the tops so you see the tops of the cloves. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over each head and wrap in aluminum foil. Put in a pie pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes. They should be soft to the touch). Serve with a sliced baguette.

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