Walk into an Italian deli or trattoria and one of the first foods you’ll see will be a colorful assortment of antipasti on display. Among them, you’ll find various Italian cheeses, cured meats, fresh and preserved seafood, grilled vegetables drenched in olive oil, pickled peppers and olives, herb-flecked beans, and more.
The common denominator in every one of these antipasti is lots of flavor—which is entirely the name of the game in this vibrant and satisfying salad.
What Is Antipasto?
When translated to English, antipasto essentially means appetizer (antipasto is singular, while antipasti is plural). In the cookbook Lydia’s Italian-American Table, Lydia Bastianich describes antipasti as “those little bites to nibble on before a meal.” She explains, “Whether simple or elaborate, an antipasto is meant to stimulate the taste buds and start the gastric juices flowing with an assortment of flavors, textures, colors, and aromas.”
What Makes Antipasto Salad Special
Antipasto salad hits all of these notes and then some. It starts as most salads do with a bed of fresh, crunchy lettuce. From there, you build the salad using favorites from the antipasti line-up: little mozzarella balls, salami, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, sweet peppers, olives, pepperoncini, and chickpeas.
Big, craggy croutons like the ones used in panzanella provide added crunch. The whole salad is dressed with an Italian vinaigrette that’s punctuated with anchovies and generously topped with Parmesan cheese. Yum!
- I encourage you to try the dressing with the anchovies since they lend terrific flavor without being overtly fishy. That said, if you are 100 percent anti-anchovy, leave them out and add an extra teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
- Feel free to swap out or add to the assortment of antipasti to suit your taste. For example, try using torn prosciutto in place of salami, provolone instead of mozzarella, pickled cauliflower in addition to the other vegetables, or marinated mushrooms in place of the olives.
- Add a few cups of cooked rotini or farfalle for a tasty spin on pasta salad.
Can I Make This Salad Ahead?
In a word: yes! You have a couple of options here:
- Up to 3 days ahead of time: Prep all of your ingredients including the dressing, leaving the croutons for the day of. Store them all in separate containers in the fridge. When it’s almost meal time, make the croutons, assemble, and dress the salad.
- Up to a day ahead: You can assemble the salad entirely, leaving the dressing and croutons separate until the last minute. This is an excellent option if, say, you want to dress and serve half for dinner, then enjoy the rest the next day for a work or school lunch.
How to Serve Antipasto Salad
If a salad could be called friendly, this one fits the bill. It’s hearty, casual, and generous.
Antipasto salad is chock full of goodies and has enough heft to qualify as a main dish. Serve it as a fun weeknight dinner; you can even set this up as a salad bar, allowing everyone to pick and choose for a custom-made meal.
Or whip up this salad for dinner with friends. Make a pot of meatballs and sauce or a big sheet pan pizza (no judgment if you want to order in) and serve the salad as a side dish. Open a bottle of wine and call it a party. Antipasto salad is also a nice addition to a potluck supper. It will hold up for an hour or two after it’s dressed, so it’s ideal to set out at a buffet.
More Main Dish Salads
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Nicoise Salad
- Lentil Salad with Summer Vegetables
- Tex-Mex Chopped Chicken Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
- Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Make the croutons:
Pile the bread in the center of a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.
Spread the bread out and bake just until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Assemble the salad:
Put the lettuce into a large salad bowl. Arrange the tomatoes, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, mozzarella balls, sweet cherry peppers, pepperoncini, salami, and olives in piles in a pinwheel on top of the greens.
Make the dressing:
Place the anchovies on a cutting board and use the back side of a fork to smash them into a purée. Scoop into a glass jar with a lid along with the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, oregano, garlic powder, and salt.
Screw on the lid and shake vigorously to blend.
Dress the salad:
Add the croutons to the salad. Drizzle about half the dressing over the top and toss well. Taste and add more dressing as needed. Taste again and add salt, if desired. Divide the salad onto plates or bowls. Shower each serving with finely grated Parmesan cheese.
Store leftovers in a covered container in the fridge. Undressed salad will keep for up to 3 days. Once dressed, it will hold up reasonably well overnight.
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