"The season" is upon us now. What sorts of terrific wonders can we suggest instead of the mountains of tender, chilled shrimp, creamy cartwheels of ripe Brie, buckets of tangy dip surrounded by kaleidoscopes of raw vegetables and stacks of crackers and chips, and endless rafts of pink ham slices carefully fanned out and artfully garnished? What new goodies can you offer during the next three months to the parched and ravenous mobs thronging your deck or lawn amid the non-existent clink of disposable plastic glassware?
Prepare a Brobdinagian cold antipasto. It would not be "anti" anything, any more than oeuvres are "hors." Nobody eats a meal after these feasts.
Most of the ingredients only require talented shopping, chilling, and jar-opening. The local gourmet food shops regularly prepare a number of the items as well as accept orders for them. They are apt to produce a better version than you will find on grocery shelves, especially when it comes to things like bean salads. Of course, you can do your own custom marinating instead of buying ready-made, or perhaps reseason the latter.
Select any or all of the following, with quantities depending on the crowd and its likely hunger. Don't skimp. Most of your leftovers keep well in the refrigerator.
Sliced salamis, bologna, mortadella, cappicola, prosciutto, pepperoni
Small wedges of Bel Paese
Slices of provolone
Gorgonzola (try mashing it to a paste with butter)
Quartered hard-boiled eggs
Italian tuna fish in oil
Anchovies (as-is or criss-crossed over eggs, vegetables, or salads)
Marinated shrimp (don't stint on the garlic or pepper)
Caponata (add pine nuts to it)
Marinated artichoke hearts
Marinated cannelli (white beans)
Marinated kidney beans
Marinated chick peas
Marinated mushroom caps (plain or with a rolled anchovy in each)
Roasted peppers and pimentos
Green olives with pits, or try the recipe below
Black olives (the "Greek" ones sold at the deli, not the bland California variety)
Strips of raw red or green peppers
Strips of fennel (if you can find it)
Melon balls or chunks (wrap some with strips of prosciutto)
Fish salad (any cooked fish, mashed to a paste with oil, vinegar, and plenty of capers)
Macaroni or ziti salad
Bread sticks (plain, sesame, and grissini)
Place wedges of lemon all around and spread your selection out on trays and platters or on lettuce leaves on a plastic-covered table top. Toothpicks and small paper plates and forks should be available for your guests' convenience.
Sicilian Cracked Olives
Drain the brine from large, unpitted green olives. Crush them slightly and place them in a container with a 50-50 mixture of wine vinegar and olive oil. Add several crushed cloves of garlic, a pinch of hot red peppers, and a few sprigs or sprinklings of oregano. Allow them to marinate for at least three days.