What is Antipasti?

Brendan McGuigan

Antipasti is an Italian word meaning literally "before the meal," and is the appetizer or hors d'oeuvre course. This term is the plural form of the word antipasto, which is often also used.

A variety of cured meats including salami and prosciutto as well as cheese, olives, and peppers is a common antipasto.
A variety of cured meats including salami and prosciutto as well as cheese, olives, and peppers is a common antipasto.

This course may consist of a number of different foods, depending on the meal and the circumstances. In a general sense, it could be almost anything served before the main meal, even fare outside of traditional Italian cuisine, such as potstickers or deviled eggs. More often, however, this term is used to refer to a number of traditional Italian appetizers that can be categorized into four different groups: meats, olives, vegetables, and cheeses.

Caprese salad may be served as antipasto.
Caprese salad may be served as antipasto.

Meats served as antipasti are usually served cold, and may include cold cuts, sausages, or cured meats. Turkey and ham are two examples, while pepperoni or salami may also be served sliced into thin pieces. A number of cured meats may also be served, most especially the dry-cured Italian ham known as prosciutto. While these meats are usually served in thin slices, they may also be served in larger pieces, or in the case of salami or pepperoni, still in their casings.

Olives often accompany antipasti.
Olives often accompany antipasti.

Olives are a staple of Italian cuisine, and so are nearly always found in a traditional hors d'oeuvre course that is not exclusively meat. Kalamata, Nicoise, and Colossole olives are the most common types included. These olives may be served on their own or stuffed with different cheeses, garlic, nuts, prosciutto, or hot peppers.

Tomato and pepper bruschetta is a common Italian appetizer.
Tomato and pepper bruschetta is a common Italian appetizer.

Vegetables served as antipasti are usually served raw, or perhaps marinated. While any vegetable can in theory be dished up, and sometimes one encounters carrots or broccoli, it is more common to find vegetables such as mushrooms, artichokes, or sun-dried tomatoes. Often, a number of different types of mushrooms are served together, perhaps each prepared differently; some might be marinated and served cold, others marinated and served hot, and still others grilled. This allows the diner to experience one food in a number of different styles.

Antipasti is often accompanied by bread.
Antipasti is often accompanied by bread.

Cheeses are also an important part of the course. Usually, traditional Italian cheeses are served, although in some cases, more exotic varieties may also be included. The cheeses may be dished on their own, or wrapped in cured meats or stuffed into olives or mushrooms. Although bread is not always a part of the appetizer offerings, if it includes spreadable cheeses, it will most likely be served with something to spread them on.

Crostini with mozzarella cheese, chopped tomato and basil.
Crostini with mozzarella cheese, chopped tomato and basil.

Usually, this course is served simply as a dish of assorted meats, cheeses, olives, and vegetables, but the term may also be affixed to another type of food. The most common example of this use of the term is antipasti salad, which is usually a green salad covered in various cheeses, olives, cold cuts, and other assorted meats.

Even potstickers--not a traditional Italian food--can be served as antipasti.
Even potstickers--not a traditional Italian food--can be served as antipasti.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


I always thought that antipasti referred to some kind of pasta. It's interesting to learn the real meaning.

I do like marinated raw vegetables like carrots and broccoli. They taste great in Italian dressing. That's my favorite antipasti.


@abiane – I don't care for Italian appetizers at all, but I love American antipasti. Cocktail shrimp are delicious, and they are a hit at parties.

Also, pigs in a blanket are great. These are sausages, but I doubt that they are part of Italian antipasti. They sure are popular here in America.

I hate cheese and olives, so I would be out of luck at an Italian gathering. Appetizers here are awesome, though.


I never cared much for the taste of olives until I went to a friends house for dinner and she served these as part of her appetizers. These olives were stuffed with cheese and nuts, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them.

It is very common to see meat and cheese at just about any gathering where they have appetizers. The olives were something that I wasn't expecting, and I could have eaten a lot more of them than I did.


If I had to pick one favorite antipasti, it would have to be cheese in some form. It doesn't matter if it is sliced cheese with crackers, melted cheese in a dip, or spreadable cheese, I love cheese no matter how it is prepared.

One of my favorites is cheese sticks. When you combine the warm, melted cheese with the light breading, it is hard not to eat a whole plate full of them.

Whenever I go to a party, I look forward to eating the finger foods more than anything else. Usually there are so many different kinds to choose from, and it is the perfect way to start off an evening of feasting.


There are many times when I eat at a restaurant that I will order an appetizer as my meal. If I am wanting something light, and don't want a huge meal, this is the perfect size for me. I do love an antipasti salad though. For me, this is a meal in itself, and I find myself full and satisfied after eating this.


While some of the Italian food appetizers may be a little different than other countries, the concept is still the same. I love to have a small appetizer before my meal. I don't usually do this at home, but look forward to ordering them when I eat at a restaurant. When I am fixing dinner at home I will often snack on something while I am preparing the food.

It is nice to have something to eat while you are waiting for your main meal to arrive. I just have to be careful and not eat too many appetizers. Sometimes by the time the meal gets there, I am already full.


@abiane - There's a good possibility that people call Antipasti finger food because Antipasti mostly consists of things like cheeses and cold cuts or meats. There are many different varieties of appetizers to choose from and many people tend to make them on the fly - I know I do!


@anon38842 - I bet that can be very confusing for people that don't understand Italian - I know it was confusing for me; so much so to the point where I had to read it twice!

Antipasti can be virtually any type of what American's call "finger food." Antipasti varies depending on where you are; for example in Italy you can find meats like prosciutto or salami and in America you might find meats like chicken or even seafood involved with appetizers.


'Antipasti' is the plural of 'Antipasto'. When the masculine singular ends with an 'o', they plural will end with 'i', e.g. bambino-bambini. The feminine singular ending in an 'a' will turn into an 'e', e.g. ragazza-ragazze.

Post your comments
Forgot password?