A quick guide to Italian appetizers


Italians love to talk about food but they also spend a lot of time sitting at the dinner table. Meals are important for them, but also family! They like to gather and spend quality time while eating their favourite food. Italians like to eat different and exciting appetizers every time as a prelude to the rest of the feast. In Italy appetizers are known as “antipasto” and the word actually means “before a meal“.
According to history, the appetizers were once served only to important people. But in the end, the “antipasto” became a very widespread Italian tradition.
Nowadays each Italian region has its own typical dish, different wines, drinks, food. Italians started to offer appetizer platters also with cocktails and their aperitifs. Italian appetizers contain typical and local products. Chefs like to create different combinations in every season using various products and serve them in  big platters, especially in winter.They like to cut different cured meats, cheeses, bruschetta bread and marinated vegetables and serve them on a big plate altogether. The options are infinite, all depends on the ingredients and the season. They must be fresh and local and easy to prepare but at the same time appetizers must be light. In this way, you will eat all the other typical food such as pasta, meat or fish dishes. And remember, at the end of the meal you need space for the typical dessert of the region you are visiting!
Let’s discover together the proverbial differences with this quick guide to Italian appetizers.
Appetizers in Northern Italy

Preparing appetizers by Pixels – Pixabay

Usually, appetizers in the north of Italy are full of different kinds of food. They use warm appetizer especially during winter due to the cold temperatures.
You will definitely find “crostini” with gorgonzola, and cheeses from the northern valley. In some appetizers, you will also find the typical fondue of the Aosta Valley and Piedmont. The classic version includes pieces of old bread or potatoes to dip into the melted cheese.
Without forgetting their typical Taggiasche and Pignola olives and cured meats. The northern cured meats are all different. You must try Bresaola, South Tyrolean salami, Pitina and Soppressa Investia.
You will also taste polenta, typical comfort food made with cornflour. Usually, polenta is topped with different sauces made with cheese, mushrooms, vegetables.
Appetizers in Central Italy

Appetizers by Skeeze – Pixabay

In the centre part of Italy, appetizers are more consistent and rich.
They contain white pizza bread, cheeses like pecorino or mozzarella, fried anchovies, olives, vegetables. Without forgetting the roman supplì (breaded rice balls with tomato sauce and mozzarella) and other fried delicacies.
They also offer different varieties of vegetables like artichokes, grilled peppers and aubergines or courgettes. We must say that Tuscany has a little bit more fantasy. They use a lot of cured meats and slices of toasted bread topped with them, my favourite is lard from Colonnata. You must try it! And once there you must try the “panzanella” made with old bread, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. All the ingredients mixed together become a fresh dish to serve especially in summer.
Appetizer in Southern Italy

Appetizers by Daria-Yakovleva – Pixabay

In the south of Italy, you will find different kinds of appetizers.
Caciocavallo, burrata and cheese are often served with deep-fried mozzarella, bread and pizza.
In some places, you will find a typical appetizer known as “frittatina di pasta“. It’s like a quiche but made with pasta and put together with eggs and creamy cheese, cut in small squares.
Don’t forget to taste olives, fresh and marinated vegetables and also seafood. Appetizers with raw or fried seafood are the best, especially during the summertime especially if paired with some toppings.
Once in the south, you must try the “focaccia barese”. It’s a pizza bread dressed with cherry tomatoes and olives from Bari.
People from Bari love to eat focaccia bread everywhere. They take it whit them even to the seaside or eat it for lunch if they don’t have time.
Often restaurants will offer it as an appetizer, in small squares and with different vegetables on top.
My Tips:
My favourite appetizer is a popular dish in the central area of Italy:
Bassiano raw ham and figs from the Lepini Mountains“. It is very simple to make especially at home, even if you don’t have the same Italian quality products. All you need to do is buy cured raw ham and combine it with figs. Toast some bread, apply the raw ham and cut the figs. If you prefer, sprinkle them with honey to give them a twist!
Another appetizer that I prepare very often especially in summer is the “caprese“. The “caprese is a dish made with sliced mozzarella and sliced tomatoes and some basil. You can sprinkle a little olive oil and black pepper on top, to give it an Italian feel!
If you prefer an unusual appetizer instead, you should try cured raw ham with slices of cantaloupe melon. But if you don’t like fruit then replace it with slices of fresh mozzarella. Here in Italy we often use buffalo mozzarella, that gives a nice mouthfeel together with the ham. A must try!
Especially in summer, if you are too hot and bothered you should try the “panzanella“.
Panzanella is a no-waste typical dish, in Tuscany they use dried or old bread. They cut the bread in squares and a lot of cherry tomatoes and live them to marinate together overnight. They add cucumber and basil and leave to rest in the fridge, they serve it in small dishes.

Caprese by Arnaud 25 – Wikimedia Commons

When in Italy you must try all the food that you can to understand the tradition and its history. If you like the appetizer then ask for the recipe, people will be glad to help you and give you information about the recipe and products used.
Don’t forget to visit the local shops, where you will find particular and unusual products that you can take back home with you to prepare a  traditional appetizer for you and your family.