Gatherings: How to Assemble a Vegan Antipasti Spread

Today I went biking after work in search of inspiration. I think of a lot of things while I bike, mostly stupid things. But today I stopped by a thrift shop that I love and hadn’t been to in a while, and I found a pile of old cooking magazines from the ’90s, which are one of my favorite things ever. If any of you ever browsed magazines from the ’80s or ’90s, you’ll see how heavily involved meat was in 90% of the recipes, and combining multiple protein sources was a common practice.
Seeing those magazines made me think of modern publications in Italy, and their endeavor to adapt things like quinoa to Italian tastes, and then I thought of young male bloggers/editors with the legs of their pants rolled up and a pair of charming sideburns who dream of moving abroad because rhubarb and avocado are just not the thing here and assembling a decent, modern brunch even in Milan is so very difficult (in case you are wondering, yes, that is the embodiment of my male counterpart).

Consequently I thought of brunches, aperitivos and antipasti spreads, and at how I heard people scowl at the word ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ being put in front of any of those terms, which are some of their oh-so-favorite words in the world.

I realized that there is one main problem with those words today: when people hear ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’, they do not think of the idea of ‘not eating meat’. They think of a condition in which all you can eat is vegetables.
(And tofu. Italians hate tofu.)

Most people, though, don’t realize that the plant world is very vast and does not include only lettuce and carrots. Case in point: many of Italy’s favorite dishes are vegetarian or vegan. In fact, most of the foods present at party spreads or aperitivos tend do be, as meat is more expensive than grains and assembling an all-you-can-eat to feed a crowd of people who’ll only pay 5 euros per drink is no easy task. Pasta with garlic, oil and chili? Check. Red pizza and potato focaccia, which are super common on every party table. Flatbread with cheese and arugula (which I’ll soon talk about). And again cheese with preserves, most summer pastas, calzoni, rolls with vegetables, bruschetta with tomatoes and peppers. It’s mostly carbs. Who doesn’t love carbs?

Being into lifting, yoga and nutrition, I though that it would be nice to come up with some more interesting ideas for a vegan spread for this vegan month I’m into, which is really being super fun. I wanted protein and fiber to be present, without having people think of macrobiotics and other scary words, and just focus on flavorful, whole foods. The option for a vegan antipasti spread are countless, so here are some of my favorite options, some ideas, and 3 recipes that made my saturday very satisfying.

If not making these for a party spread, all these food items make for a very nice, pull-everything-out-of-the-fridge kind of weeknight dinner. They can all be prepared the day before, and are good enjoyed on a hot summer night, or at a picnic. Maybe with some refreshing drink, like flavored tea. Or some ginger Kombucha, if you’re not scared of the word ‘macrobiotics’.

The garden is now in full bloom, and we have so much stuff growing! Not grilling vegetables would be just insane. Those are just one idea amongst many, though. A vegan spread can have so many beautiful options.

Eggplants and tomatoes in the Hortus vegetable garden.

Eggplants and tomatoes in the Hortus vegetable garden.

Olive trees, flowers, and a summer garden in Italy

ASSEMBLING A VEGAN ANTIPASTI SPREAD

Here are 3 recipes that can contribute to a nice vegan spread, along with some more suggestions below. The grilled vegetables are a real classic, and people always ask for them at potluck and gatherings. layer all these 3 on some toasted bread with extra virgin olive oil, or use to stuff a sandwich, a panini, or a wrap. They can be used in many ways!

Split grain bread and burnt grain bread, for a vegan spread.

Having spectacular bread is essential to a good spread. These are burnt grain bread, and split whole grain loaf. So intensely flavored!

 

 

 

Carrot Celeriac Slaw

1 cup julienned carrot
1 cup julienned celeriac
2 tbsps roasted sesame seeds
2 tbsps lemon juice, or more to taste
2 to 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
(extra) a few drops of sesame oil
Salt, to taste

Simply julienne the vegetables and toss them with the dressing ingredients. Crush the roasted sesame seeds for the best flavor.
This combination of celeriac and carrots is very common in Italy, and a lady I worked for used to make it quite often specifically for me.

Cannellini Cream (Cannellini Hummus)

1/2  (125 g) cup Cannellini beans, cooked until very soft or canned
1 small shallot
Some rosemary needles
A couple small sage leaves
A garlic clove
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsps vegetable stock, or water
(extra) 5-6 roasted walnut halves
(extra) 1 tbsp tahini
Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

If using canned beans, rinse them very well. If cooking dried, make sure you soak them overnight and do not add any salt to the water, as it toughens the skin. You’ll need to cook them until very soft, which might take up to an hour.
Finely chop the shallot and add it to a small pan with the olive oil, sage and rosemary. Stir fry gently until everything is aromatic, the herbs crisp up and the shallot softens. Add the beans to the pan and toss to coat.
Discard the herbs, then scrape the contents of the pan into a food processor. Add the garlic, a bit of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and the nuts and tahini if using, and purée to a paste. Add the stock or water little by little, until you’re happy with the consistency.
Spoon into a bowl and garnish with more EVOO, if desired. You could also add a sprinkling of paprika!

IDEA: Try adding 3-4 pieces of dried tomatoes in olive oil to the processor. Extra umami!

Grilled Eggplants & Zucchini

1 medium long eggplant
2 medium zucchini
1 fat garlic clove, minced finely
A nice handful of parsley (to taste), minced finely
(extra) 2-3 basil leaves
Some dried chili, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, 2 to 3 tbsps
(extra) a tablespoon of good quality thick balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper (preferably white)

Heat up a grill, or a nonstick or cast iron pan.
Thinly slice the vegetables lengthwise, about 2mm (no more than 0.1 inch) with a mandolin.Grill the vegetable slices very briefly, no more than one minute on the first side and 40 seconds on the other. If you sliced them a bit thicker, the eggplants might need more time.
Once done, toss in a bowl with the garlic, parsley, crumbled dried chili, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add some finely shredded basil to enhance the flavor further, and, if you have good quality balsamic on hand, add a splash. Toss well and refrigerate for a bit to let the flavors mingle before serving.

Pan-sautéed beans for Cannellini Hummus

GOOD ADDITIONS TO YOUR SPREAD:

  • Preserved vegetables in oil (like these Artichokes with parsley and garlic!)
  • At least two kinds of very good whole grain breads. You can make you own! Here’s a guide on how to make Country bread.
  • Focaccia is great, too! And it cannot be skipped on an Italian table. Here’s a guide to make Roman-style focaccia, fluffy and hole-y. In the summer, top it with dried tomatoes, fresh cherry tomatoes and olives before it goes into the oven.
  • Olives, fresh vegetables, and a balsamic and extra virgin olive oil dip with salt.

Cannellini Hummus for a Vegan Spread

  1. Love this idea! The cannellini cream sounds like it would be awesome with crusty bread :) Your pictures are making me hungry.

  2. Well, hello cannelini cream and welcome into my life! Seriously, I’m totally fascinated by this recipe. Also, thanks for reminding me of your focaccia recipe. I was dreaming of a perfect slice of focaccia the other day and I think I found the recipe to go with. A great, inspiring post as always. xoxo

    • It’s a bit of a classic here, so I can’t take any credit for cannellini cream :) (except most Italians probably can’t even pronounce ‘tahini’). Let me know how it goes if you try it <3

  3. Valentina, you’re brilliant!!!! I love love love this. You’re right–now that you point it out, I realize that as a vegetarian, I never really had trouble finding things to eat in Italy–though yes, I was often indulging in a giant carb-fest (now I’m so nostalgic! Give me ALL THE PERFECTLY COOKED PASTA). Grilled vegetables have always been my favorite part of any antipasti platter–I don’t know why I haven’t thought to make them before! Thanks for the inspiration and for the links to all of your fabulous bread resources–I’m about to go get lost in your post about flours and roman focaccia :)

  4. Looks delicious and very true the majority of these nibbles are traditionally vegetarian. It is bean season here in New York so I might have to just whip up that hummus, that is if I can step away from cooking with favas!

    • Wow, are favas still available there? they disappeared a month ago here…but you could do this same thing with fava beans! :D Or make macco!

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  7. These recipes are gorgeous and brilliant! I love the cannellini bean hummus in particular. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Ooooh Gena Hamshaw! HI!!! Thank you, I am so happy you liked this! I have so many of your recipes saved on Food52. YOU are truly an inspiration :)

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  9. this is an antipasti spread i could get behind – i wouldn’t miss meat at all :)

    valentina! i can’t believe italians don’t like tofu!!

  10. My girlfriends and I are always looking for new food blogs. I just discovered yours. I’m a big fan of the blogs “Cooking With Mr. C.” and “Smitten Kitchen”. I will now add you to my list. Thanks. Danielle

  11. So the wood sticks in your garden, is that your trellis? Or is it used for something else? I’m an urban farmer, so I am quite curious! I live in a very similar climate as northern Italy and would love to incorporate some long standing farming traditions; grazie!

    • Hi Jessi! So the sticks you see is a structure built out of cane sticks for tomatoes, as tomato plants need to hold onto something. Something similar is also used for cucumbers, peppers and eggplants. Building them ‘tent-shaped helps the plant climb up the sticks and makes picking easier, but you could also put some straight sticks in the ground and connect them with some wire, just to give the plants some space to grow upwards :)