Bite-sized bliss: The 8 top antipasti nibbles

By Roz Crowley

Antipasti are simply bite-sized starters which in the past were called hors d’oevres and more recently appetisers, tapas, canapés, finger food — we don’t have to get excited about the difference between them.

For me, making a selection is about deciding how substantial they need to be for having with drinks, as a casual starter away from the table, or as a lunch for picking at in hot weather, when even the thought of a solid meal makes us feel tired.

Apart from the selection here, there are more obvious and widely available treats from semi-dried tomatoes which are good on toast, to pesto and hummus which are delicious on fresh baguette or toasts. Italian shops have interesting crunchy savoury biscuits which are good alone or to have with cheeses or dried ham.

While we think of cheeses as post main courses, they are ideal before meals. Cut slivers, or for a crowd have a decent hunk that people can pare or slice off and put with their own choice of sourdough, wholemeal breads, or crackers.

Grilled fresh or smoked seasonal mackerel is delicious as a paté and hardboiled eggs topped with mayo flavoured with freshly grated turmeric work well.

Cornichons/gherkins are delicious, and what a choice in olives we have these days! Given the wide variety of products in today’s selection, we haven’t marked them, but only included those which got huge enthusiasm from tasters.

Real Olive Company salted whole almonds 200g €3.80

These crunchy, perfectly salted snacks are irresistible and moreish. I rarely serve drinks without some. All tasters kept picking at them, which is the ultimate compliment. Simply have to hand in a decorative bowl. This was a top-quality favourite. They also loved the wasabi-coated crunchy peanuts — hot and interesting.

In English Market and farmers’ markets.

On the Pig’s Back Forestière Pâté 288g €7.29 (€25/kg)

I cut a thick slice into 36 cubes and stabbed with cocktail sticks, as this photograph shows, it makes the easiest of nibbles. Excellent on toasted bread or brioche or on the sticks with a whole cornichon, olive, or piece of tomato, it has loads of meaty flavour and is a good foil for dry Champagne, prosecco, cava, or a glass of iced tea or sparkling elderflower.

Excellent! From English Market and Douglas café.

Frank Hederman Smoked Mussels 240g €9.23 (€38.45/kg)

Tasters agreed there was loads of flavour from the grainy mustard dressing, but also from the plump mussels. A single one is delicious wrapped in a young lettuce leaf which can be eaten in the hand, or on small chunks of baguette. Tasters lapped them up. And they are rich in iron too, with a good amount of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. While they seem expensive, a mussel or two per person is ample. We got 36 in this tub.

From English Market.

Marks & Spencer Mini Snack Eggs 192g €3

A decent selection includes cheese wrapped in prosciutto pencil-thick rolls, various pork and ham slices, and indulgent crunchy pork crackling straws. In this tub, 16 hard-boiled egg pieces are covered in peppery and herbed pork sausagemeat, then fine breadcrumbs. Satisfying finger food, tasters reached for more.

Aldi Specially Selected Irish Buffalo Mozzarella 125g €1.99

A wobbly pouch with salty water holds a ball of fresh mozzarella which is hugely versatile. Tear it into small pieces and wrap with dried ham, dip into pesto, or pair with basil leaves, olive oil and black pepper, or dried ham. A good base for aromatic flavours, I also like golden marjoram and fresh sage with it. Its creaminess is a contrast to other bites and is good on baguette, toasted bread, or a salty cracker.

OrtoCori Zucca alla Brace 320g €4.50

Grilled, thick slices of pumpkin are bottled with olive and sunflower oils, mushrooms, and herbs to make a substantial bite. With rich flavours, this is a hit with vegetarians — serve in its wide-necked jar with a fork and have chunky bread nearby to catch the drips.

We bought in Delitaly, Marlboro St, Cork.

Iceland Luxury Parmigiano Reggiano 200g €4

Slivers of parmesan make a delicious antipasto. Runny honey can be drizzled onto the cheese on crusty sourdough for a great salt-sweet combo. This 24-month-old parmesan has nice, crunchy, crystalline pops and a deep flavour which come with age. A little annoying that this is £2.75 online in the UK which should translate to €3.08 in Ireland.

Cooks & Co Artichoke bottoms in brine 210g €2

Rich in potassium, and said to be good for the gall bladder and liver, arthritis, and rheumatism, globe artichokes taste well too (and with none of the flatulence-inducing habit of the Jerusalem variety). They really are time-consuming to cook, so this can provides a labour-free interesting variety on an antipasti plate. These hollowed-out shapes make a tidy receptacle for crabmeat, lemony-toasted breadcrumbs, hummus, a cube of feta, or creamy goats cheese. Available at Mr Bell’s, English Market, Cork.

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