Why hello. If you’ve read my writing before, it’s likely been of the feminist variety – so you may be surprised to see me writing about cooking. Clearly there are connections between food, cooking, politics, and gender. I’m not gonna get too deep into all that. Yes, feminism will come up now and then, but for the most part I want to talk about food itself. Because food is awesome. It tastes good. It’s fun to play with. And for me, cooking is a way to turn off the reel of awfulness that is part of doing feminist work everyday – I’d like to think writing about cooking will be the same. So I very much appreciate the wonderful editors of The Toast thinking about my writing on sexism, and saying – hey, let’s get that gal in the kitchen! Even more so, I appreciate the openness on the name for this series – so welcome, folks, to “Eat Me.”
The short version? Don’t fuck with an Italian girl and her cured meats.
One of the first big fights I had with my boyfriend (now husband) Andrew was over antipasta. His parents were visiting us for the first time since we started living together. I made reservations at a local restaurant, but they were going to come to our apartment first. Like any good Italian girl, I planned to set out some appetizers and wine.
I had pre-ordered a storm of antipasta at my beloved D&F Deli: a block of provolone, spicy sopressata, mixed olives, pepperoncinis, artichoke hearts, salami, the works. Andrew, irked that he would have to make a stop on the way home from work to pick up said food, didn’t understand why what we had in the fridge wouldn’t do.
This is what he wanted to serve:
This is how that idea made me feel:
I’m sure there’s an argument to be made here about socialization and gender roles and why the thought of serving my boyfriend’s parents cheddar on a Ritz was more horrifying than a date with Joe Francis. But all gender-based contextual underpinnings aside – I COULDN’T DO IT, readers. I would have preferred to cancel their visit entirely. (And believe me, in the heat of the argument I threatened as much.)
Antipasta really can set a mood, and the mood I wanted to convey was not: “Welcome to NYC, here’s a cracker that will make you feel thirsty for the next three hours!”
And, truth be told, I was using food – as I often do – as a way to battle back my own class anxiety. I was dating a guy who just graduated Harvard who was 5 years my junior. His parents were coming to Queens from Sonoma. Professionally, I was just joining the ranks of folks who made me feel extremely insecure and unqualified. Food was makes me feel comfortable and in control – I can put together a nice meal without it feeling like posturing.
I got this from my mom, who taught me that the first food item you set out in your own house for someone says something about you and how much care you put into their visit; and it says something about how you want your visitors to think of you. It’s what she called “putting something nice out.”
And that’s what’s great about antipasta. It’s not exactly appetizers – so you’re not overdoing it – but each of the components is quality. Antipasta is relaxed but thoughtful.
Once our fight was done (I won, obviously) and the dreaded first impression was over, Andrew finally came around on antipasta. I think it was the mozzarella that did it.
So, if you decide antipasta is for you – here are some recommendations. I like to have at least two cheeses: a mozzarella and a hard cheese, generally provolone or parmesan. You can have a little honey or balsamic for dipping on the side if you want to be fancy about it. Two or more cured meats: I’m a fan of sopressata (spicy, not sweet), salami (cause almost everyone likes it), and mortadella. Olives are a must – but please for the love of all that is good put out a pit plate or bowl – as are pepperoncinis. I don’t love artichoke hearts, but they do add some nice texture to the plate. For bread – foccacia or sliced french is best.
Plus, the great thing about antipasta is that most of it comprised of food that generally keeps well – cured meats, hard cheeses, and pickled things. So you can have a lot of this just hanging in the fridge. And of course, all you really have to do is arrange it – no cooking necessary. (The biggest upside of having antipasta handy, though, is that if you’re feeling lazy you can easily just eat it for a meal. I say this having had burrata and prosciutto for dinner this week.)
For the overachievers: If you need a little something extra nice to put out, do a bruschetta. It’s literally the easiest thing ever to make – also, comprised of things one should have on hand at all times: tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil. I use plum tomatoes, chopped up small. A LOT of garlic – if you’re pressed for time and want it really small, do like I do – throw a bunch in a food processor. Basil: the easiest (and nicest) way to chop a lot of this is to roll up the leaves first. It makes ribbons of basil rather than small bruised pieces. Advice: Don’t make this too early in the day, it will get watery. Toast whatever bread you’re going to use, and if you want to add a little something special – out out blue cheese to top it off. Sounds weird, but I promise you it works.
Lastly, eat your face off.
Illustrator: Esther C. Werdiger writes, draws, and podcasts in New York. She’s not quitting her day job, because that’s how she has her visa.
Jessica Valenti has written four books on feminism, politics and culture and is a founder of Feministing.com. She just moved back to her native New York after a two-year stint in Boston, which she is very pleased about. If she had to live solely off of one food group, it would be dairy.