To my mind, the best foods are layered, complex. With each ingredient adding a note to what must surely be a gustatory symphony. Not all the time, of course—Virginia fried chicken is often good for what ails me. But when I want to sink into the moment, I crave food that evokes some resonant joy. Here are my favorite examples of that in the form of antipasti:
1. Bruschetta with lardo and a drizzle of truffle honey. Lardo is cured fatback, and I was happy, no THRILLED to find it at my local butcher. Simply fold a slice of lardo onto freshly toasted bread, allow to melt delicately, and drizzle with truffle honey. I first had this in Greve-in-Chianti, and I was delighted that my children winced faintly at the thought of fat with honey. More lardo for me! Runners-up in the most synergy-laden brushette: bruschette with freshly pressed olive oil and a dusting of good sea salt, bruschette with quickly chopped very ripe persimmon and a sprinkling of pecorino, and bruschette with a pâté similar to ground meat that is so layered and complex, I have yet to break down the recipe. All I know is that it has capers and is juicy and rich and bright and amazing.
2. Caprese salad. But listen people, in order for this dish to be on this list, it must have the very freshest tomatoes, the very creamiest mozzarella, the very greenest basil, and olive oil that is peppery and flavorful like spremuta (juice). You can make this with burrata if your tastes (and your pocketbook) trend towards the luxurious, but then omit the olive oil. The flavors would battle for precedence, thus reducing the harmonious...wait for it...synergy.
3. Stuffed zucchini blossom. How flavorul is a flower, really? Well, when it's stuffed with fresh mozzarella and a tidbit of anchovy and then batter fried and served with lemon, it's transcendent.
4. Salumi platter. This is one that I suspect only belongs on this list when you are traveling in Italy. Because then, the slices of salumi, the wedges of cheese, and the additional bits of fun always inherent in a great salumi platter (frittata, Ascolana olives, quince jam, and items that defy description to people who don't live in the neighborhood, like pieces of stunning "pie" of field greens and black olives) are a taste passport into where you are. Where exactly you are. What grasses grow and influence the milk that makes the cheeses, the nature of the cave bacteria that lend those cheeses their earthy edge, what the history of salumi making has led to creating on only that hilltop, what fruit is prized and therefore served as a mostarda or spicy jam alongside your cheeses and meats. We order salumi platters wherever we travel in Italy, and have found them better than a guidebook at suggesting the art and ethos of an area.
5. Tuna pinzimonio. This one belongs probably more in an Italian-American list, since pinzimonio is traditionally an olive oil bath for vegetables, and this is really closer to salsa tonnata, which usually blankets slices of cold veal. But when the tuna is the excellent kind that comes in glass jars this sauce makes an otherworldly dip for vegetables. My guests are always surprised when I tell them the main ingredient is tuna. Why? Synergy.