Classically in Italy, antipasti is a no-pressure spread of whatever you have in the house or what's at the market, intended to kick-start appetites at the table, express generosity, and settle everyone into a gathering. Whereas an intricate pasta course can take a cook the better part of a day, antipasti is one of the first things to be put out when guests stream through the door, so the whole point is to make it easy and welcoming. The offerings change from region to region, and event to event, but some common themes are these: a loyalty to cooking by the season; a focus on mostly vegetables and sometimes a few meager proteins like seafood or rustic meats; and a simple, help-yourself approach to serving and sharing. This is the ethos behind the best antipasti dishes I've had at Italian restaurants and homes, from salty fried artichokes in the trattorias of Rome to tender, chargrilled disks of eggplant in Sicily bathed simply in olive oil and mint. The approach has rubbed off on me in many ways when I cook and entertain at home.