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Rethink How to Plate Your Produce

Must carrots always be in sticks? Strawberries dipped in chocolate? Is there something more interesting than swirling celery in onion dip? These may be the busy, go-to serving styles of the produce we love. But serving modern Italian fare means thinking outside the norm while doing what Italians have intrinsically done for centuries: entertain with flair, using fresh ingredients that are simply prepared.

This month, we offer suggestions for innovative produce presentations that will inject your gatherings with new twists on serving fruits and vegetables. From family-style meals to impromptu cocktail-party appetizers, these tips will help you rethink your rudimentary approach to tired plates of crudités.

Single Servings of Vegetables

Shot glasses are useful for more than measuring alcoholic aperitifs. The perfect vessel for portable food bites, take your typical plate of raw vegetables and dip and singularize servings. Place two tablespoons of dip or spread in the bottom of a glass and stand carrot sticks, asparagus spears, or strips of peppers and cucumbers upright into the dip. This method prompts plenty of mingling as it avoids a backup at a vegetable plate.

The Sweet Side of Potatoes

Carrots aren’t the only orange vegetable that can be served in sticks. Sweet potatoes are filled with beta-carotene, and unlike their white brethren they taste delicious when cut into spears and used raw in dips. Always peel them first, and since they are less sweet raw than roasted or mashed, pair them with dips to enhance their sweetness. Curry or fruit dips work well.

Perfectly Pureed

Instead of serving fruit salads, try pureeing pineapple and mango with a handful of mint, or your favorite mixture of berries with some sugar and a little vanilla, until the fruit becomes a sauce. Pour the puree into ice pop molds and serve diners their fruit frozen on a stick.

Wrapped Up

Make salad fixings more portable by wrapping vegetables into rice paper skins for the ultimate summer roll. Cut vegetables like red pepper, cucumber, sweet onions, carrots or fennel in uniform sticks; then, layer in the middle of soaked rice paper wrappers with lettuce leaves, and a few salad toppings your family likes like Parmigiano Reggiano or goat cheese crumbles. Finish by wrapping them like a small burrito. The slight stickiness of the rice paper will hold the salad together, and by serving salad in “packages,” you have successfully avoided a fork, knife and plate.

By the Spoonful

Potato salad is the perfect summertime side and can be made with a variety of ingredients to keep it updated and different. Instead of relegating it to the plate beside barbecue or burgers, feature it as an appetizer by piling individual spoons with tastes of your creation. Whether made traditionally with mayonnaise, or Italian style with vinaigrette, bacon crumbles and scallions, place bites in decorative lacquered or ceramic spoons found in Asian markets.

Spiedini

Italians love spiedini (skewers), so consider serving an entire meal of them: entree (steak, chicken or sausage), salad (chunky vegetables like peppers, zucchini, and sweet onion) and dessert items (raw or grilled pineapple, berries, melon) can be cut into bite-size pieces and served on simple wooden skewers for easy transport.