To toast the baguette slices, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange baguette slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
Brush the slices evenly with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and rub each slice with a clove of raw garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired.
On a large platter, arrange mozzarella slices in an overlapping pile. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with pepper (I like 1/4 teaspoon).
Working with one ingredient at a time, arrange salami, prosciutto, and ham in piles around the platter. If desired, place artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives, and cherry peppers in bowls and nestle around the piles of meat.
Add the cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices to the platter, then fill in any remaining gaps with baguette slices. Garnish with fresh basil sprigs.
Mozzarella: Or substitute a different Italian cheese such as smoked mozzarella, creamy burrata, or slices of provolone. If you prefer bites to slices, consider drained bocconcini or ciliegine mozzarella balls (see the recipe for marinated mozzarella in Tips and Variations below).
Italian meats: Use any combination of salami, pepperoni, uncured ham, or prosciutto that you like. The pieces of cheese wrapped in meat are a great option too (such as provolone wrapped in prosciutto).
Stuffed cherry peppers: Also known as stuffed piquante or Peppadew peppers, look for these hot and sweet treats in well-stocked grocery stores or your local Italian deli, if you have one. To make them yourself, drain one jar of marinated pitted sweet cherry peppers. Cut provolone cheese into tiny cubes, then slice 5 pieces of prosciutto into 4 pieces each. Wrap each cube of cheese with a piece of provolone cheese and stuff it into a pepper. Or, stuff with an herby cheese like Boursin.
Cherry tomatoes on the vine: I love the look and easy assembly of this variety, but off the vine or grape tomatoes also work great.
Hot house cucumbers: Also known as English cucumbers, these have less wax on the skin (find them in the plastic shrink wrap) and have fewer seeds than traditional cucumbers. Regular ones work fine in a pinch (you'll want to peel them).
Yield: This recipe platter as shown here feeds about 8 as an appetizer, or 4 generous servings as a "snack dinner."
Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Serving size: How much meat and cheese per person depends on your budget, the group's appetite, and what else you'll be serving. I usually plan on 2 to 4 ounces of meat and cheese per person. If the Antipasto Platter is all I'm serving (for a cocktail party, for example) I might veer towards 4 ounces so no one leaves hungry.
Think OUT, but also UP: Yes, you want to cover every inch of your board with snacks, but try to make it a little three-dimensional, too. Sometimes I even use an overturned bowl as a pedestal for another bowl of dip, with crackers mounded underneath to conceal the prop. The two keys to the most photo-worthy platters: Plenty of layers and ensuring your platter is fully-loaded (so choose your board size accordingly based on your guest list and fill in any gaps with more fresh basil).
Temp check: Serve anything that's supposed to be eaten hot or chilled separately, on a different platter or in other bowls.
Marinated mozzarella: To make mini mozzarella balls that pack a punch, mix together 3/4 cup olive oil, 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano), 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional), 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 (16-ounce) container of drained bocconcini or ciliegine mozzarella balls. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to blend flavors.