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Small bites for a summer soiree



In her book Mediterranean Cookery, Claudia Roden proposes that “appetizers are triumphs of gastronomy,” and I tend to agree with her. They can be as simple as a small bowl of smoked almonds or as complicated as intricately designed canapés. These small plates can prelude a meal or be the main attraction themselves; their role need not be limited to a precursor of what is to come. And no matter what the occasion—be it a dinner soiree, cocktail party, or just a simple get-together with friends—there is always an appetizer menu to fit the bill.

While eating small “finger foods” has been the social norm for quite some time, I find the origins of the modern cocktail party interesting.

According to the late food writer James Beard in his tome simply and aptly named American Cookery, this style of entertaining became prevalent in the years following Prohibition when having hired help was on the decline and hosts were eager for gatherings with less pomp and more social interaction than formal, seated dinners (because they had to prepare the foods themselves, no doubt). And that, I suppose, is what a good cocktail party is about—not only the food, but also conversation and the chance to mingle among friends and friendly strangers.

An appetizer party is a great way to offer really good food while also being economical. It’s much less work for the host than a true dinner party—and a Mediterranean-themed menu exemplifies this even further, since many of the recipes can be made ahead of time (and actually taste better when you do so). Variations on a recipe can add interest while keeping things simple for the cook; if you provide a bruschetta or toast offering with three or four different toppings, for instance, everything can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before or as the guests arrive. The same trick works with most spreads, dips, and salads.

The Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the healthiest. It encompasses not only a variety of fruits, vegetables, seafood, and small amounts of meats, but also a daily consumption of red wine and olive oil. Whether it’s a tapas party, mezze table, or traditional antipasti, think fresh ingredients, simplicity, and abundance. Platters of cheese, seasonal fruits, and grilled vegetables can be rounded out by bean or grain salads, dips, or spreads, leaving room for slightly more labor-intensive recipes, such as individual canapés or spinach pies.

Here you’ll find recipes for Bruschetta with Portabella Mushrooms and Sundried Tomatoes, Spanakopita Triangles, White Bean Hummus, Tapenade, and Choricitos—so let the festivities begin! For wine pairing ideas, click here to read the accompanying story featuring Roo Buckley.

 

Dried Date and Chorizo Rumaki

Yield: 32 pieces
16 slices bacon
8 ounces chorizo sausage
4 ounces cream cheese
32 whole pitted sun-dried dates

Partially cook the bacon either on the stovetop or in the oven, and then set aside. Cook the chorizo in a skillet to render some of its fat. (If the sausage is in links, remove the meat from its casings before cooking.) Remove the chorizo from the pan and drain it in a colander; discard the fat or save it for future use. Combine the cooked chorizo and the cream cheese in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Slice one side of each date lengthwise. (There may already be an existing slice from where the pit was removed.) Stuff the dates with the chorizo/cheese mixture. Cut the bacon in half, crosswise, and wrap each stuffed date with a half slice of bacon, securing the bacon with a toothpick. Preheat an oven to 350˚F, and arrange these, the rumaki, on a baking sheet. Bake them for 10–15 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp.

 

Tortilla Española (Spanish Potato Omelet)

Yield: 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil to about 300–325˚F. Add the potato and onions in layers. (The oil should be hot enough that the potatoes will begin to bubble immediately, but not so hot that they will brown; the potatoes are being poached in the oil, rather than fried.) Cook the potatoes and onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes, just until the potatoes are beginning to soften and the onion is translucent. Drain through a colander, reserving the oil, and cool for a few minutes. Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper and add the cooked potatoes and onion to the egg. Heat 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil over medium-high heat in the same skillet. (The remaining reserved oil can be kept refrigerated for future use; the onions and potato impart a delicious flavor into it.) Add the omelet mixture to the skillet and gently press down on the potatoes to form a cake. When the tortilla begins to become firm, it should be flipped. If you feel comfortable with your technique, flipping it free-hand is best (and the most fun). Otherwise, you can slide it onto a clean plate and invert the plate onto the hot skillet, or you can flip it with a spatula. Turn the tortilla a few times to cook it throughout, then remove it to a clean plate and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Cut into squares and serve with a drizzle of aioli.

 

Moules Marinere

Yield: 4 servings
3 pounds mussels
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, cleaned and chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place the mussels, the white wine, and the garlic in a large stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels open, then cook for an additional minute. Remove from the heat and shower the mussels with black pepper. Mince the parsley and shower it over the mussels as well. Evenly divide the mussels among four shallow soup bowls, and pour the cooking juices over all. Serve immediately.

 

Bruschetta with Portabella Mushrooms and Sundried Tomatoes

Yield: 6 servings
1 cup dried tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 portabello mushroom caps
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices crusty Italian bread

In a small saucepan simmer the tomatoes in water about 10 minutes. In a blender puree tomatoes with a portion of the cooking liquid and vinegar until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Mince the mushrooms and garlic. In a large skillet heat the oil over moderate heat until hot and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss the mushrooms with the remaining tablespoon oil. Toast the bread and spread it with the sun-dried tomato purée. Top the purée with the cooked mushrooms.

 

White Bean and Herb Hummus

Yield: 8 servings
3 cups white beans, canned or cooked and rinsed
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup tahini
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon, fresh oregano, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

 Combine the white beans and garlic in a food processor and purée until smooth. Add the tahini, lemon, water and salt; purée until smooth. Add the basil, oregano, rosemary and black pepper, pulse the machine just until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

 

Spanakopita Triangles

Yield: 32 pieces
1/2 small onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces fresh spinach, cooked and cooled
8 mint leaves, minced
8 ounces feta, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound phyllo dough

In a small skillet, sauté the onion in a tablespoon of the butter for a few minutes, then add the garlic and sauté another minute or two. In a small bowl, combine the cooked onions and garlic with the spinach, mint, feta, eggs, salt, and pepper. Carefully spread a sheet of phyllo dough on a work surface and brush it with melted butter. Place a second and third sheet of phyllo on top of the first, gently brushing each sheet with butter. Cut the layered phyllo into two-inch wide strips. Place about a tablespoon of the spinach filling on the end of each strip of phyllo. Fold a corner of the dough over the spinach filling, and then fold it in the alternating direction, forming a triangle (sort of like the way a flag is folded). Preheat an oven to 350F and arrange the triangles on a baking sheet. Brush the triangles with butter and bake them until golden-brown (15-20 minutes), rotating the pan as necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.

 

Choricitos

Yield: 30 pieces
1 pound ground pork butt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Shape into small meatballs or patties and cook them in a skillet or oven. Serve plain or wrapped in lettuce leaves and skewered with a toothpick.

 

Tapenade

Yield: 6 servings
2 cups pitted black olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon minced garlic
5 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Use as a dip, spread on toast, a small dollop of poached shrimp, or a garnish to a canapé.

 

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