Appetizers serve many purposes…They tease the appetite. They give your guests something to munch on while you finalize dinner preparation. And they give YOU a little time to put the final touches on the meal. Appetizers should be easy to eat (preferably with no plate or silverware needed), pretty look at, small enough in size so as not to ruin people’s appetites, and, of course, delicious.
One of my favorites that is all of those things AND very easy to prepare is baguette slices (toasted or not) with a nicely laid out display of goat cheese, basil leaves that you chiffonnade or leave whole, and julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil. Invite your guests to spread some goat cheese on the baguette slice, then top with some of the basil leaves and tomatoes. Delicious, beautiful and couldn’t be easier.
Another idea I really like is sautéed wild mushrooms on crostini. Simply sauté an assortment of wild mushrooms that have been chopped with garlic and butter. When soft, add a bit of sherry vinegar, season with salt & pepper and add fresh parsley. Spoon on top of toasted baguette slices and garnish with more chopped parsley and a bit of grated parmesan cheese.
Using a food processor, blend soft goat cheese with a lot of fresh basil, then add some lemon zest, salt and a flavorful pepper like Aleppo (black pepper will work fine too if that’s too hard to find). Serve with some nice seeded crackers.
This one takes a little longer to make, but slowly caramelize some onions over medium low heat until they are a deep brown (about 25-30 minutes). Allow to cool, then stir into a mixture of equal parts cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Season liberally with salt, add a squeeze of lemon juice and if you like, add a bit of chili powder. It’s like the old school French onion dip made with Lipton’s soup mix, but from scratch. Great with potato chips and veggies.
If you want to be a bit exotic, you can serve Indian papadum (not available everywhere, but many grocery stores that have an ethnic food section carry them in a package and of course you can order on Amazon and have them delivered to your door). Papadum, if you haven’t had them, are lentil crackers. They come uncooked and dry, and you can either deep fry them in hot oil or simply cook them in the microwave (which I prefer….less grease, crisper papadums and much quicker). Each one takes about 1 minute on high to cook. You can serve with my cilantro chutney recipe. To make it, simply blend (in a blender or food processor) one bunch of cilantro leaves (minus the coarse stems), one bunch of mint leaves removed from their stems, 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, juice of half a lime, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, and enough coconut milk to make the consistency of a ketchup (about 2/3 cup). Delicious!
Yet another idea: bake polenta (just follow the package directions). It becomes quite firm as it cools, and you can cut it into bite-size squares, then top it with a small dollop of pesto. If you haven’t made pesto, just puree fresh basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and either a very little bit of lemon zest or juice. It should be thick enough to hold its shape when you put a small amount on top of the polenta. Naturally, you can put a variety of toppings on the polenta…borrowing from one of the above ideas, you could do the pesto and a sun dried tomato piece. A fig chutney could be delicious too. Any number of packaged chutneys or dips could be very good, You can also alter the pesto, substituting arugula for the basil and walnuts for the pine nuts.
Bruschetta is always great, particularly when we’re in tomato season. Slice a baguette thinly, brush each slice with a little olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and bake at 425 until just crisp and light brown (about 8-10 minutes). Take 3 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes and cut them in half. Cut out the core and remove the seeds to reduce the amount of liquid. Cut the tomatoes into small dice. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic, about 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp of sugar, 2 Tbsp olive oil, freshly ground black pepper to taste and about 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Chop or chiffonade a cup of fresh basil leaves and mix in gently. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to let the flavors blend. Drain off some of the excess liquid, then allow guests to spoon the tomato mixture on to a toasted crostini and enjoy.
And one final idea is stuffed mushrooms. Remove the stems from 20 or so regular or cremini mushrooms. Chop those stems and set aside. In a large sauté pan, brown 1/2 lb of Italian sausage (hot or mild, as you wish), breaking up into bits as it cooks. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 finely chopped shallot, and the chopped mushroom stems. Sauté until all ingredients are cooked and shallot are softened. Season generously with salt, then mix in freshly chopped chives, about 1/4 cup cream cheese, 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, a few Tbsp of freshly chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, and ground black pepper. Thoroughly mix all these ingredients, then spoon into the de-stemmed mushrooms. Top each stuffed mushroom with a bit more parmesan. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes and serve!
Hopefully this gives you some great ideas for appetizers other than just cheese and crackers.