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|December 25-31, 2008
• The cat's meow
Fat Cat serves up top-notch noodles at skinny prices
by Clay Fong
Appetite for celebration
Delectable party noshes for the holildays
by Amy Culbertson
Appetizers are much in demand during the holiday entertaining season — to nibble with drinks as you chat with your guests before dinner, to offer sophisticated sustenance for a cocktail party or open house, to bring out when neighbors drop in bearing gifts, to munch with family by the fireplace on Christmas Eve or on the cusp of the New Year.
The ideal appetizer, it seems to us, is one that is simple but not cliched, easy to eat while standing or perched on a sofa; one that can be made in advance and eaten at room temperature; and one that you’re not likely to see on all your friends’ cocktail tables.
We’ve included recipes for guests of all stripes, from vegans to the gluten-intolerant, and we’ve tried to keep the recipes festive and special without being over-the-top extravagant. For pricey ingredients, such as shrimp or imported meats, cheeses and nuts, the secret is to choose recipes so packed with flavor that a little goes a long way. You may have been able to afford a side of smoked salmon last year, but this year you might want to buy a lot less and stretch it with our luxe but sensible smoked-salmon spread.
Our selections range from a seasonal take on the ubiquitous crudite platter, spotlighting winter vegetables such as fennel and beets.
Fat, rich Marcona almonds from Spain are addictive enough plain; the Spanish smoked paprika (buy it in gourmet markets) and garlic add another dimension.
You can make this with plain whole toasted almonds if you don’t want to spring for the pricey Marconas (they’re sold in gourmet markets), but you may need to increase the amount of oil by a teaspoon or so.
Serves 8 as part of a cocktail spread
About 1 tablespoon oil
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1⁄2 pound Marcona almonds
Salt to taste
1. Place a large skillet over medium-low heat and film with oil. If there is any excess oil at the bottom of the container of almonds, add it to the skillet.
2. With the flat of a chef’s knife, smash the garlic cloves; discard peel and add garlic to skillet. Saute about 5 minutes, until garlic is just starting to color, lowering heat if the garlic threatens to burn. Remove and discard garlic; keep skillet on burner.
3. Add the smoked paprika to the skillet and stir to make a paste. Add the almonds and stir constantly until they are thoroughly coated and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Allow to cool in pan.
4. When cool enough to taste, check for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Most Marconas are sold salted, so they may not need more salt. If you make these more than a day or so ahead, refrigerate them and bring them to room temperature before serving.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 184 calories, 17 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, no cholesterol, 20 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 76 percent of calories from fat.
Marinated olives with tangerine and rosemary
The olives need to marinate for at least two days, so plan ahead. If you like things spicy, you can increase the amount of crushed red pepper.
Yields about 3 cups
1 pound assorted olives (such as kalamata, Gaeta and Picholine)
1 small tangerine, cut into 4 wedges, each wedge thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1. Drain olives, if in brine. Combine all ingredients in a large glass jar with lid; mix well. Cover and refrigerate 2 days, turning and shaking the jar several times.
Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 24 calories, 2 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 165 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.
From The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook, by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley, $34.95).
This is more a template than a recipe, customizable according to your taste, to what vegetables are available or affordable, and to what size group you’re serving, so we’re not giving exact measurements, number of servings or a nutritional breakdown. You want each vegetable piece to be bite-size. You’ll need a mandoline to slice the fennel and beets.
Radishes, beets and cauliflower are now available in several colors; mixing colors of each would provide maximum visual impact. Other vegetables you might consider are small turnips, sliced into very thin rounds with a mandoline, and celeriac, peeled, quartered and sliced very thinly with a mandoline.
Small bulb fennel
2 bunches small radishes with tops
2 or 3 ribs celery
1 bunch small beets
1 head cauliflower or romanesco
1 or 2 bunches baby carrots, the smallest you can find, with tops
Purchased hummus or dip of preference
1. Wash all vegetables thoroughly.
2. Trim fennel and slice it finely with a mandoline, reserving tops for garnish, if desired.
3. Trim tops of radishes, leaving an inch or so of stems for handles. Halve the radishes.
4. If celery has leafy tops, trim them and reserve for crudites plate. Remove tough strings from celery ribs by skimming the outside of each rib with a swivel-bladed peeler, then slice celery on an extreme diagonal to produce long, thin slices.
5. Trim greens and roots from beets; peel and slice into very thin rounds with a mandoline. If beets are more than a couple of inches in diameter, halve them before slicing.
6. Cut cauliflower or romanesco into small florets.
7. Trim off leafy tops of carrots, leaving an inch or two of stems for handles. Peel carrots with swivel-bladed peeler.
8. Arrange vegetables on a platter around a dish of purchased hummus, drizzled with a little olive oil and scattered with fennel tops, if desired. You could also use a thick, mustardy vinaigrette for dipping, or a buttermilk-based dressing sparked with chopped fresh dill — or all three dips.
Feta with black pepper and thyme
This appetizer couldn’t be simpler, but you must use good feta, good olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper in a very coarse grind, and fresh thyme. Generally, domestic fetas are the mildest and Bulgarian fetas the sharpest; Greek, Israeli and French fetas are good middle-ground choices. The gourmet markets are good sources. Taste the olive oil to make sure it is fresh; olive oils can become rancid quickly. Again, no exact measurements or nutritional numbers.
Block of feta, drained of brine
Extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely cracked black pepper
Fresh thyme on the stem
1. Cut the feta into rough bite-size cubes and arrange on a plate.
2. Drizzle all over with olive oil. Shower with pepper.
3. Pull the thyme stems through your fingers to remove the leaves; discard woody stems. Sprinkle feta with thyme leaves.
4. Serve with toothpicks to spear the cheese cubes.
Yields 24 crackers
1-1⁄4 cups freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together cheese, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Add the butter; with an electric mixer, beat cheese mixture and butter together until combined. Add the flour 1⁄4 cup at a time, mixing only until flour is incorporated and mixture holds together.
3. Place tablespoon-size balls of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheets, flattening the dough slightly with your fingertips. Bake until just beginning to brown at the edges, about 15 minutes. Let the crackers cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a serving plate or a resealable plastic bag to store at room temperature.
Nutritional analysis per cracker: 69 calories, 5 grams fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 123 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 64 percent of calories from fat.
From Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, by Giada De Laurentiis (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).
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