Even those of us who enjoy the intimacy (and challenge) of sit-down-style dinner parties like the more informal holiday gatherings that revolve around appetizers and desserts for larger get-togethers. The host gets to strut a greater variety of interesting edibles than he usually whips up, and the guests get to mingle while enjoying each other's company and what are essentially finger foods.
Another virtue of an appetizer and dessert party is that the "menu" can be eclectic, drawing inspiration from world cuisines in offerings that can appeal to virtually any tastes. For our exercise du jour, then, we present some really simple appetizers to add to your culinary repertoire.
And, don't forget our "share the fun" philosophy. Just the mere fact that you're opening your home to friends and neighbors may be all the inducement a few of those friends need to offer to work with one of the dishes you're planning for the party. You provide the recipe; they provide the goody. This is especially helpful for those of us to love to do appetizers but aren't that crazy over doing desserts.
Here are a few suggestions — a couple of cold dishes that are easy to make ahead, and a couple that'll warm their cockles. Either way, they're easy on the pocketbook, and the chef, while making a tasty impression on your guests.
White bean bruschetta
Make the spread and toast the bread ahead. Put everything together just before serving. This recipe makes a dozen bruschetta, which you'll cut in half, for 24 pieces. Remember, you're going to have a number of dishes, so each recipe doesn't have to make enough to fill each guest to the gills.
2/3 cup walnuts
2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans white beans, e.g. cannellini
3 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil, divided
12 (1/3 inch thick) slices rustic Italian bread, i.e. a bit bigger around than a baguette
Flat-leaf parsley and/or bits of roasted red pepper, garnish
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a shallow baking pan, toast walnuts in oven just until you can smell them, about 10 minutes. Cool. Chop coarsely.
Rinse and drain beans well. In a food processor, mince garlic, then add beans, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Puree.
Toast bread in baking sheet until golden; check after 5 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle 1/4 cup of the olive oil evenly over toasts.
When ready to serve, divide puree among toasts. Sprinkle on walnuts. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over walnuts. Cut toasts in half crosswise. Garnish with parsley and/or bits of roasted red pepper. Makes 24 toasts.
Caesar salad rolls
These "Italian-style" spring rolls use prosciutto to enclose the classic salad ingredients inside. The dressing and croutons can be made a day or so ahead. The rolls can be assembled several hours before serving and kept refrigerated.