Get the party started by serving your guests a selection of delicious appetizers. Whether your celebration is low-key or high-energy, these savory bites will be the hit of the buffet.

Bruschetta with Prosciutto and Figs

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1 fresh bay leaf

6 thick slices country bread, grilled or toasted on both sides, still warm

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt

6 ripe figs, thickly sliced

12 thin slices prosciutto

Combine vinegar, honey, and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool. Discard bay leaf.

Drizzle warm bread with olive oil, and season with salt. Lay prosciutto slices on bread; place fig slices on top. Drizzle with balsamic reduction. Makes 6.

Tip: Fig jam works well if figs aren’t in season. Or dried figs can be pureed in a blender or food processor with the addition of a few tablespoons of lemon juice, or even bourbon.

(Adapted from “Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian,” Lidia Bastianich)

Spanish-Style Crispy Potatoes with Garlicky Red Pepper Sauce

For the potatoes:

2 pounds medium Yukon gold potatoes, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

For the sauce:

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 F. Adjust oven rack to lowest position. In Dutch oven or large saucepan combine potatoes and baking soda with cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until exterior of slices has softened but centers are still slightly firm when pricked with a knife, about 5 minutes.

While potatoes are simmering, heat rimmed sheet pan on bottom oven rack. Drain potatoes; return to saucepan. Cook over medium heat a few minutes, shaking pan until water evaporates from potatoes. Transfer to large bowl; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt; toss well to combine. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and continue to toss until coated with starchy paste.

Remove sheet pan from oven and coat pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Spread potatoes on pan in one layer, skin side up. Bake until bottoms are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan after 10 minutes. Flip potatoes and brown on second side, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Make sauce: In a blender puree peppers; add remaining ingredients and blend, scraping down sides several times, until smooth.

To serve: Transfer potatoes to a bowl and drizzle with sauce, or serve sauce on the side.

(Sara Moulton, chef and author)

Baked Brie Bowl

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon ground mustard

½ teaspoon sugar

1 loaf round sourdough bread , (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix spices and sugar in small bowl. Set aside. Place bread on baking sheet. Cut circle in top of bread; remove bread center to make room for Brie.

Spread butter on bread. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons spice mixture. Make 2-inch cuts at 1-inch intervals around edge of bread. Remove rind from Brie and place in bread. Sprinkle Brie with remaining spice mixture. Replace top of bread.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes. To serve, remove bread top and break into bite size pieces. Dip bread pieces in hot Brie. Makes 8 servings.

(McCormick kitchen)

Cranberry Rum Brie

1/2 cup canned whole berry cranberry sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon rum extract

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 round (8 ounces) Brie cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Assorted crackers and French bread slices

Preheat oven to 450 F. Mix cranberry sauce, sugar, rum flavor and nutmeg.

Peel off top rind of Brie, leaving 1/4-inch edge and sides and bottom intact. Place in pie plate or ovenproof dish. Top with cranberry mixture. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until cheese softens. Place Brie on serving plate. Serve with crackers and French bread slices. Serves 10.

(McCormick kitchen)

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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