Ah, the holidays. I love baking and all the treats shared among friends, but after a while sweets are as desirable to my palate and pancreas as the endless loop of cloying carols are to my ears. Enough already!
For me it’s time to turn my attention to appetizers, little bits of wonderful. If a little is good, then more is better, right? Not necessarily. In my early days of entertaining I would serve too many appetizers for dinner parties. By the time dinner was served guests were interested in the meal but simply lacked room for it. I had to learn to scale back my enthusiasm for appetizers if they were not meant to be the star of the evening.
Of course, for a cocktail party or evening where appetizers are central, it’s great fun to go all out. One of the easiest ways to create an appetizer is to start with toasted baguette slices. This is where kids can help out. If they can handle a paint (or pastry) brush they can brush bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle fresh grated romano or parmesan on them.
The most common topping often referred to as bruschetta (by the way, bruschetta originally referred to the bread, not the topping) is a combination of fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. Be creative and try other topping combinations: goat cheese, smoked salmon and capers; herb feta cheese, fresh tomato and olives; fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and pesto.
If you have the option of serving an appetizer straight from the oven, the recipe that follows is one of my favorites. It incorporates two of my favorite things, mushrooms and cheese. Sometimes more is wonderful.
Mushroom Topped Bruschetta
For the toasts:
1 baguette, sliced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan or romano cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush olive oil onto bread slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Toast in oven for approximately 10 minutes until the bread is golden.
1-ounce container baby button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut in ribbons
1 cup Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio cheese blend
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
In pan over medium heat, warm oil. Add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have released their liquid and cooked down. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Spoon mushrooms over the prepared toasts. Sprinkle the basil ribbons over the mushrooms. Top the toast with Quattro Formaggio cheese. Return to oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve warm. Makes approximately 2 dozen appetizers.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Lori Rossi began collecting recipes at age 14, but her real love affair with cooking started after picking up a December 1989 Bon Appetit magazine. Today, she shares her love of the kitchen with her two kids, Nathan, 11, and Nicole, 8. If you’d like to get in touch with Lori with a question or idea, e-mail her at email@example.com.