This eclectic assemblage of hearty cocktail food is, by design, a colorful display of a wide spectrum of recipes. They are at once full flavored and subtle, and include a range of various fetures and flavors.
Each recipe chosen sets off the next and all of them look gorgeous when small helpings are placed on one large plate, just as you would serve yourself at a more formal buffet. But this food is hardly formal.
The chicken wing "legs," lightly charred by grilling, are faintly sweet due to a thorough marinating in a plum-molasses-scallion sauce. They contrast well with the onion tart, which is made up of plenty of onions cooked slowly in a little butter, then combined with two cheeses, jarlsberg and mozzarella.
A wedge of the tart looks nice on the plate beside a few steamed clams bathed in a light tomato sauce with bits of chorizo. The clams in their shells provide a certain bulk on the appetizer table and their spicy quality plays well against the mild sweetness of the onion tart.
The tea-smoked shrimp is mellow and vaguely mysterious, while the crock of cream cheese whipped with butter, chives, paprika, capers and anchovies provides something smooth and spreadable on the sourdough toasts, or on the warm chive biscuits.
The grape leaves are stuffed with ground lamb, onions, currants, pine nuts, rice and dill. For an added touch, line a platter with fresh grape leaves if you can find them.
Breads that accompany appetizers can be as provocative and unusual as you like, or have the time to make. Cheese straws are nice to serve, as are little savory scones and herbed biscuits. SAVORY ONION TART (8 appetizer servings)
This tart is a pleasant change from those based on cream and eggs; plenty of saute'ed onions and two kinds of cheeses fill up the tart shell, which bakes to a golden conclusion.
FOR THE PARTY DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups unsifted flour, preferably unbleached
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits, cold
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, cut into small bits, cold
1 extra-large egg yolk, cold
3 tablespoons ice cold water
FOR THE TART FILLING:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon butter, chilled and cut into small bits
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded
3 ounces jarlsberg cheese, or other swiss cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 extra-large or jumbo egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
First make the pastry: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour with the salt and cayenne pepper. Toss over the cold butter and shortening, and with 2 round-bladed knives, cut the fat into the flour until it is reduced to small bits. With your fingertips, crumble the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
In a small bowl, blend the egg yolk and water. Pour the mixture over the flour and blend to form a dough, adding a few extra droplets of water only if the dough seems very dry. (Adding extra water will depend on the weather and the type of flour used.) Form the dough into a rough cake, cover with waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour, or up to 4 hours. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch on a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit the dough into a 9-by-1 1/4-inch tart pan. Smooth off the edges and prick the bottom of the dough with the tines of a fork. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
In the meantime, make the filling. Put 3 tablespoons butter and the onions in a large skillet, place over moderately low heat and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are completely soft and cooked through. Remove the onions to a bowl and cool. Stir in the paprika, season with salt and pepper; stir in the hot pepper sauce, mozzarella, jarlsberg, and worcestershire sauce. Blend in the egg.
Prebake the tart shell by lining its bottom and sides with foil and filling it up with raw rice or beans. Bake on a preheated cookie sheet on the lower third level rack of a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the rice, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking the shell for about 12 minutes, or until a very light golden color.
Fill the tart shell with the onion mixture, gently leveling the top, and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Scatter the remaining tablespoon bits of butter. Bake the tart on the lower third level rack of a 375-degree oven for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool the tart on a rack, then remove the outer frame. Serve the tart warm, or at room temperature, cut into pie-shaped wedges. SHRIMP SMOKED OVER TEA LEAVES AND BROWN SUGAR (8 appetizer servings)
This is an attractive alternative to preparing spiced shrimp, and the unusual, slightly fruity smoked flavor of the shellfish pairs well with almost any other taste. Serve the shrimp in their shells or shell them, leaving the tail as a handy holder.
2 dozen extra large shrimp
Finely grated rind of 1 large orange
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
Finely grated rind of 1 large lime
Juice of 1 large orange, strained
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
5 whole allspice berries
5 whole black peppercorns
3/4 cup aromatic tea leaves (choose from currant, raspberry, Hu-Kwa or oolong tea)
3/4 cup granulated brown sugar
The day before smoking the shrimp, rinse them lightly in cool water and dry well on paper towels. Toss the shrimp in a storage bowl with the orange rind, lemon rind, lime rind, orange juice, salt, vinegar, allspice berries and peppercorns. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
To smoke the shrimp, line a large, heavy pot with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. The foil must reach at least 3/4 up the sides of the pot. You may use a large heavy wok (that has a lid) in place of a large casserole; line the wok, too. In a small bowl, combine the tea leaves and brown sugar and pour the mixture evenly on the bottom of the casserole.
Lightly oil a rack that fits inside the casserole; set on top of the tea leaves. Cover the pot and set over highest heat; let cook until the sugar begins to melt and the pot begins to smoke. Keep an exhaust fan on at all times. When the pot begins to smoke, after about 5 to 7 minutes, turn off the heat. With your face averted from the pot, uncover it and place the shrimp, drained of all liquid and spices, on the rack, crowding them together in an even layer. Cover the pot and turn the heat to high. Smoke the shrimp over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until they just turn opaque. When the shrimp are cooked, remove them to a side dish with a pair of tongs.
Cool the shrimp to room temperature. The shrimp may be stored, covered, in the refrigerator up to 3 days before serving, but bring them back to room temperature when they are to be eaten. A sweet and rough mustard is a good dipping sauce for the shrimp. SPICY STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (8 appetizer portions)
Stuffed grape leaves are a lovely thing to have on hand for serving unexpected guests, as their savory quality makes them perfect to nibble with drinks.
About 45 grape leaves preserved in brine*
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 pound freshly ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/3 cup converted white rice
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons dried currants
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup snipped dill (snip the feathery portions only)
1/4 cup water blended with 3 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon wedges for serving
First prepare the grape leaves: Drain the leaves of the liquid brine and soak in a large pot of cold water for 15 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and when the water is at a rolling boil, add the grape leaves. Let the leaves stand in the water for 1 minute, then drain; pour cold water over the leaves to cool them off completely.
Place the leaves, in single layers, vein side up (dull side) on lengths of paper towels to dry. Make the filling: In a skillet, pour in the olive oil and heat over a moderate flame. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to low, and cook the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to moderate, crumble in the lamb and stir-cook for 10 minutes or until the lamb is an even brown color. Stir in the cinnamon, cumin, coriander and salt. Season to taste with pepper. Add the rice, cook for 1 minute over moderate heat, then pour in the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is just tender. Cool, then stir in the currants, pine nuts and dill. Put aside 10 grape leaves for lining the pot.
To fill the grape leaves, take up rounded tablespoons of the filling and place in the middle of the leaves just below the center (the stem will be at the bottom end). To enclose the filling, bring up the bottom third of the leaf (at the stem end), fold over, then fold over the two sides; roll the leaf into a cylinder shape. Stuff 30 leaves in this fashion.
Line the bottom of a 4-quart casserole with the remaining 10 leaves, overlapping them to cover the bottom and about 3 inches of the sides. Position the grape leaves in the pot close together, layering them as you go. Pour the water-oil mixture over the leaves. Cover the pot and place over moderately high heat for 4 minutes, then reduce to low and cook for about 45 minutes or until the leaves are tender (an additional 5 minutes of cooking may be necessary). Uncover the pot, cool the grape leaves to room temperature, then remove them to a serving platter. A little olive oil, dribbled over the top to form a shiny coating, is a flavorful added touch. Accompany the stuffed grape leaves with lemon wedges.
* Available at most chain supermarkets or specialty food stores. INSIDE-OUT CHICKEN WING 'LEGS' (8 appetizer servings)
For this recipe, you'll need the meaty leg-shaped joints of chicken wings. If you are unable to buy those joints alone, purchase whole chicken wings and save the remaining parts for making chicken broth.
3/4 cup plum preserves, or plum jam
1/4 cup "gentle," or reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup light molasses (not blackstrap)
4 scallions, trimmed and minced
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
36 chicken wing "legs," prepared as directed below
As early as 2 days before cooking the chicken, prepare the marinating liquid: Pure'e the plum preserves, soy sauce and molasses in a blender or food processor; pour into a bowl and stir in the scallions, shallots, garlic, vinegar and ginger. Set aside. (The marinating liquid may be prepared up to 3 days ahead of time; the chicken may be marinated in it up to 2 days ahead of cooking.)
Prepare the chicken: With a small, sharp paring knife, cut the meat from the narrow end of each piece, starting at the joint, then scraping down the meat to about the middle of each bone. With your fingers, push the meat up and around the top third of the bone, making a ball. The pieces will resemble lollipops. Put the chicken in a large container, pour over the marinating liquid, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Before cooking, return the chicken to room temperature.
To cook the chicken, drain from the marinade. Grill over hot coals for about 15 minutes, turning from time to time, or broil under a hot preheated broiler for the same length of time. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
The chicken may be accompanied by a hot mustard or tomato chutney. CLAMS STEAMED WITH TOMATOES AND CHORIZO (8 appetizer servings)
The clams may be served as a tasting, along with other appetizers, and they are also very good presented on their own, in deep bowls with plenty of crusty bread.
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1 cup roughly chopped chorizo sausage
12 ounces canned italian plum tomatoes, with their juice, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 dozen littleneck clams, well scrubbed and kept on ice until ready to use
Coarsely chopped parsley for serving, if desired
In a kettle large enough to hold all of the ingredients, including the clams, place the onions, pepper, garlic, hot pepper sauce and olive oil. Stir. Place over moderately low heat and cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender (about 7 minutes). Stir in the sausage, raise the heat to moderate and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and juice, and the white wine; bring to a boil, then boil slowly for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down completely and everything turns into a sauce. (The recipe may be completed up to this point and the sauce set aside for 6 hours.)
Bring the sauce to a rapid boil and add the clams, hinged side down. Cover the pot and cook the clams over moderately high heat until they steam open, about 7 minutes. Stir the clams around in the sauce before spooning out onto a large deep platter.
Sprinkle coarsely chopped parsley over the top of the dish before serving, if you like. PAPRIKA AND CHIVE CHEESE SPREAD (8 generous appetizer portions)
Quick to make and zesty, this is a cheese spread that tastes good with other appetizers. It's delicious spread on chive biscuits or melba toast.
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon whipping cream
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions, white part only
6 flat anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste, or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
2 teaspoons tiny nonpareil capers, rinsed in cool water, drained, dried and minced
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, butter and cream for 5 minutes on moderately high speed. The cheese mixture should be light. Blend in the remaining ingredients, beating for a minute or two longer to combine.
Scrape and spoon the spread into a crock, small terrine or other serving vessel. Smooth over the top, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours (or overnight). Serve the cheese spread cool, not cold, accompanied by toast, crackers or miniature muffins. HERBED SOURDOUGH TOASTS (8 very generous appetizer portions)
Crisp and aromatic with herbs, these little toasts are marvelous with all kinds of appetizers, and with hearty soups, main course salads and seafood.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves (substitute 1 teaspoon dried thyme if fresh is not available)
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
7 sourdough rolls
Place the softened butter in a bowl and blend in the garlic, parsley, thyme, oregano; season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand 10 minutes. Mix in the lemon juice; let stand 10 minutes.
With a serrated bread knife, slice each roll lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Spread the herbed butter in a thin even layer on 1 side of each slice. Arrange the slices on 2 cookie sheets, buttered side up, and bake them on the lower third level rack of a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until golden. (If your oven rack cannot accommodate 2 sheets placed side by side, arrange the sheets on the upper and lower third of the oven.)
Transfer the baked toasts onto a metal cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, piled in a basket or arranged on a bread plate. MINIATURE CHIVE BISCUITS (8 very generous appetizer portions; about 2 dozen biscuits)
These are small, light, chive-flecked buttermilk biscuits, perfect for accompanying appetizer-sized plates of food.
2 cups unsifted flour, preferably unbleached
1/4 cup snipped chives
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons solid shortening, at room temperature
3/4 cup less 1 tablespoon buttermilk, cool but not cold
Lightly grease the inside of 2 miniature muffin or tea cake tins (each holding slots for 12 muffins); set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, chives, salt, cayenne pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Scatter over the shortening and with 2 round-bladed knives, cut the shortening into the flour until reduced into small bits. With your fingertips, crumble the shortening with the flour until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
Make a large well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in all of the buttermilk. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, swiftly combine everything to form a soft dough. Stir the dough around in the bowl for about 30 seconds (12 times) to knead it gently. Using tablespoons, fill the muffin cups to the top with dough, mounding the dough towards the center.
Bake the muffins on the lower third level rack of a 425-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until a light gold on top with brown speckles. Let the muffins stand in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes, then gently remove them to a cooling rack.
The muffins may be made a day before serving: Cool them, then pack in 1 layer in an airtight container and refrigerate. For serving, place the muffins on a large sheet of foil, seal and reheat in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes, or until piping hot. Serve the muffins warm.