December 19, 2007
101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less
By MARK BITTMAN
YOU want good food at a holiday cocktail party and you want to impress people? You don’t want a caterer, you refuse to heat up frozen food, and you want to show that your expertise extends beyond buying perfectly ripe hunks of cheese and juicy olives? Then think about doing some cooking.
Here is a collection of party foods that are as easy to eat as they are to make. Each can be produced in 20 minutes or less. Many can be served at room temperature. And none require a plate. (Few people can juggle plate, wineglass and fork successfully, let alone gracefully.)
Most of these recipes are beyond minimalist: they never do in two steps what can be done in one, and they need no embellishment. As you scan these recipes for ideas, mostly think this: The ones you find most appealing are the ones your guests will like. Choose a few, spend an hour or two in the kitchen, and you’ll be in great shape.
On Bread or Crackers
1 Red peppers and anchovies: Drizzle piquillos or other roasted red peppers with olive oil, and top with a good anchovy fillet. A caper or two on each is not amiss.
2 Top rye flatbread with thin slices of crisp apple and pickled plain or schmaltz herring (not herring in cream sauce).
3 Sear skirt steak to medium-rare, not more than 8 minutes. Cut into chunks 1/2-inch to 1 inch, first with the grain, then against it. Spread bread with coarse mustard and/or butter. Top with steak and coarse salt.
4 Toss high-quality crab meat with minced shallots, a little tarragon or a lot of parsley and/or basil, and enough mayonnaise to bind. Also good on lettuce leaves.
5 Mash together best-quality tuna, minced anchovies, minced garlic, chopped oil-cured olives and olive oil as necessary.
6 New York comfort food: Spread cream cheese or crème fraîche on small bagels or bagel chips; black bread is also terrific. Top with sturgeon, sable or lox.
7 Slice soft goat cheese and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped herbs, then with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, about 10 minutes, and serve hot.
8 Might not be the new ketchup, but great stuff: purée skinned roasted peppers or piquillos with some of their liquid, salt and olive oil. Serve alone or with other foods — a piece of cheese, even.
9 Top buttered bread with shaved country ham, prosciutto or regular deli ham and bread-and-butter pickles.
10 Chop shrimp fine, then sauté in a minimum of oil, or poach quickly and drain. Mix premade pesto with mayonnaise so that it is gluey. Combine cooled shrimp with sufficient pesto to bind; chill.
11 Tapenade: Combine about 1 pound pitted black olives in food processor with 1/4 cup drained capers, at least 5 anchovies, 2 garlic cloves, black pepper and olive oil as necessary to make a coarse paste. Can also be a dip. Use sparingly; it’s strong.
12 A kind of Moroccan tapenade: As above, but use good green olives with capers; olive-oil-canned tuna (instead of anchovies); garlic, if desired; and cumin.
13 Chop fresh mushrooms. Cook slowly in olive oil with salt and pepper until very soft. Stir in minced garlic and parsley. Cook a few more minutes until garlic mellows. (Especially good if you add reconstituted dried porcini.)
14 Mix together a bit of flour and good paprika. Cut Manchego or similar sheep’s milk cheese into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Dip in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs, and fry quickly to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
15 Beef tartare: Carefully pulse good beef in food processor. For each pound, add an egg, a teaspoon dry mustard, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, a tablespoon Worcestershire, Tabasco to taste, 1/2 cup chopped scallions and a touch of minced garlic. Salt and pepper, if necessary. Amazing stuff.
16 Put a thick film of olive oil in a skillet over low heat with lots of thin-sliced garlic. When it sizzles, add shrimp along with pimentón. Raise the heat just enough to get the shrimp going, and cook until it’s pink. Stir in parsley. Spoon a little of the oil onto pieces of bread and top with shrimp.
17 Season cornmeal with lots of chili powder, salt and black pepper. Heat a thick film of neutral oil (or oil mixed with butter) in a skillet. Dredge shucked clams, oysters or chicken breast pieces in the cornmeal and cook about 2 minutes a side, or until crisp. Serve on bread with mayonnaise, or sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and serve on toothpicks. It’s almost convenience food when prepared with shucked mollusks.
18 Bruschetta is the basis for so many good things. Don’t make it too crisp, and start with good country bread. Brush thick slices with olive oil. Broil until toasted on both sides. While it’s still hot, rub with cut clove of garlic on one side (optional). Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and serve, or top with prosciutto or tapenade.
19 More than party food, and an amazing snack: Top bruschetta with white beans cooked soft (or use canned) and finished with minced garlic, sage, olive oil and salt.
20 One more level: Make white beans as above. Toss with good quality canned tuna and mash. Spoon over bruschetta.
21 Top bruschetta with chopped, well-cooked broccoli rabe or other greens tossed with minced garlic and olive oil while still warm. Health food, practically. Also good with a layer of Tuscan beans (above).
22 Cut pork tenderloin into 1-inch slices; broil or sauté until done. Cut each piece across into 3 or 4 thin slices, then pile onto round bread slices, toasted or not. Top with slice of Manchego and bit of piquillo pepper.
23 Cut chorizo into chunks. Cook in a lightly oiled skillet until nicely browned. Kielbasa is equally good (or better), if not as hip.
24 Portable Caprese: Skewer a small ball of mozzarella, a grape tomato and a bit of basil leaf. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil.
25 A no-brainer: Cut slab of bacon into 1/2-inch chunks. Cook in a skillet, a broiler or a high-heat oven until nice and crisp. Skewer with a grape tomato.
26 Even jazzier: Cut just-ripe pears in 1/2-inch cubes; sprinkle with a little salt, sugar and cayenne. Spear with bacon.
27 Pair crispy bacon chunks with one cube of beet and one of goat cheese.
28 Angels on horseback: Wrap oysters or not-too-large sea scallops in bacon; skewer with toothpicks. Broil, turning once, until bacon is done.
29 You can call them devils on horseback: Wrap pitted dates (replacing the pit with an almond if you like) in bacon. Skewer with toothpicks and broil, turning once, until bacon is done.
30 Rumaki, a 1960s cocktail food that deserves reviving: Brush canned water chestnuts (or chicken liver halves, or crimini mushrooms, or pieces of portobello) with a little soy sauce; wrap in pieces of bacon. Skewer closed with toothpicks and broil, turning once, until bacon is done.
31 Wash mussels or littleneck clams well; steam open in covered pot. Let cool, remove from shells, and serve with aioli, flavored mayonnaise or vinaigrette.
32 Cook real bay scallops in hot butter or oil for just a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley and serve hot.
33 Crab cakes: For each pound crab meat, add an egg, 1/4 cup each minced bell pepper and onion, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons bread or cracker crumbs, salt and pepper. Shape into small cakes and refrigerate, if time allows. Dredge in flour, then brown in oil (or oil mixed with butter). Serve with lemon wedges, aioli or tartar sauce.
34 Meatballs: Combine 1 thick slice white bread with 1/2 cup milk; let sit for 5 minutes. Squeeze milk from bread and gently mix bread with 1/2 pound not-too-lean ground sirloin, 1/2 pound ground pork, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves and salt and pepper. Shape into 1-inch balls. (If mixture doesn’t hold well, add more bread crumbs and an egg.) Broil about 5 minutes, turning once or twice.
35 Cod cakes with sauce rouge: I’m hedging on time here, but you’re really getting two recipes in one: Combine 1 pound chopped boneless cod, an egg, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, a tablespoon Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper. Add bread or cracker crumbs until you can shape the mixture into cakes. If possible, refrigerate for an hour. Meanwhile, cook chopped canned tomatoes in olive oil with salt and cayenne until saucy. Shape small cod cakes. Dredge in flour, sauté in butter and oil until nicely browned. Serve hot or at room temperature, with sauce on the side.
36 The banderilla: The first tapa created, or at least that’s what people tell me. Skewer a crisp pickled pepper, an anchovy and a pitted green olive. Incredible with dry (fino) sherry.
37 Toss peeled shrimp with lots of minced garlic, pimentón or paprika, cayenne, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Broil until done, turning once, about five minutes.
38 Marinated mushrooms: Cut button mushrooms into chunks and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let rest five minutes. Spear two chunks with a piece of Parmesan about the same size.
39 Cut tuna or tenderloin of beef into bite-size pieces. Sear in hot pan until browned on one side; turn; smear browned side with dark miso slightly thinned with sake. Continue to cook another minute or two.
40 Flash-cooked squid: Marinate whole baby squid for 5 minutes in olive oil, a little sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Sear on both sides in a very hot pan or broiler for less than 3 minutes total. Cut into pieces and sprinkle with more salt. You can do this with shrimp and scallops, too.
41 Soak a couple of tablespoons of black beans in sherry. Blast bite-size shrimp in a little peanut oil until just about cooked through; add minced garlic (and chili and ginger, if you like), then cook 30 seconds. Add black beans and their liquid, and toss. Turn off heat and add a little soy sauce. Serve on toothpicks.
42 Chicken meunière: Sounds fancier than it is, and works with veal, turkey, pork, oysters, clams, shrimp, etc. Cut boneless meat into bite-size pieces (not too small). Dredge in flour, brown quickly in a combination of butter and oil. Serve with lemon wedges.
43 Cut tenderloin or other tender beef into bite-size chunks. Toss with a lot of roughly chopped basil (say, 1 cup basil per pound of meat) and peanut oil. Stir-fry with garlic and red pepper flakes until rare. Sprinkle with soy sauce or nam pla and lime juice.
44 Chicken kebab, Greek style: Cut boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Toss with minced onion, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, crumbled bay leaf and oregano. Skewer. Broil, turning occasionally, until browned.
45 Chicken kebab, South Asian style: Cut boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Toss with equal amounts ground cardamom, minced garlic, ground allspice, ground turmeric and thyme leaves; add a dash of nutmeg and peanut oil to moisten. Skewer. Broil, turning occasionally, until nicely browned.
46 Chicken kebab, faux-tandoori style: Cut boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Toss with yogurt, chopped onion, minced garlic, minced lime zest, ground cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne and lime juice. Skewer and broil, turning occasionally, until nicely browned.
47 Chicken teriyaki: Cut 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Toss with 1/4 cup each soy sauce, sake and mirin, and a tablespoon of sugar. Skewer. Boil remaining sauce for a minute or so. Broil the chicken, turning and basting with the sauce after a couple of minutes.
48 Pork kebabs, West Indian style: Mix 1 tablespoon garlic, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, a pinch of nutmeg, a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, 1/4 cup chopped onion and the juice of a lime. Toss with 1 pound pork shoulder (you need some fat or these will be tough) cut into 1-inch cubes. Skewer and broil about 5 minutes.
49 Pork kebabs, Iberian style. Mix 1 tablespoon garlic, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 tablespoon grated or minced lemon zest and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. Toss with 1 pound cubed pork shoulder (with fat). Skewer. Broil about 5 minutes.
50 The egg’s gift to cocktail parties: Hard-cook eggs, peel, and cut in half; carefully remove the yolks. Mash yolks with salt, mayonnaise, good mustard and cayenne. You can also add minced radish, snow peas, scallions (or any crunchy vegetables) or curry powder. Spoon back into the whites, sprinkle with paprika, pimentón or parsley.
51 Even more fabulous: Cook eggs as above. Mash yolks with cooked and minced shrimp, a little chopped olive, minced onion, parsley, salt, pepper and mayonnaise to bind. Spoon back into whites. Garnish with parsley or a piece of anchovy or shrimp.
52 Aioli with steamed cold vegetables: Make the mayonnaise yourself or flavor bottled mayonnaise with lemon, garlic, anchovy (if you like it) and a little saffron (if you have it) for amazing color. Serve with lightly cooked carrots, snap peas, purple potatoes, seafood, etc.
53 Shrimp cocktail: Combine ketchup with chili powder, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco and horseradish. Make lots, because people will be double-dipping. Serve with cooked shrimp.
54 Sprinkle rib lamb chops (rack of lamb, separated) or loin chops with good coarse curry powder, or any spice mix you like. Broil quickly, until crisp but not well-done. Serve hot, with yogurt mixed with same spice rub. These will go very fast.
55 Stuff Medjool dates with a piece of Parmesan or Manchego or an almond. Or fresh goat cheese. Or mozzarella, and bake until the cheese begins to melt.
56 Wrap small pieces of melon, figs and/or dates with thinly sliced prosciutto.
57 Buy the best anchovies you can find. Curl each around a tiny ball of butter. Eat.
58 Teeny tiny hamburgers: The hardest part is finding teeny tiny buns, but you can use toast squares. Make them small from beef mixed with salt and pepper. Cook quickly in a hot skillet and serve with ketchup and bits of onion and tomato.
59 Nachos: Yes, nachos. Top a layer of tortilla chips with grated cheese (something orange is traditional) and bake until cheese melts. Top with warm beans seasoned with chili powder, along with chopped scallions. Other possible toppings: jalapeños, sour cream, cilantro, tomatoes, olives.
60 Hot wings: Cut chicken wings into three sections; discard the tips. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter with vinegar, garlic and hot sauce to taste. Pour off excess fat, baste the wings with hot sauce, turn them, baste again, and brown. Baste once more and serve, with napkins.
61 Sweet wings: As above, but melt the butter with Dijon mustard and honey or maple syrup.
62 Soy ginger wings: This time baste with equal parts vinegar and soy sauce, mixed with a couple of tablespoons each minced ginger and sesame oil. You can sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on the wings.
63 Put peeled raw shrimp in a food processor with garlic, chili, ginger, shallot or red onion, salt, pepper and cilantro; chop finely. Shape into small patties and shallow-fry or broil, then serve with napkins or on buns, with lime juice or spiced mayonnaise.
64 Gently cook raw nuts in oil or butter (or a mixture) with salt and spices — pimentón, chili powder, curry powder, ginger, sugar — whatever combination you like. When they’re fragrant, bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool or they won’t be crunchy.
65 Beyond simple: Buy decent tortilla chips; sprinkle with lime juice and chili powder. Eat fast, before they get soggy.
66 Coat good olives in olive oil mixed with crushed garlic, rosemary, thyme, and/or lemon or orange peel; spices, like chilies, are O.K. Let sit overnight if time allows.
67 Little pizza bianca: Cut prepared dough into small pieces and press out. Brush with oil, sprinkle with rosemary and good coarse salt. Bake at about 500 degrees until browned. Cut up to serve.
68 Quarter quail, rub with olive oil or peanut oil. Broil, skin side down, about 3 minutes. Broil, skin side up, until brown, crisp and cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Brush lightly with pesto or soy sauce and sesame oil, and serve hot or warm.
69 Popcorn parmigiana: Make real popcorn, pour melted butter over it, and toss with fresh Parmesan.
70 Cut baby back ribs into individual ribs; sprinkle with salt and pepper (lots). Broil, turning as needed, 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
71 Fill endive leaves with crème fraîche or sour cream and caviar or salmon roe. Or use drained ricotta mixed with chopped parsley, thyme, a little olive oil and a little minced garlic.
72 Steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. That’s the recipe.
73 Cucumber and caviar: Take 3/4-inch-thick slices of cucumber. (The quality of the cuke is more important than that of the caviar; it has to be good enough to leave the skin on.) Scoop out most of the seeds, leaving the bottom of each slice intact. Fill it with a spoonful of yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche mixed with dill, and top with caviar or salmon roe.
74 Boil frozen or fresh edamame in pods for 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt. For this they charge you eight bucks.
Dips and Spreads
75 Purée white or other beans (if canned, drain them) with garlic and olive oil in food processor, adding olive oil as needed. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Garnish with chopped scallions or red onion. You can add cumin or chopped rosemary with lemon zest.
76 Hummus: Truly one of the great culinary inventions. Mix four parts well-cooked or canned chickpeas with one part tahini, along with some of its oil, in a food processor. Add garlic, cumin or pimentón and purée, adding as much olive oil as needed. Stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste; garnish with olive oil and pimentón.
77 Drain good whole-fat yogurt in cheesecloth for 15 minutes; squeeze to remove remaining liquid. Add salt, pimentón and olive oil. Thin with a little more yogurt to use as a dip, or serve on crackers or bread.
78 Mix four parts drained yogurt (as above), farmer cheese or cream cheese with one part sour cream, until creamy. Add thyme and chopped parsley (or any fresh herbs), minced garlic, salt and pepper.
79 Start by draining yogurt as above but do not squeeze; or use sour cream. Stir in chopped seeded cucumber, bell pepper, scallion, dill, then add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Or use chopped arugula and/or cress, with some herbs. Or use horseradish and/or Dijon mustard, with or without vegetables. Or minced or puréed onion or shallots and chopped fresh parsley. Always taste for salt.
80 Drain yogurt as above but do not squeeze; or use sour cream. Add flaked smoked trout or whitefish, or minced smoked salmon, along with chopped parsley, cayenne and lemon juice. Or add minced onion with salmon roe or caviar.
81 Taramosalata: Take 3 or 4 slices good white bread, preferably stale, and soak in water to cover for a few minutes. Squeeze out water, purée bread with 2 or 3 cloves garlic, 8 ounces fish roe (tarama) and at least 1/4 cup olive oil, adding more as needed. Stir in lemon juice and pepper to taste.
82 Mix four parts cream cheese or fresh goat cheese to one part chopped walnuts. A little spice mix (chili powder, curry powder, whatever) is nice in here. Or, replace the nuts with roasted peppers, olive oil and minced anchovies.
83 Boursin: Maybe you have a few Ritz? Mash cream cheese with minced garlic (if you have roasted garlic, so much the better), pepper and small amounts of minced thyme, tarragon and rosemary.
84 Mix three parts cream cheese, one part minced cooked shrimp, a few mashed capers and pepper.
85 Mash four parts goat cheese with one part fig jam.
Little Sandwich Triangles
86 Layer cooked ham and cheese (Gruyère, Cantal or good Cheddar) on thin bread, then press and grill in a not-too-hot skillet with butter or oil.
87 Finding top-quality roast beef is worth a little legwork. Slice it thin and serve with horseradish on rye.
88 Dice cooked shrimp, toss with chopped onion and/or celery, and bind with aioli or well-seasoned mayonnaise.
89 Extra seasoning takes this egg salad higher: Toss chopped hard-cooked eggs with scallions, chopped anchovies and parsley. Bind with well-seasoned mayo.
90 Toss shredded or cubed chicken with minced shallot or red onion, chopped black olives, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper and chopped herbs. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on slices of toast.
91 Cheese quesadillas: Use 4-inch tortillas; on each, put grated cheese, scallions and minced canned green chilies or chopped fresh poblanos. Salsa and beans are optional. Top with another tortilla. Griddle with oil, turning once, about 5 minutes.
You Might Need a Fork
92 This is easier than carpaccio: Cut trimmed filet mignon into 1/2-inch or smaller cubes. Toss with arugula, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
93 Make parsley pesto (parsley, garlic, oil, lemon juice) in a food processor. Sauté whole shrimp or small pieces of fish in oil. Arrange fish on small beds of the pesto. You can put this on bread and forget the plates.
94 Ceviche: Thinly slice — or cut into 1/4-inch dice — sea or true bay scallops (or any really fresh fish). Toss with a bit of peeled and minced bell pepper, some lime zest and about 1/4 cup lime juice per pound. Add salt and cayenne to taste. Garnish with cilantro.
95 Mock ceviche: Briefly poach a mixture of (for example) shrimp, scallops and squid, cut to bite size. Drain, then combine with olive oil, minced fresh chili, red onion, and (optional) garlic. Finish with lime juice and cilantro and serve in lettuce cups.
Soups and Wraps
96 Bisque: Heat shrimp, lobster, fish or chicken broth with minced onion and chopped tomato for 5 minutes. Add chopped shrimp or lobster to the simmering stock, and cook another two minutes. Purée, then add heavy cream or half-and-half, along with salt and pepper. Serve in small cups garnished, if you like, with a piece of cooked shrimp or lobster.
97 Avocado soup: Put 2 cups avocado flesh in a blender with 3 cups whole milk along with some salt and cayenne. Purée, then add fresh lime or orange juice to taste, and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate or serve immediately in small cups garnished with a piece of avocado or cooked shrimp.
98 Gazpacho: Chop 2 pounds of tomatoes and a cucumber; blend with a couple of slices of day-old bread, torn into pieces, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic (optional) and anchovies (optional). Add a little water (or more oil) to the blender, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve in small cups. Optional garnishes include minced bell pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a piece of anchovy, and/or parsley.
99 Buy roast duck and take meat off bones; toss with hoisin sauce and roughly chopped scallions. Roll in small tortillas.
100 Roll prosciutto and Parmesan in small tortillas. Bake gently to soften the cheese.
101 Broil a good hot dog, roll in a good tortilla spread with brown or Dijon mustard. Slice. You know everyone will eat them.