by Nancy Caivano
Happy New Year—the "real" start of the new millennium! I hope that your holidays were wonderful and filled with fun, love and lots of great food.
Since this is the start of a new century as well as another year, I thought that I would do a new concept for this column. For the next 6 months, I will be taking a part of a big meal, and giving you two or three recipes for that part. Beginning with this installment, we'll cover appetizers, then follow up with first courses, main courses, sides, salads and dessert. There will be pasta or risotto in EVERY category—yes, even dessert! At the end of the 6 months, you will have a terrific pick-and-choose menu.
When I was a young girl, the biggest meal we had was on Sunday (every Sunday) at my grandmother's house. I think about those days so fondly. We would go to the 10am mass (the children's mass where I sang in the choir) and then go home and wait by the window until we saw my Uncle Boo's car (we didn't call him Uncle Boo then, he was Uncle Butch—my nephew started Uncle Boo). My grandmother lived across the hallway of our apartment building and we weren't allowed to go and bother her until he and his family got there.
I didn't realize at the time, that we always had appetizers. To me, then, they weren't something so fancy that they had a name, just carrots, celery sticks and olives in a dish. Sometimes fennel too. Every one of us stuck the black olives on our fingertips and ate them that way. There was also a secret stash of fried meatballs that she didn't put into the sauce (I'm being politically correct and not calling it gravy the way we still do) for the kids.
Now, my idea of appetizers is a bit more sophisticated. I love them, and can make a meal out of them, and often have. Just thinking about a room full of happy people nibbling appetizers and sipping on champagne, wine or soda can make me smile.
Appetizers are not the easiest things in the world to do. They look easy, because they are usually bite size, but in reality they can be a lot of work. My best advice is to do as much as possible ahead of time, that way you aren't chained in the kitchen cranking out these apps while the rest of the people are having fun.
I have two apps for you. The first, Spinach and Dried Tomato Arancini with Creamy Basil Pesto are basically rice balls. I make a recipe of risotto, let it cool, then shape it into balls with a cube of cheese stuck in the middle. The flavor of the risotto and cheese can change, so these apps can have a different taste each time you make them. It can be time consuming if you do everything in one day, but you could make the risotto two days before, make the balls the day before and then fry the day of the event.
Our other appetizer is Seared Prosciutto and Mushroom Ravioli with Spicy Tomato Dipping Sauce. Now, I'm not talking about those cardboard breaded ones that you get in theme restaurants, I'm talking about tender, homemade ravioli that are blanched, and then seared in a pan, like Chinese dumplings. The searing intensifies the flavor of the ravioli, whatever filling you use. I like to serve them with a dipping sauce, as most people love to dip. You can change the sauce to fit the filling, though tomato based sauces work better as a dip than cream based sauces, especially if they will be on the table for a while.
Remember, these are appetizers—like teasers. You don't want to make so much that your guests can fill up on them. Think 3 or 4 per guest. This is especially true if you are going to have a meal with courses, you could theoretically have three or four more courses to come, so go easy on the apps. Champagne or sparkling cider makes the appetizer an event, a grand way of announcing the meal to come.
This page created January 2001
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