Good things come in small packages, especially pertaining to food. The small-plate movement tops restaurant trends according to The National Restaurant Association, carrying over to holiday home entertaining.
Beyond benefits like thrift, small plates are great conversational starters and fun to serve. For a globally inspired menu, try Italian antipasti, Chinese dim sum or Spanish tapas – small portions served for generations at their respective points of origin. They are significant for being enjoyed by friends who gather socially in a relaxed setting.
Appetizer-size foods can be conveniently made in advance and served at room temperature or quickly reheated. If you aren’t serving dinner, plan on a mix of hearty and light appetizers, with 10 to 15 substantial pieces per guest. Offer wine, beer, a signature cocktail or wine punch like a fruity red sangria. Don’t forget nonalcoholic beverages, soft drinks and bottled water.
Small plates are a chic, practical way for guests to manage appetizers, usually eliminating the need for forks and knives. Guests can serve themselves from platters, family-style (with small plates on the side), or foods can be portioned ahead in small dishes or edible containers for easy pick-up. Small plates also help with portion control – small bites, fewer calories!
Choosing dishware and glassware is part of the fun; pull from your own eclectic collections. Asymmetrical dishes make a perfect canvas for your edible works of art. Chinese spoons make great containers for savory appetizer bites or one decadent mouthful of rich dessert. Pier One Imports® is an excellent source of diverse dishware, as shown in the photos.
Small plate-style entertaining creates a relaxed atmosphere and will bring friendly, casual conversation and exciting flavors to your party.
Tortilla de Española with Aioli
Spain’s beloved egg omelet tastes delicious warm or at room temperature, making it ideal for serving as a tapa. Waxy lower starch potatoes work best for this recipe. For tapa-sized portions, divide the egg and potato mixture between two hot six-inch cast iron skillets then bake in the oven, Italian-style, to avoid the perils of flipping runny tortillas on the stovetop.
1 recipe Aioli
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided (as needed)
1 to 1 1/4 pounds red skin potatoes or Yukon Golds, scrubbed, cut in thin slices
1 medium onion, quartered, thin sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh minced herbs (like basil, parsley, thyme)
6 large eggs (preferably organic)
1/3 cup half and half or whole milk
1/4 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, optional
1/2 roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 cup shredded Swiss chard or spinach, if desired (rinse and dry well before cutting)
snipped chives or chopped scallion
Prepare Aioli; refrigerate until needed. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in a 9- or 10-inch, well-seasoned cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet with heatproof handle over medium heat. Fry potatoes about 10 minutes, turning several times, until they begin to soften. Add onion, reducing heat slightly. Cook 10 minutes more, stirring often, until translucent and tender, but not crispy and brown. Add garlic; stir another minute. Put cooked mixture into a large bowl; season well with salt, pepper and herbs. Cool slightly. Whisk together eggs, milk and cheese; stir into potato mixture. Add roasted pepper and chard. Wipe out skillet then heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When very hot, pour in potato mixture. Cook 1 to 2 minutes while running a heatproof spatula around the edges to allow egg mixture to run underneath. Put pan into the oven; cook 5 minutes or until slightly puffed and set. Test center with a skewer for doneness. (Tortilla can be run under the broiler a minute or two, if desired.) After cooling 5 minutes, remove from pan, using a blunt knife to help loosen edges. Cut into thin wedges or pieces for serving. Serve with Aioli. Chilled leftovers can be reheated in the microwave. Serves six.
Variation: Tortilla can be cooked through on the stovetop. When nearly set, cover pan with a large rimless plate or baking sheet and turn upside-down. Slide omelet back into the pan and cook 3 or 4 minutes, just until set. Remove from pan as directed above.
This sauce is a great condiment for Spanish tortilla, grilled seafood, sandwiches, croistini (thin garlic-rubbed toast), appetizers or dip for crudités.
2 to 3 large, finely minced garlic cloves, to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quality light or regular mayonnaise
pinch of white ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley or basil, optional
With a large sharp knife, finely mince garlic; then using the side of the knife blade, mash it as smoothly as possible with the salt. Scoop garlic into a medium bowl and mix in remaining ingredients. Aioli can be made several hours ahead. Cover tightly and chill until served. Makes about 1 cup.
Tortellini with Red Bell Pepper Dip
The versatile dip makes a nice sauce for sautéed chicken, or stir a little into sauces or soups for a flavor boost. The skewered tortellini can be embellished with marinated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives or thin folded pepperoni slices. For a quicker dip, try refrigerated store-bought pesto, refrigerated red marinara sauce or herb vinaigrette. The skewered tortellini can also be briefly marinated in spicy basil pesto, then served on a platter.
4 whole large red bell peppers (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and a pinch black pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
50 tortellini (three-cheese tortellini and spinach tortellini), from a 9-ounce refrigerated package
1 tablespoon olive oil
25 short wooden skewers
On a foil lined heavy baking sheet, roast bell peppers under a broiler, turning often, until charred over the outer surface. Pull up foil lining to wrap peppers; cool completely. Remove outer skin and scrape out seeds without rinsing peppers. Put peppers, olive oil, vinegar, hot pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and tomato sauce into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until mixture is smooth. Serve at once or refrigerate until serving time. Cook tortellini in salted water according to package directions. Thread one spinach tortellini and one cheese tortellini onto each skewer. Include any other ingredients, as desired. Arrange on a platter and serve with a bowl of the dip. Recipe can be increased as needed. Makes 24 appetizer skewers.
Here is an easy variation of baked Cuban empanadas stuffed with a spicy meat filling called piccadillo. The perfect party pick-up, they can be eaten in two or three bites. The recipe calls for refrigerated pie crust but you can use homemade pastry or even a package of discos – empanada dough wrappers by Goya, a source for Latino foods. The commercial wrappers are best used for making deep-fried empanadas.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 minced garlic cloves
3/4 pound ground pork or beef
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt and black ground pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 tablespoon pimento-stuffed green olives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped raisins or currants
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 15-ounce package cold refrigerated piecrusts or homemade pastry for double crust
1 egg beaten with a fork
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion, pepper and garlic until soft. Add pork, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, tomato paste and vinegar. Mix in olives, raisins and cilantro. When cooked, taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Cool completely. Roll out one piecrust at a time, to about 1/8-inch thick. With a 4-inch round cutter, cut 9 pastry rounds. Spoon 1 tablespoon filling into the center of each round. Moisten dough edges lightly with water; fold over pastry to form half moons. Press edges of dough with a fork to seal. Shape 9 more turnovers with the second piecrust. Place empanadas on lightly greased baking sheets; brush with beaten egg. Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 18 pastries. Serve at once or cool and freeze.
Mini Chicken Tostados
The smoke and heat of chipotle hot sauce kicks up the chicken’s flavor. You can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which stay especially moist while cooking. Prepare everything a day in advance except for crisping the corn tortillas; assemble shortly before serving to prevent sogginess. Or set out platters and bowls of ingredients; invite guests to assemble their own appetizers.
2 chicken breast halves
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons BÚFALO® Chipotle Hot Sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt and black ground pepper, to taste
12 5 1/2- to 6-inch extra-thin yellow or white corn tortillas
your favorite red salsa
diced red onion
crumbled queso fresa or feta cheese, if desired
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced
fresh cilantro leaves
Put chicken, lime juice, olive oil, hot sauce, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper in a zip-top plastic storage bag. Work marinade into chicken; refrigerate several hours or overnight. Grill chicken over hot coals or in the oven until done. Cool, then shred the meat, discarding bones and skin. To prepare tostados, preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a fluted 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 2 circles from each tortilla. Lightly coat both sides of each circle with cooking spray. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook 10 minutes, or until light and crispy. Watch carefully to prevent excessive browning. Top each tostado with some shredded chicken, sour cream, salsa, red onion, avocado and cilantro leaves. Serve at once. Recipe can be increased, as desired. Makes 24 tostados.
Variations: Each tostado chip can first be spread with warm refried beans or black bean hummus. Mini tostados also can be deep-fried.
Rosemary Skewered Ciliegini
Embellish your antipasto platter with marinated, skewered ciliegini or cherry-size balls of fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk in the Italian fior di latte tradition. Trim leaves off stem ends of the rosemary branches used for skewering.
1 8-ounce tub drained, fresh ciliegini mozzarella, or log of fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
Marinate ciliegini in a blended mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, red pepper, basil, salt and pepper for at least one hour. Thread a mozzarella ball and cherry tomato on each rosemary skewer. Arrange on a platter and serve. Makes 6 servings.
Preparing delicious holiday appetizers doesn’t have to be a chore. Italian antipasto (“before the meal”) is a collection of quick and easy irresistible small dishes with big bold flavors. For a simple offering, choose 3 or 4 of the following mini recipes. Add one cheese selection: Manchego, smoked provolone or gorgonzola drizzled with honey. Include croistini (small toasts) or crusty bread. Other dishes to consider: Rosemary Skewered Ciliegini or Tortellini with Red Pepper Sauce. But keep the selection simple if other appetizers are served.
Crisp breadsticks (grissino) or even crunchy cracker sticks can be wrapped with strips of prosciutto crudo (“uncooked”) to create a special, tasty appetizer. Serve plain or with a dipping sauce.
Wheat Thins Crunch Stix (Fire Roasted Tomato flavor)
1/4 pound thin-sliced prosciutto
Tear strips of prosciutto then wrap each one around a Wheat Thins Crunch Stix. Serve soon after wrapping for the cracker stix to retain maximum crispness.
Marinated olives, cheese, crusty bread and fruit make a tasty meal. The orange provides grated zest, juice and a garnish.
1 well-rinsed navel orange for zest, garnish and juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry wine or red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, slivered
2 cups olives (mix of Spanish, Sicilian or Greek olives)
Finely grate the rind of half of the orange for zest then remove a long decorative strip from the remaining portion of the rind for a garnish. Squeeze 2 tablespoons orange juice. Blend the orange zest and juice with the remaining marinade ingredients; mix in the olives. Marinate at least two hours before serving, but the longer they soak, the better they will taste. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 2 cups.
Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Bite-size tomatoes are a tasty appetizer when stuffed with guacamole, cubes of marinated feta cheese, boursin cheese spread or a puree of butterbeans. Visit the writer’s blog, Taste of Carolina (http://susanslacktasteofcarolina.wordpress.com/2007/02/25/update-on-the-lee-brothers-book-signing/), to obtain the Butter Bean Pate recipe from the first cookbook of Charleston residents Mat and Ted Lee. She prepared a batch for the Southern cooking duo when they came to town promoting “The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook.” Use the minty pate for stuffing tomatoes or just place a big bowlful on the table with crackers and watch it disappear.
1 to 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes (about 3 cups)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
filling of choice
pomegranate seeds or fresh herb leaves (mint or basil)
Cut a thin piece off of the bottom of each small tomato so they stand upright, then cut a slice from the top of each tomato. With a grapefruit spoon or teaspoon, gently hollow out some of the pulp and seeds. Turn tomatoes upside down on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle inside of tomatoes lightly with salt and pepper. Using a small spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a round pastry tube, stuff cherry tomatoes with the desired filling. Decorate the tops with a pomegranate seed.
Roasted almonds add crunchy contrast and are a good accompaniment to cheese and dried fruits. For a special treat, try Spanish Marcona almonds, available in area gourmet shops. Sweeter and softer than California almonds, they are very tasty fried in olive oil.
1 pound whole almonds, blanched
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon dried herbs (oregano, marjoram or thyme)
about 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, to taste
sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. On a large, heavy baking sheet, mix almonds, oil and herbs. Place in the oven and roast 30 minutes or until light golden color, turning several times. Turn off oven and let almonds cool until just warm. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Cool completely; store in an air-tight container until served.
Poached Chinese Ginger Dumplings
Poached Chinese Ginger Dumplings with Soy Dipping Sauce
Do ahead tips: freeze the filled, shaped dumplings solid in a single layer then store in an airtight container. Cook while frozen, increasing the time slightly.
3/4 cup minced Nappa cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or beef
2 teaspoons minced fresh gingerroot
1 minced scallion (mostly white part)
1 1/2 tablespoons Chinese or Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon Asian sesame seed oil
1 package won ton wrappers (about 50)
chopped Asian chives or green onion, for garnish
Sprinkle salt over cabbage; let stand at least 10 minutes. Squeeze tightly to remove all liquid. Combine cabbage and remaining filling ingredients in a medium bowl. To shape dumplings, put about 1 tablespoon filling in the middle of a won ton wrapper. Paint the inside bottom wrapper half with slurry. Fold dumpling in half; press to seal. Pull ends together, crossing them slightly. Seal with a little more slurry, pressing tightly. Keep dumplings covered as they are shaped; don’t allow to touch.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Lower 10 to 12 dumplings into the water. When they float to the top, continue cooking 3 to 4 minutes. When filling has cooked, remove dumplings from water with a slotted spoon; keep warm. Place one dumpling into each Chinese porcelain spoon; add chive garnish. Arrange spoons on a platter or plate with a bowl of dipping sauce. Serve at once. For large groups, you can put dumplings directly on a large platter with the sauce. Makes about 40 dumplings.
Soy Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup Chinese or Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 minced, thin green scallion (mostly white part)
1/2 teaspoon chili paste with garlic or other Asian hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame seed oil
Combine all ingredients. Recipe can be increased. Makes about 1/2 cup.