Hors d'oeuvres. Tapas. Appetizers. Small plates. There are many names and countries of origin for those little bites of deliciousness. From canapés and dips to dumplings and kabobs, the small plate is varied and versatile. Although appetizers were once used primarily to sate guests until the main course arrived, they have more recently achieved a higher status in the entertaining world. I have attended everything from cozy gatherings to large weddings where only small plates were served. This is always fine with me, as I love variety and a dinner made up of appetizers offers just that.
In honor of Oscar night Sunday, I wanted to share a couple of my own favorite quick and easy small plate recipes. Although I think I’ve only seen one movie up for the Best Picture award (this is the sad state of movie-going affairs in our house after our two favorite babysitters left for college), I see Sunday as an excuse to curl up on the couch with a couple of my favorite hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine while my daughters comment on the red carpet fashions.
The first recipe is for a white cannellini bean dip. This is my standard appetizer when we have unexpected guests--I can make it in less than five minutes and always have all the ingredients on hand. It’s similar to hummus in texture, but has more Italian than Middle Eastern seasonings. You can make it with or without hot pepper sauce, so you can customize the spices to your own taste. I like to serve this dish with bruschetta, but crackers, pita chips, or bread sticks would work just as well.
The second recipe was created by mistake. I wanted to try out a new appetizer recipe but forgot to look at it and write down the ingredients before I went to the store. I knew the general idea was stuffed dates, but that was it. After wandering around the store and picking out ingredients for the varied dishes I was making that evening for guests, I went home and saw that other than the dates, my groceries didn't include any of the required ingredients. After a good laugh with my husband about my inability to take a list with me to the grocery story, I immediately got to work to see if I could concoct something with what I had bought. I had some goat cheese on hand for a salad, but decided to use it instead as a stuffing for the dates because I thought the velvety rich texture would counteract the sweet denseness of the fruit. I had also gone to the deli section to buy prosciutto for sandwiches the next day. I had plenty, so decided to use a few slices in the hopes that the salty flavor of the cured ham would accent the other sweet and creamy flavors. After tasting one of my new creations, I realized each flavor was too distinct. In the hopes of melding the tastes of dates, cheese, and cured pork together, I set everything in a 350-degree oven for about five minutes. The result was what my friend Jeff called “pork candy”: goat cheese oozing into the sweet date meat with a crisp salty finish. Just the thing when watching those starlets ham it up on the red carpet.