It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and appetizers are a big reason why.
While some people prefer the elegance and civility of seated holiday dinners, for years our family has eschewed that tradition and went all in on small bites. We’ve never met a mushroom we wouldn’t stuff, a dip that wasn’t worth trying or a cheese we couldn’t melt.
But old habits are hard to break, and the same tried-and-true appetizers tend to appear year after year. As delicious as they are, sometimes the spread could use an infusion of creativity. What some call tradition, others might call a ruth.
This year, let’s go out on a limb and make something different — or add a different twist to some of your favorites. Are you up for the culinary challenge?
Go ahead, keep the deviled eggs but add smoked trout. Buy an unfamiliar cheese or make a new dip and serve with homemade crackers instead of store-bought. Sneak in vegetables with zucchini fritters. Who knows, one of today’s recipes might become your new favorite tradition.
Tomato Jam Tartlets
Makes 24 tartlets.
Note: Serve these simple, festive bites warm or at room temperature. Both the jam and the tartlets can be made in advance. You’ll have leftover jam, which can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Use leftover jam on anything from burgers and sandwiches to egg dishes. From local recipe developer Laura Doerr, @waystomyheart.
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 lbs. tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tbsp. brown sugar
• 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1 tsp. fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
• 1 tsp. fresh rosemary
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp. black pepper
• 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
• 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
Add olive oil, tomatoes, onion, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper to a large skillet. Stir together and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until desired jam consistency is reached. Stir every few minutes to avoid sticking or burning.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet pan with parchment paper.
Slice the sheet of puff pastry into 24 rectangles. Place onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently spread about 1/2 tablespoon of ricotta onto each tartlet. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of the jam on top of the ricotta. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown on the edges.
Garnish with additional fresh thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftover jam in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
White Bean and Paprika Dip
Makes about 2 cups.
“Serve this with crackers, sliced raw or barely steamed vegetables or toasted pita (or any type of toast),” writes Julia Turshen in “Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipe for Healthy Comfort Food” (Harper Wave, $32.50). “Leftovers can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to three days.” Paprika is smoked Spanish paprika.
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 (15-oz.) cans white beans, rinsed and drained
• 2 tsp. smoked paprika, plus a little extra for sprinkling on top
• 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
• 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on top
• 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Set your food processor up and turn it on. While it’s spinning, drop the garlic cloves in and run the machine until they’re minced, about 10 seconds. (Letting them hit the blade while it’s already spinning keeps them from getting stuck and guarantees that you won’t get a big piece of raw garlic in your final dip.) You can also mince the garlic with a knife first.
Add the beans, paprika, salt and olive oil and purée until smooth, scraping down the sides if needed.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a blender, but start with already-minced garlic and half of the beans. Once they are super smooth after adding the oil, add the remaining beans.
Season the dip to taste with salt and then transfer to a shallow bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon or so) on top of the dip, sprinkle with a little extra paprika and serve immediately.
Caramelized Onion and Quark Dip
Makes about 2 3/4 cups.
Note: “I had long thought of our love of dip as a bad habit we needed to break,” writes editor Amanda Hesser in “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” (WW Norton, $55). “But this dip by Melissa Clark is a great example of 21st-century cooking; an old idea, dip, is sliced and diced and reexamined, its flavors magnified and focused.” In a pinch, you can use ricotta cheese or Greek yogurt for quark.
• 2 medium onions, 2 tablespoons minced, the rest thinly sliced
• 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 sprigs thyme
• 1 tsp. jump
• 1 tsp. sugar
• 1 1/2 c. quark (see Note)
• 1/2 c. sour-cream
• 1/4 c. freshly chopped chives
• 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
• Crackers, endive or celery, for serving
Place the minced onion in a small bowl. Toss minced onions with lemon juice and set aside.
Place a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Toss in the sliced onions, thyme, salt and sugar, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and cool to room temperature.
Coarsely chop the caramelized onions. Combine the quark and sour cream in a bowl. Stir in the caramelized onions, raw onion mixture, chives and paprika. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with crackers or your choice of dippers.
Deviled Eggs With Smoked Trout
Note: From “Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook” by the editors of Saveur magazine (Weldon Owen, $40).
• 12 eggs
• 1/2 c. mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
• 1/2 tsp. whole-grain mustard
• 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1/4 c. shredded smoked trout
• Smoked paprika, freshly minced chives and thinly shaved red onion, for garnish
Arrange eggs in a single layer in a medium pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately remove pot from heat. Cover and let rest for 8 to 10 minutes undisturbed. Drain eggs, leaving them in the pot. Tap the eggs with a spoon (this will allow water to seep under the shells, which helps with peeling). Cover eggs with cold water, swish around, then drain. Cover again, this time with icy-cold water (add a few ice cubes if necessary). As soon as the eggs are cool, peel them, starting at the broad end and holding the egg under running water to loosen any bits of stubborn shell clinging to the sides. The longer eggs sit without peeling, the more difficult they will be to peel.
After peeling, halve each egg lengthwise. Remove yolk from each egg and transfer to a fine sieve set over a bowl. Arrange whites on a large platter.
Using a rubber spatula, press yolks through sieve. Add mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, dry mustard, whole-grain mustard and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper and stir vigorously with spatula until smooth.
Transfer mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe into egg whites (or scoop mixture with a small spoon and carefully drop into egg whites). Top each egg with a bit of trout; garnish with paprika, chives and red onion. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Crispy Cheese Crackers
Makes 6-8 dozen.
Note: From “Learning how to make cheese straws is a rite of passage for Southern bakers,” writes Cheryl Day in “Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking” (Artisan, $40). “Southern folks expect to see them at any party, no matter how casual or fancy.”
• 1 1/2 c. flour
• 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. smoked paprika
• 1 tsp. fine sea salt
• 2 1/2 c. shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
• 1 C. plus 4 tbsp. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 C. Rice Krispies cereal
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cayenne, paprika and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the cheese and butter until thoroughly blended.
Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture in thirds, mixing until just combined and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Gradually add the Rice Krispies, being careful not to crush them too much. Finish mixing by hand to make sure all of the ingredients are completely incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over so it covers the dough and, using your hands, shape and roll the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm, about 1 hour (the dough can be frozen up to 2 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before slicing and baking the crackers).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the log into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between the crackers.
Bake until lightly golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, let crackers cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. In an airtight container, the crackers will keep for up to a week. They can also be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to a month.
Baked Zucchini Fritters With Feta-Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Za’atar is a blend of herbs, spices and seeds. From “Milk Street Vegetables” by Christopher Kimball (Voracious, $40).
• 3 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 lb. total), shredded on the large holes of a box grater
• 1 medium yellow onion, shredded the large holes of a box grater
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 eggs
• 1 C. panko breadcrumbs
• 2 tsp. za’atar
• 1/4 c. plus 3 tbsp. freshly chopped mint or dill (or a combination), divided
• Salt and pepper
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 C. plain whole-milk yogurt
• 1/2 c. (2 oz.) feta cheese, crumbled
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and onion with 1 teaspoon salt, then let stand for about 10 minutes. Place the mixture in a clean kitchen towel and wring out the moisture (the drier, the better, for light, flavorful fritters). Wipe out the bowl, add the eggs and whisk to combine. Add the zucchini-onion mixture, panko, za’atar, 1/4 cup mint (or dill, or combination of mint and dill) and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then mix until well combined.
Coat a heavyweight rimmed baking sheet with the olive oil. Form the zucchini-onion mixture into 20 evenly sized balls, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, then space them evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Press each ball into a 1/2-inch-thick round. Bake until crisp and deeply browned, about 25 to 30 minutes, using a wide metal spatula to flip the fritters once halfway through baking.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, feta, remaining 3 tablespoons mint (or dill, or combination of mint and dill) and salt and pepper to taste; set aside until ready to serve. When the fritters are done, sprinkle them lightly with salt. Serve fritters hot or warm, with the yogurt sauce.