When one of my culinary assistants called to ask for ideas for appetizers to serve at a wine-tasting party, I was eager to help. My friend explained that her schedule had become hectic and, as the party date approached, she found herself with practically no time to prepare hors d'oeuvres to accompany the chosen vintages.
"Choose simple dishes that require little or no cooking," I suggested, then proposed two I rely on when time is short.
A recipe for tart apple slices topped with quince paste and shaved Manchego cheese was my first suggestion. I have been serving this Spanish-inspired nibble for several years now, always to great reviews. There's no cooking involved. You toss thin Granny Smith apple slices in lemon juice so that they don't discolor, then mound each with a dollop of quince paste and some shaved Manchego cheese. Guests like the contrasting flavors - the salty cheese and tart apple countered by the sweet paste.
The other recipe was a new creation. I combine grape tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella balls and quartered kalamata olives in olive oil, then season the mixture with fresh rosemary and red-pepper flakes. For serving, this melange is spooned onto lightly toasted baguette slices. The only cooking required is a few minutes to toast the bread in the oven.
Several days later, I received a party update. The hosts had served California wines - three whites and three reds. In addition to the two appetizers I had recommended, they had cantaloupe wedges wrapped in prosciutto, a California cheese offered with grapes and crisp crackers and, as a final flourish, strawberries and some dark-chocolate candies. Nothing had taken more than minutes to assemble, and the party was a huge success.
Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.
Tart Apple Slices With Quince Paste and Shaved Manchego
2 Granny Smith apples
juice of 1 large lemon
small container of quince paste (see note)
4-ounce piece of Manchego cheese, at room temperature
Halve apples lengthwise, core them, then cut halves into thin slices to yield a total of 32 slices. (You may have some apple left over.) Place the slices in a nonreactive bowl and toss with the lemon juice.
Mound about 1/2 teaspoon quince paste in the center of each apple slice. Sprinkle with a little salt. Using a vegetable peeler, cut enough thin strips from the Manchego cheese to top each apple slice with 1 or 2 shavings. Arrange slices on a serving tray.
Note: Quince paste (also called membrillo) is a sweet mixture made from quince and is used in Spanish cooking. It is sold in some supermarkets (including Whole Foods) and in specialty food stores. You will need only a small amount for this recipe, but extra can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for a long period.
Per serving: 102 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 196 milligrams sodium
Recipe analyses provided by registered dietitian Jodie Shield.
Tomato, Mozzarella and Olive Melange With Toasted Baguette Slices
1/2 pound (1 1/2 cups) grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 pound small (1-inch) mozzarella balls, sliced 1/4 -inch thick
1/4 pound (1 cup) pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary plus a sprig for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
16 baguette slices, cut 1/2 -inch thick on the diagonal
Place tomatoes, mozzarella and olives in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil. Stir in rosemary, salt and red-pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a shallow serving bowl. (Mixture can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)
When ready to serve, arrange a rack at center position, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet, and bake until lightly toasted, without turning, about 5 minutes.
Tuck a fresh rosemary sprig into the tomato/mozzarella mixture, place the bowl on a serving plate, and surround it with toasted bread slices. To eat, spoon some of the mozzarella mixture onto a slice of bread.
Per serving: 389 calories, 15 grams protein, 17 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 46 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 906 milligrams sodium