Easy-to-make appetizers fit the bill for large holiday gatherings

Even those of us who enjoy the intimacy (and challenge) of sit-down-style dinner parties like the more informal holiday gatherings that revolve around appetizers and desserts for larger get-togethers. The host gets to strut a greater variety of interesting edibles than he usually whips up, and the guests get to mingle while enjoying each other's company and what are essentially finger foods.

Another virtue of an appetizer and dessert party is that the "menu" can be eclectic, drawing inspiration from world cuisines in offerings that can appeal to virtually any tastes. For our exercise du jour, then, we present some really simple appetizers to add to your culinary repertoire.

And, don't forget our "share the fun" philosophy. Just the mere fact that you're opening your home to friends and neighbors may be all the inducement a few of those friends need to offer to work with one of the dishes you're planning for the party. You provide the recipe; they provide the goody. This is especially helpful for those of us to love to do appetizers but aren't that crazy over doing desserts.

Here are a few suggestions — a couple of cold dishes that are easy to make ahead, and a couple that'll warm their cockles. Either way, they're easy on the pocketbook, and the chef, while making a tasty impression on your guests.

White bean bruschetta

Make the spread and toast the bread ahead. Put everything together just before serving. This recipe makes a dozen bruschetta, which you'll cut in half, for 24 pieces. Remember, you're going to have a number of dishes, so each recipe doesn't have to make enough to fill each guest to the gills.

2/3 cup walnuts

2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans white beans, e.g. cannellini

3 large garlic cloves

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil, divided

12 (1/3 inch thick) slices rustic Italian bread, i.e. a bit bigger around than a baguette

Flat-leaf parsley and/or bits of roasted red pepper, garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a shallow baking pan, toast walnuts in oven just until you can smell them, about 10 minutes. Cool. Chop coarsely.

Rinse and drain beans well. In a food processor, mince garlic, then add beans, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Puree.

Toast bread in baking sheet until golden; check after 5 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle 1/4 cup of the olive oil evenly over toasts.

When ready to serve, divide puree among toasts. Sprinkle on walnuts. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over walnuts. Cut toasts in half crosswise. Garnish with parsley and/or bits of roasted red pepper. Makes 24 toasts.

Caesar salad rolls

These "Italian-style" spring rolls use prosciutto to enclose the classic salad ingredients inside. The dressing and croutons can be made a day or so ahead. The rolls can be assembled several hours before serving and kept refrigerated.


1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons minced anchovies

One teaspoon fresh lemon juice


2 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup (quarter-inch) cubes crustless sourdough bread


20 paper-thin slices prosciutto (each about 8 by 3 inches)

6 large romaine lettuce leaves, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch wide strips

1 1/2 cups (packed) baby arugula leaves

For the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, Parmesan, anchovies and lemon juice. Season with pepper.

For the croutons, in a medium, nonstick skillet, over medium, melt butter. Add bread cubes and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn out onto a paper towels. Sprinkle with some pepper.

For the rolls, on a large piece of plastic wrap, arrange 4 prosciutto slices side by side and slightly overlapping, with wide side toward you. Place about one fifth of the lettuce and the arugula down the center of the prosciutto. Roll tightly, using plastic wrap to help. Repeat with more plastic wrap, prosciutto and lettuces, for a total of 5 rolls. Chill until serving time. Before serving, remove plastic wrap from rolls. Trim prosciutto ends. Using a sharp knife, cut each roll into 2-inch long pieces. Stand on ends in a pretty platter. Dollop some of the dressing on top of each roll, then top with a couple of croutons. Makes about 24 rolls.

Chorizo empanadas

We go Tex-Mex for these perky little pastries that combine chorizo sausage, black beans and jalapeno jack cheese. We go to the grocery for pie crusts, making this an easy-peasey dish to fix. Make these the morning of, then reheat for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with some sour cream, guacamole and/or salsa to dab on.

1 pound (uncooked) pork chorizo, casing removed

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 (15-ounce) cans black beans

1 1/4 cups grated jalapeno jack cheese

5 tablespoons coarsely chopped, fresh cilantro

2 (15-ounce) packages prepared pie crusts

2 eggs, beaten to blend

For the filling, in a large, heavy skillet, over medium, cook chorizo until well browned, about 10 minutes, using a fork to break up larger pieces as they cook. Use a slotted spoon to transfer chorizo to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add beans with liquids in can to onion mixture and cook, mashing beans and stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cooked chorizo. Cool completely, then add grated cheese and cilantro.

To fill, heat oven to 400 degrees. Use vegetable shortening to grease 2 large baking sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll one pie crust round to 1/8 inch thick. Use a 4 1/2 inch diameter round bowl as a guide, cut 6 rounds from the pie crust piece. Repeat with remaining dough, cutting a total of 24 rounds.

Mound some of the filling in the center of each small round. Brush edges of dough lightly with water. Fold dough over to enclose filling. Using a fork, seal crust edges by crimping them. Carefully transfer empanadas to prepared baking sheets. Brush empanadas with beaten eggs. Bake until crusts are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and serve with suggested accompaniments. Makes 24 empanadas.

Tex-Mex fondue

In Spanish, it's queso fundido, pronounced kay-so foon-dee-doh. This is a fun party dish (so we're making quite a lot of it). You can even institute a fine for those who insist on double-dipping — or make them do the dishes.

5 large poblano chiles, aka pasilla chiles

One 1/4 pound uncooked Andouille sausage, casings removed

5 large garlic cloves, chopped

24 green onions, chopped

2/3 cup mild, chunky tomato-based salsa

2 1/2 cups chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/4 pounds Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated (about 5 cups)

1 1/4 pounds whole-milk mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (about 5 cups)

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 cups reduced fat/sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed

Tortilla chips, for dipping

Char chilies directly over a gas flame or cook under broiler until blackened on all sides. Remove to a paper bag, and let stand 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel chiles, remove seeds and pith, and chop coarsely.

In a large, heavy skillet, over medium-high, sauté Andouille sausage until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a wooden spoon, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and green onions; stir until green onions are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add mild salsa, and heat through. Remove from heat. Add cilantro and poblano chilies.

In a large bowl, toss both cheeses with cornstarch until coated. In a large pot, over medium-high, heat chicken broth cup. Add both cheeses, cup by cup, whisking until each addition is almost melted before adding more. Remove from heat. Stir in chorizo mixture. Thin with more (heated) chicken broth if fondue gets too thick. Transfer to a warm chafing dish. Serve with tortilla chips.

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