Cocktail parties in summer take on a life of their own and seem to differ from the ones that you may throw in winter. For one thing they are—weather permitting—held outdoors at an early enough hour to enjoy what is truly the best light of the day—that special light well before sunset, so native to our locale.
The scene is set with a multitude of guests crowding the patio. It is a time for conviviality and appetite, an interlude for a sip and a nibble between a day of work or play and perhaps plans for dinner. Cocktail foods can nevertheless satiate with guiltlessly addictive canapés to enjoy with stylish cocktails, a local summer rosé or a refreshing bubbly.
One can hardly have a cocktail party without everyone’s favorite, a simply prepared guacamole with diced tomatoes, lime and cilantro to serve with tortilla chips. Crostini, small bread toasts, seasoned with garlic and olive oil are topped with basil and tomato for a delicious Umbrian canapé. To satiate the cheese lovers, blend a variety of cheeses with fresh herbs and white wine and serve with sweet red grapes. Put your food processor to work to make a delectable tapenade with capers, anchovies, lemon and garlic up to a week ahead. A terrific variety to enjoy at cocktail time!
Yield: about 3 cups
2 fully ripened Hass avocados
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice or to taste
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut the avocados in half, lengthwise. Grasp with both hands and gently twist to separate the halves. To easily remove the pit, stab it with the knife and give the pit a twist. Pit will easily remove itself from the avocado. Using a large oval spoon scrape against the skin to loosen the flesh. Scoop out each avocado half.
2. Cut avocado halves into small dice and put into a mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients, and toss gently to mix. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer the mixture to a suitable container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. When ready to serve, place in a serving bowl surrounded with crispy tortilla chips.
Note: Recipe adapted from restaurant Maya in New York City
CROSTINI WITH GARLIC AND TOMATOES
This canapé is from Umbria, a region in central Italy. A tray of these colorful tomato topped garlic toasts makes a fine appetizer.
Yield: Approximately 20 to 25 slices
Italian or French baguette, cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slices
3 large cloves garlic, do not peel; cut in half lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
20 to 25 small basil leaves
4 to 5 ripe plum tomatoes or small summer tomatoes, thinly sliced
Sea salt to finish
Preheat broiler to highest setting. Adjust oven rack about 4 inches from source of heat.
1. Arrange bread slices on a cookie sheet one layer deep. Broil until golden, about 1 minute on each side. Watch carefully.
2. Rub warm toast with cut surface of garlic halves on both sides. Drizzle or brush surface of toast with olive oil. Can be done ahead to this point and stored in a wax paper-lined tin.
3. Before serving top crostini with a basil leaf and tomato slice, and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.
HERBED CHEESE MOLD WITH FRESH GRAPES
This well seasoned cheese mold mellows as it stands and improves in flavor, so be sure to prepare it ahead. Use fresh, local herbs rather than dry. See processor method below for ease of preparation.
Yield: About 3 cups
2 1/2 ounces imported Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 pound imported Port du Salut, shredded
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons sweet butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon fresh dill
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
Fresh grapes and crisp crackers for serving
1. Combine cheeses in a mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Add herbs, salt and wine, and stir until ingredients are well distributed.
2. Pack into a lightly oiled 3-cup mold or crock. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for one or two days. When ready to serve, unmold onto a serving dish and garnish with clusters of seedless grapes. Serve with a variety of crisp crackers.
Note: The above recipe can be prepared in a food processor. Put the shredding blade in place to shred slices of Port du Salut. Transfer cheese to a dish. Replace shredding blade with the knife blade. Cut the Parmesan into small chunks then grate with the knife blade in place. Add the cream cheese and butter, and return the Port du Salut to the work bowl. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Add herbs and salt and process until mixture is smooth and well blended. Drizzle wine through feed tube with motor running until mixture is smooth. Proceed with step #2.
Tapenade is a blend of black olives, anchovy fillets, capers and seasonings. Anytime is a great time to pull these ingredients off your pantry shelf. Spread on crusty slices of French or Italian bread.
Yield: about 1 cup
4 anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or oregano
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups oil-cured black olives, pitted
1. Place anchovies, capers, lemon juice, garlic, thyme or oregano, dry mustard and pepper in work bowl of food processor fitted with knife blade and process just until blended. Pour oil through opening in feed tube in a slow steady stream. Add the olives and pulse several times, until mixture is a bit chunky.
2. With a rubber spatula, scrape into a serving bowl. Can be prepared up to one week before serving. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with toasted slices of French or Italian bread.
Note: If food processor is not available, mince the garlic, then the anchovies, and coarsely chop the olives. Put into a mixing bowl with the ingredients except the oil. Add the oil in a slow steady stream stirring with a wooden spoon to mix.