Simple Art of Cooking: Craft the Perfect Appetizers for Cocktail Hour

Crostini. Photo credit: Charles Haynes
Crostini. Photo credit: Charles Haynes

It’s time to think about nibbles for the rounds of parties this holiday season.

One of my favorite basics is a basketful of crostini, thin slices of bread cut from baguettes, preferably day-old, then baked until lightly golden and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil. These toasts can be prepared several days ahead and kept in an airtight container to use as a base for a variety of toppings. Smoked salmon is always a favorite at cocktail time. Sandwich thin slices with chive-flecked crème fraîche on crostini with caper garnish. An Italian antipasto platter with assorted sliced salumi, roasted peppers, caper berries, and an interesting mix of olives is colorful and appealing with their varied tastes and textures. Create a bar area lined up with glasses, and open the red wine bottles to breathe. Fill a large bucket or bar sink, with ice for open bottles of white wine, and have lots of cocktail napkins on hand.

A platter of cheeses paired with seasonal fruits such as grapes, clementines and pears bring color and good cheer to the holiday table. Just minutes from my front door, The Ludlows of Mecox Bay Dairy  in Bridgehampton are producing premium artisanal cheeses from their herd of Jersey cows. Their Shawondasee, a Native American word meaning “prevailing southwest wind,” is a semi-hard cheese with a subtle nutty flavor, and their Atlantic Mist is a rich and creamy cheese with a white rind for spreading, it’s reminiscent of brie.

When your guests enter your home filled with delicious scents and the warmth of your generous invitation, the party begins.


Yield about 24 pieces

1 country Italian bread or French baguette, cut into
3/8 inch slices
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled and halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

To bake: Preheat oven to 375°

1. Spread the bread slices on a cookie sheet one layer deep and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until golden brown.

2. While toast is still warm but cool enough to handle, rub the cut surface of garlic over one side then drizzle lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Prepare up to 2 to 3 days ahead. Store in a covered cookie tin lined with wax paper.


Yield: 15 to 18 appetizers

15 to 18 large fresh basil leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella or Buffalo milk mozzarella
Freshly ground pepper and extra-virgin olive oil
Olive and curly parsley garnish

1. Rinse basil leaves and pat dry with paper towel. Cut sun-dried tomatoes into thin slivers. Cut the cheese into thin slices to the approximate size of your crostini. (The sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella slices can be prepared ahead and refrigerated in suitable containers.)

2. Place a slice of cheese on each crostini. Season with fresh pepper and a drizzle of oil then top with a basil leaf. Garnish with a sliver of sun dried tomato. Continue with remaining crostini and toppings. Arrange on a platter and garnish with green and black olives and tiny bunches of curly parsley.

An easy and delicious spread to serve with pita chips or crostini.

 Yield: about 2 cups

1 medium-size eggplant, about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds
Oil for brushing eggplant
1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained
2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons yogurt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

Preheat broiler to highest setting.

1. Wipe eggplant clean and cut in half lengthwise. With the point of a knife pierce skin side in several places. Brush cut sides with oil. Place cut side down on a shallow broiler pan and broil 3-inches from source of heat until skin blisters and wilts and pulp is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool. (Can also be grilled for a smoky flavor, if desired.)

2. Scoop out eggplant pulp, scraping against the skin and transfer to a food processor fitted with knife blade or a blender. Add drained and rinsed chickpeas and process or blend until mixture is a smooth purée. Add garlic, sesame paste, lemon juice, yogurt, and olive oil and process to mix. Add chopped parsley and transfer to an attractive bowl for serving with pita or crostini. Spread can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve.

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