Appetizers start a party off right, especially if they are eye-catching as well as scrumptious.
Ripe Pear Wedges Wrapped in Prosciutto
Yield: about 32 wedges
3 ripe (but not squishy) pears, washed, unpeeled, cored, see cook’s notes
Optional: 3 ounces hard or semi-hard cheese, thinly sliced about the same size lengthwise as the pear wedges, see cook’s notes
5 to 7 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
For serving: Toothpicks
Garnish: microgreens or fresh herbs such as rosemary or Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Buy pears 4 to 5 days before using to allow time to ripen. Red Bartlett or green Bartlett with a red blush are the prettiest. White cheddar is delicious with pears, but my favorite cheese to pair with pears is Oveja al Romero, Spanish Manchego-like wonder that is aged coated with rosemary. It has a beautiful herbaceous nose (available at Surfas in Costa Mesa).
1. Cut pears into wedges that are about 3/8-inch thick at the thickest part. Place a piece of cheese next to one side of each wedge and wrap each wedge with narrow strip of prosciutto, twisting it around middle. Secure each with toothpick. Place on platter and garnish with microgreens (immature greens sold in plastic containers at Trader Joe’s). These are best assembled just before serving to prevent pears from discoloring.
Parmigiano Reggiano “Spoons” with Balsamic Syrup
Yield: 20 servings
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
10 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into cubes (about 1-by-1/4-by-3/4 inches)
20 small basil leaves
10 seedless red grapes, halved (or 20 thin wedges of Fuyu persimmon or cored apple)
1. Place vinegar and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to simmer on high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; immediately reduce temperature to medium-low and gently simmer about 10 to 12 minutes, reducing the mixture to a little less than 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.
2. Place cheese cubes in individual Asian soup spoons, teaspoons or one-bite appetizer style bowls. Arrange on platter. Drizzle each with cooled balsamic syrup; garnish each with basil leaf and grape half.
Do-Ahead: syrup can be made in advance and stored at room temperature; cheese can be cut into cubes and stored airtight in refrigerator.
Yield: 16 servings
One (8-ounce) plus one (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 (9-by-12-inch) sheets of lavash, see cook’s notes
2 1/2 cups baby arugula or 1 large bunch watercress (large stems removed, washed, patted dry)
One (8-ounce) jar pink pickled ginger, liquid squeezed out, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Lavash is soft, thin flatbread; it’s sold at some supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and Middle Eastern markets. It should be pliable enough to roll, but if it isn’t you can moisten it with a damp paper towel. Pink pickled ginger is sold in many supermarkets in jars, either in the refrigerated deli close to the wonton skins, or in the sushi section.
1. Place cream cheese in food processor; whirl until soft. Spread cream cheese on one side of each lavash. Place leaves in a single layer on top; cover with pickled ginger. Starting from long side, roll each into a long roll (if it cracks don’t worry, just keep rolling). Trim each end.
Do-Ahead: Wrap each roll in a dampened paper towel (slightly moist, not wet). Refrigerate up to 3 hours in plastic bag or airtight container. Cut crosswise into 1 1/4-inch pieces. Place cut-side down to display spiral design created by ingredients.
… OK, these bacon wonders take more than 5 minutes to prepare, because they spend some time in the oven!
Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Candied Bacon
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
12 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half crosswise
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, syrup, cayenne, black pepper and lime zest.
2. Put the bacon on a rack (in a single layer) on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil for easier cleanup. Brush with the sugar mixture, flip, and brush the other side.Bake until the fat is rendered, the bacon is crisp, and the glaze is bubbly, about 30 to 35 minutes (rotate pan front to back if cooking unevenly after about 20 minutes). Let cool on the rack for 5 minutes before serving. Do-Ahead: Do not drain on paper towels; the bacon will stick. If made in advance, store on cool baking sheet lined with a fresh piece of parchment paper for up to 2 hours. If desired, serve upright in a glass (like breadsticks).