Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

94. Roasted Garlic Pea-Purée on Sourdough Croûtes p.35

The recipe

The next couple of appetizers were a co-production with my sister for a family party. These seemed to appeal to the adults, but the kids were a bit put off by the green mush. I tried some of the leftovers out on a friend’s three year old, but the baguette croûtes were too tough for her. She licked the pea-purée off, held in her mouth for a bit, then spat it all over my dining room table. This puzzled me, because the pea-purée is pretty much baby food. Maybe three year olds aren’t great fans of garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano?

I thought these appetizers worked well. The pea-purée was flavorful with sweet roasted garlic, salty cheese, and lemon juice coming through clearly. Topping with a slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano and baby arugula leaf made for a nice colour counterpoint, and the baguette croûtes provided some much needed crunch.

I’m always happy to find appetizers that transport well. I was able to mostly make these ahead, and then just do final presentation at the party. I made the pea-purée and croûtes at home, and then just had to slice the cheese and assemble them once I arrived. Unfortunately these were a little bit hard to eat, the croûtes tended to crack in largish pieces, and a couple of people dropped dollops of pea-purée onto my uncle’s carpet. He’s a neat and tidy kind of guy, so I cringed at every splat. I think using a smaller loaf would work better, maybe a baguettine, or a ficelle if they’re available. Pairing these down to one or two bites each would be easier on the wall to wall.

The recipe warns that using fresh peas is a waste of time, as the frozen ones are much easier and will result in a less starchy dish. I used frozen but still found the pea-schmear starchy. I’m not sure if I undercooked them, or that’s just the nature of peas. I think a little more olive oil in the purée would have made a better emulsion, and the starchiness would have been less noticeable.

I was quite pleased with these as appetizers. They were fairly healthy, very colourful, tasted pretty good, and didn’t take too too much effort. I’d certainly make them again.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

67. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds p.5

The recipe is just like this one from Epicurious, except that The Book gives proportions for the ingredients. I think the Epicurious version is more honest. This is barely even a recipe. Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet ’till they’re browned and smell good, toss with olive oil and sea salt. That’s it.

Despite it’s tenuous recipe status, I’m glad it was in there. I probably wouldn’t have remembered how delicious toasted pumpkin seeds are, and never would have thought to put them out for guests. I ate some of them warm , and some at room temperature the next day. They’re totally delicious either way. I find the flavour of pumpkin seeds hard to pin down, they’re nutty, and they do have squashy pumpkin flavours, plus a whole other level of aromas that make them their own. You could serve sunflower seeds like this, but it just wouldn’t be the same.

Finding fresh green pumpkin seeds wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. My grocery store carries them sporadically, and the ones at the health food store sometimes look a little ratty. The Book warns that pumpkin seeds spoil quickly, so a place with high turnover is key. They’re frequently used in Mexican cuisine, so a latino food shop might be the way to go to find a good fresh supply.

Since pumpkin sees freeze well I’ve taken to keeping a bag on hand. The Book seems to call for them fairly frequently, and I’ll never be without a tried-and-true last minute appetizer if friends drop by unexpectedly.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

57. Onion Parmesan Toasts p.34

The recipe

These were remarkably simple little appetizers with some old school flair. It falls into the ancient and proud “stuff on toast” camp of appetizers. The secret to this style of appetizers is to give something either healthy or expensive prime billing in the name, but to make absolutely sure that most of your on-toast topping is creamy, cheesy, fatty, or preferably all three.

Here the role of healthy is played by a sweet onion, cheesy is played by Parmeigiano-Reggiano, and fatty is portrayed by mayonnaise. By volume there are 3/4 of a cup of onion, and a combined 3/4 of a cup of the cheese and mayo. By weight however the creamy fatty team makes up most of the toppings. A bonus rule for old school on-toast appetizers is to avoid unusual spices that might scandalize the croquet ladies. Garlic would be a bit outre, and curry powder is firmly in the province of those bohemian ne’er-do-wells that are tearing this country apart. My dining companion and I brought some guacamole to a family affair a while back, and when my grandmother tried it she said “who made this green stuff? It hurts my mouth”. Here the spices are kept safe and stayed, fresh ground black pepper. Of course pre-ground would be more familiar to the bridge club, but we can modernize a little bit.

I didn’t think I was going to like these all that much, broiled mayonnaise seemed a bit weird, but it really worked. The toasts, cocktail rye of course, crisped up nicely and the topping browned beautifully. I feared that the mayo would break under the heat, but that didn’t’ happen. The onions cooked enough to soften a bit and give off a great deal of flavour, and the cheese turned golden-brown and delicious. These were a fun easy throwback, that was yanked forward into modern times for some very good reasons.

The Book is a celebration of Gourmet Magazine’s 50th anniversary. A lot of the recipes are weighted towards the ’80’s and ’90’s though. It’s nice to see one that very clearly showed up in the earliest issues.

Soups The Book

28. Rustic Garlic Soup p.94

Sorry, no recipe this time.

This is an Italian soup called aquacotta or “cooked water”, because it comes together from nothing special. It starts with a garlic broth (water, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and salt) which is forced through a sieve, and slowly added to a mixture of egg yolks, parmigiano-reggiano, and olive oil. Add pepper, and spoon it over some chunks of country style bread. I wanted to make it more of a meal so I browned some cheddar on the bread under the broiler and added it to the soup.

This recipe really appealed to me because I’d invited a friend over for supper, but when I got home from work I just couldn’t face going to the grocery store. I loved that it didn’t require anything I didn’t have on hand, and that it hardly took any effort. The garlic broth worked out really well, giving the soup a pungent flavour, without the same old same old of chicken stock.

The egg yolks gave the soup a bunch of body. The recipe says only to stir the hot broth into the egg mixture slowly, but it would probably be a good idea to take the time to temper the mixture before you start adding in a stream. Coagulating your yolks wouldn’t be good news for anyone.

Most of the saltiness came from the cheese, which was nice. Not too many soups call for cheese in such a nice proportion. I appreciated that the cheese was a nice flavouring agent, without being the star. My cheddar topped toasts didn’t work too well as a replacement for the bread chunks. They floated to the top, and ended up looking a bit sickly. Also one of the best things about cheese on toast is the contrast between the gooey cheese, and the crisp toast. That’s obviously a non-starter when your toast is floating in soup. I wish I’d just stuck to the recipe as it was, or served them on the side.

Overall I liked this one, it was simple, flavourful, economical, and not much fuss.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

22. Pita Toasts p. 7

the recipe

A recipe for toast. A recipe… for toast. Well, super simple basics like this will sure help me get through the book faster. Or at least compensate for some of the marathon recipes yet to come. These were the recommended accompaniment for Olive and Eggplant Spread. They worked perfectly well, nice crisp pitas able to support the dip, with a good flavour of their own. They’re dried and crisped slowly in a 375 oven to avoid browning too much or heating the olive oil above its smoke point, and kosher salt also adds a nice texture. The Book did everything right, but I don’t think I’ve ever been moved by a pita toast (a baguette is another matter).

Don’t get me wrong, pitas, toasted or not, are an indispensable workhorse in my kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever put out appetizers without pita appearing in some way. It’s the unsung hero of the cocktail party world! but I’m content to leave it seen but not heard. Make these, use them, but don’t love them.

Breads and Crackers The Book

3. Garlic Bread p.606

the recipe

Ahh Garlic bread, the ubiquitous starchy accompaniment to a big plate of my mom’s pasta. Weren’t the fat phobic carb happy 80’s a good time? So this is fairly idiot proof: apply garlic butter to bread, bake in tinfoil till warmed through, open tinfoil package to crisp up bread. Who could screw this up? apparently I can.

Things were going well through the cutting of the ciabatta loaf, and smearing butter stages. All clear for operation put in tinfoil and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Things were going so swimmingly I decided to focus on the rest of dinner. 15 minutes became 20, and the first hint of burning came to my nose. I never opened the package to crisp, and while the bottom of the loaf got nicely done, the rest of the loaf was the soggy mess of a thousand backyard BBQs.

Soggy garlic bread does have some fairly good memories associated with it, and
I enjoyed it thoroughly. However, I was really looking forward to the crispy crunch. Thankfully this is as simple a recipe as there is, so a redo won’t call for any untoward effort.

One thing I really appreciated about this was the suggestion to replace the parsley with basil (a suggestion not made in the linked recipe). To me parsley is a bit of waste of an herb, the Italian stuff has some nice flavor, the frizzy has none. All in all I’ll give parsley a pass whenever possible. Unfortunately The Book (and the whole world) seems to have a bit of thing for it. I won’t balk at spending eight bucks on a tiny piece of goat cheese, but that 79 cent parsley tax so many recipes charge really irks me.

This is a childhood classic not re-imagined in any way, as it should be.