Ask Peter: A toast to the party season
Help, it's getting to party time and I wondered if you could give me some ideas of easy smart finger food or nibbles to make for a drinks party for 20 (and that I could also use for the bring-a-plate things that come thick and fast at this time of year).
Never underestimate toast! Thinly sliced bread, either toasted or drizzled with olive oil and baked till crisp (crostini) is a godsend at this time of year.
Crostini are easy as you can prepare trays of them and keep them in airtight tins until needed. Thinly sliced stale baguette (it's easier to slice if stale) is good because the size works well, otherwise cut thin sandwich bread into fingers or squares, or use those fancy holly shaped cookie cutters you bought years ago from The Warehouse and have never used. Once you're loaded up with crostini, you can focus on toppings.
NZ supermarkets and delis have a huge amount of delicious toppings just waiting to be glorified into Xmas snacks. I recently bought a lovely kumara hummus and a really good pesto and used them both on toast with sliced cherry tomatoes and torn basil leaves and they were delicious. The pesto was also great on little rosti (grated raw-potato fritters, seasoned and fried like small whitebait fritters) topped with smoked salmon and wasabi.
So, start with bread, buy toppings, spreads, pastes and you'll be on the way to being the most popular host. Cook risotto rice with some diced caramelised onions, garlic and ginger and when cooked, mix in loads of grated parmesan and a generous amount of mascarpone. Leave to go cold, then mix in lots of shredded soft herbs like basil, chervil, tarragon, mint and parsley. Roll into slightly smaller than walnut-sized balls, dust with flour, roll in egg-wash and coat with breadcrumbs. Store in the fridge for up to 2 days, or cook straight away, deep-fry till golden and serve with a sweet chilli sauce (such as my own brand) and a little creme fraiche.
Another really great and unusual rice dish is to buy sushi rolls (filled with whatever takes your fancy) and slice them 1cm thick. Coat in beer batter and deep-fry till golden - serve with soy sauce and wasabi paste. To make beer batter (also great for deep-fried oysters - the ultimate party snack) sieve 5 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons cornflour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Whisk in 100ml beer avoiding lumps, and rest for 5 minutes. Whisk in extra beer if too thick.
Using whitloof or baby gem leaves as a vessel is also a good trick. Wash and dry the leaves and then fill with a variety of things - but remember that as nibbles are only ever 2 or 3 bites, every mouthful has to count. I like to mix a lovely pate with chopped sauteed buttery walnuts and place in the leaves, topped with a tangy chutney. Or mix salmon caviar with hummus and a little yoghurt and sprinkle with sumac and coriander. Toasts, crostini and leaves are easy to make tasty once you've assembled great toppings. Remember to make the flavours bold - subtle just doesn't work.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.