Are you looking for an easy appetizer to kickstart your dinner party? Whether you're preparing a formal five-course meal or a casual cookout, you can find great ideas to start the evening off right in several places: cookbooks, foodie Web sites or even through friends.
An appetizer should complement the rest of the menu, so you'll want to take the main course into consideration. That means if you're serving something sophisticated like Coquille St. Jacques, a charcuterie plate (see below) might serve as a perfect prelude; tortilla chips and roasted corn salsa might work better with grilled flank steak.
Rest assured, serving a delicious bite before the meal doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. Here are a few simple and easy ideas to help you make sure you have something ready for your guests to nibble when they arrive. Best of all, many of them can be assembled using ingredients purchased from your local deli, while others can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.
Cheese, fruit, and nuts. For ease and versatility, assemble an elegant cheese plate. Interesting cheeses from Asiago to Yorkshire Blue can be found in any supermarket. Pair the cheese with some dried fruit like cranberries or apricots, fresh grapes or apple slices, and walnuts, almonds, or pecans. Adding crackers or bread is optional.
Antipasto. The Italian word meaning "before the pasta," antipasto is designed to tantalize the senses and tease the appetite for the meal ahead. An antipasto platter includes an assortment of tasty bites, such as cheeses, marinated vegetables like roasted red peppers, pickled garlic, or artichoke hearts, salty olives, deli meats like salami or pepperoni, and seafood treats like smoked salmon or anchovies.
Charcuterie. A cousin of antipasto, charcuterie is a French art that is certain to impress your guests. It's an assortment of dried meats (usually pork-related products), including pate, rillettes (shredded cooked pork mixed with pork fat), ham, prosciutto, and sausage. Good bread and cornichons (tiny pickles) are traditional accompaniments.
Dips and spreads. Try hummus with carrots, celery and pita chips, spinach dip with crackers and red pepper strips, or guacamole or salsa with corn chips.
Warm Brie spread. Brie is always a good choice for the winter months. Simply top a round of brie with your favorite fruit preserve or chutney plus some toasted nuts, and warm in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius) for 10 minutes or until the cheese is soft. Serve with French bread or simple crackers for a delicious treat.
Looking for more ideas? Try a shrimp cocktail, edamame, onion dip served with homemade chips, flatbread or miniature pizzas, or small skewers with ham and pineapple or grilled chicken and mushrooms.
Now that the appetizer’s planned, relax and enjoy your guests. Bon appétit!