Three For the Tray
Photographed and styled EUGENIA UHL
Finding the right appetizers for a party might be a Herculean task unless you settle on two or three extraordinary ones from your kitchen and then buy all the rest from Sam’s Club or Costco’s. What would we do without them?
No matter how many chips and dips you serve, the hottest numbers at your party are sure to be the dishes you make yourself. And they don’t have to be difficult. For example, lovers of Caprese salad will enjoy theirs on a toothpick. No cooking to it. Just marinate grape tomatoes, add fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, splash with a balsamic vinaigrette and serve.
To me, there’s no greater taste on earth than oysters Rockefeller. Why not soften it a bit and scoop it up as a dip? I tried it, and everybody loved it on toasted baguette slices.
I also like to marry mushrooms with crabmeat. The medium-size portobellos are just right, stuffed and shoved in the oven minutes before just guests arrive.
When we wanted to make turtle soup for a party, we purchased a giant turtle from a supermarket in Tremé. We hadn’t a clue it would take almost a whole day to clean the bony reptile. There was hardly time to do anything else. I still regret that dressed turtle meat is hard to find in retail markets here. I guess that explains why some cooks settle for mock turtle soup made with beef, which isn’t the same to me.
In New Orleans, we never quite party enough. Folks elsewhere are worn out and taking a break after the holidays, but we’re just getting cranked up. Being that Mardi Gras comes on the last day of the month, that means we’ve got all of February to party. Time to get started.
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 pound whole mushrooms, white or baby portobello, about 1 ½ inches wide
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 cup Panko bread crumbs, divided
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for topping
2 Tablespoons sherry
Salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Pick over crabmeat, removing any shell. Be careful not to break up pieces of crab any more than necessary. Set aside.
Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel to remove any debris. With a small, sharp knife, cut out the stems and trim off the tough ends. Chop the stems and set aside. Place 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and add mushroom caps. Using a rubber spatula, toss the mushroom caps in the oil until the outside surfaces are coated. Set aside.
Heat the other 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions, garlic, mushroom stems and Italian seasoning for about 2 minutes over medium heat. Remove skillet from heat and add bread crumbs, 1/3-cup Parmesan, sherry, seasonings and parsley. Mix well. Add crabmeat and toss gently with a spatula.
Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Using a small spoon, stuff mushrooms caps with crab mixture, packing it gently into each cap and mounding stuffing about ½-inch above the mushroom surfaces. Place mushrooms in dish side by side. Lightly sprinkle more grated Parmesan over the mushrooms and top each one with a dot of butter. Cover and refrigerate.
About 45 minutes before serving, heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake mushrooms for 30 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown on top.
Makes about 2½ dozen
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic powder to taste
1 10-ounce container grape tomatoes
1 8-ounce package fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably sliced
1½ dozen fresh basil leaves
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and seasonings. Add tomatoes and marinate for 30 minutes.
Cut mozzarella slices into halves. If using whole packaged mozzarella, cut pieces into 1-inch squares. Cut basil leaves in half.
Skewer the ingredients onto toothpicks: mozzarella, basil, tomato, basil, mozzarella. Place on serving plate and sprinkle lightly with remaining vinaigrette.
Makes 3 dozen appetizers
Oysters Rockefeller Dip
2 dozen oysters
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
4 Tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup Herbsaint
¼ teaspoon Tabasco
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Panko or other bread crumbs, about ½ cup, divided
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Check oysters for any shell. Roughly chop oysters and set aside. Strain and save oyster liquor.
Drain spinach in a strainer, pressing liquid out. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet and sauté green onions and celery for 3 minutes. Add garlic and spinach and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add Worcestershire, lemon juice, seasonings, Herbsaint and Tabasco and cook for 2 minutes.
In a food processor, pulse the spinach mixture until coarsely puréed. Return to skillet, mix in oysters and ¼-cup oyster liquor. Heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add half the bread crumbs and cream cheese and mix to make a smooth dip. Place in a bake-proof serving dish and sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs. Top with Parmesan cheese, and bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven. If oysters are bubbly but not browning on top, place under broiler until lightly brown.
Serve with toasted ¼-inch French baguette slices, bagel chips or Melba rounds.
Makes about 1 quart