By Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
Appetizers and finger foods are some of my favorite foods to prepare. They usually require minimal ingredients and are both quick and easy. They are also a great way to utilize the flavors of the season. I like to get creative with the plating and presentation of appetizers to make a fun and appealing tablescape.
Often when I think of spring, I think color and freshness. This is the time to start ditching the hearty stews, heavy pastas and the roasts of winter and go for lighter, fresher flavors. Sugar snap peas, radishes, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, berries and melons are all wonderful choices for both color and freshness.
For plating and presentation creativity, look for unconventional serving vessels. For instance my tortellini skewer recipe below looks beautiful when the skewers are gathered together like a bouquet of flowers and placed in a large bowl-shaped wine glass or Mason jar. It gives height and a pop of color to the table. There are numerous disposable plating options for individual appetizers. You can give new life to the old veggie tray by simply plating it in a new way. Small disposable clear plastic cups come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I like to julienne carrots, bell peppers, celery, add a sprig of fresh dill and place upright in a small, four inch clear square disposable container. Then simply add a dollop of your favorite dip to the bottom of the container to hold the vegetables in place. Your guests can double dip in their very own container. Another disposable plating option available is a bent spoon-shaped vessel. They are great for holding small bites of just about anything. I like to use them when my appetizer isn’t easily held or picked up; when it is not on a base such as a crostini.
Lastly, get creative with ingredients. I like to take a familiar food and look for new ways to serve it such as cheesecake-stuffed strawberries: all the goodness of strawberry cheesecake in one small bite. They are served in the strawberry itself, so it also looks great on the table. Try new combinations of ingredients, playing off of the standard flavor combinations. For a creative sweet and salty combination, wrap thin slices of prosciutto around melon balls.
Here are a few of my favorite spring appetizers.
Prosciutto Wrapped Mango Bites
Yield: 12 bites
*1 ripe mango, peeled
*1 1/2 cups loosely packed arugula
*1 (1-oz.) package fresh basil
*4 very thin prosciutto or country ham slices
*1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
Cut mango into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices (about 16). Place 1 mango slice on top of 3 arugula leaves and 1 to 2 basil leaves.
Cut each prosciutto slice lengthwise into 4 strips. Wrap center of each mango bundle with 1 prosciutto strip. Arrange on a serving platter, and sprinkle with pepper.
Note: To make ahead, prepare recipe as directed. Cover bites with damp paper towels, and chill 30 minutes.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon Bites: Substitute half of 1 small cantaloupe or honeydew for mango. Proceed with recipe as directed.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pear Bites: Substitute 1 ripe pear, unpeeled, for mango. Cut pear as directed in Step 1. Toss together pear slices and 1/2 cup lemon-lime soft drink to prevent browning; drain. Proceed with recipe as directed.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Apple Bites: Substitute 1 Gala apple, unpeeled, for mango. Cut apple as directed in Step 1. Toss together apple slices and 1/2 cup lemon-lime soft drink to prevent browning; drain. Proceed with recipe as directed.
Mustard-Dill Tortellini Salad Skewers
Yield: 24 servings
*1 (9-oz.) package refrigerated cheese tortellini
*1 (8-oz.) package fresh sugar snap peas
*24 (6-inch) wooden skewers
*1 pint cherry tomatoes
*Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Cook tortellini according to package directions. Rinse under cold running water.
Thread each skewer with 1 sugar snap pea, 1 tortellini, and 1 tomato. Repeat. Place skewers in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Pour Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette over skewers, turning to coat. Cover and chill 4 hours. Transfer skewers to a serving platter; discard any remaining vinaigrette.
*1/2 cup white wine vinegar
*2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
*3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
*2 pressed garlic cloves
*2 teaspoons sugar
*1 1/4 cups olive oil
*Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together vinegar, fresh dill, Dijon mustard, garlic, and sugar. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Whisk in kosher salt and pepper to taste.
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Yield: 20 strawberries
*1 container large strawberries
*8 oz. cream cheese, softened
*4 tablespoon powdered sugar
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*½ cup graham cracker crumbs
Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top and clean out with a paring knife or scoop out insides with a melon baller. Prep all strawberries and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or Ziploc with the corner snipped off. Fill strawberries with cheesecake mixture. Once strawberries are filled, dip the top in graham cracker crumbs.
Yield: 30 pcs
*30 grape or cherry tomatoes
*30 fresh basil leaves
*1 package mozzarella pearls
*2 tablespoons balsamic reduction
Slice tomatoes in half. Tear basil leaves into small pieces. Skewer tomato open face up, basil and then cheese on bottom so it stands. Drizzle with balsamic. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to serve
Black Bean Salsa in Bacon Cups
Yield: 24 servings
*1 pound pancetta or bacon- each strip cut into thirds
*1 seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
*4 roma tomatoes, diced
*2 avocados, diced
*15.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
*2 tablespoon red onion, minced
*2 tablespoon cilantro, minced
*2 limes, juice of
*salt and fresh pepper to taste
Place one slice of pancetta in each hole of muffin tin. (If using bacon, flip muffin pan over and lay 2 pieces over the bottom like an “X”, then wrap one strip around the sides). Bake at 425° for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined wire rack using a spatula. Let stand 10 minutes or until crisp.
Combine all other prepared ingredients, and refrigerate until use. Fill cooled bacon cups with salsa mixture.
Tuna-Apple Mini Melts
Yield: Makes 45 tartlets
*1 cup mayonnaise
*1/2 cup diced Pink Lady or Gala apple
*1/3 cup finely chopped celery
*2 tablespoons minced red onion
*1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and chopped
*1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
*1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
*1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
*2 (12-oz.) cans solid white tuna in spring water, drained and flaked
*3 (1.9-oz.) packages frozen mini-phyllo pastry shells, thawed
*12 deli Havarti cheese slices, cut into 4 pieces each
*Garnish: thin apple slices
Stir together first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in tuna. Cover and chill 1 hour.
Divide mixture among phyllo shells (about 1 Tbsp. each), and place on a 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Top with cheese pieces.
Preheat broiler with oven rack 5 1/2 inches from heat. Broil tartlets 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately. Garnish, if desired.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
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