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24 Mar
2008

 

From Cheese to Nuts  Print

An appetizer is defined as food eaten before a meal to stimulate the appetite. I don’t know about your kitchen, but the appetites around mine don’t normally require much stimulating. In fact, we’ve been known to make full meals out of appetizers. At restaurants, I’d much prefer to sample two or three different appetizers than limit myself to one main course. After all, variety is the spice of life (for me anyway).

Cheese and nuts are staple foods around our house. Their many varieties make them versatile ingredients for all types of recipes. From simple after-school snacks for the kids to elegant hors d’oeuvres for wine tastings, you really can’t go wrong including them in some form or another. I’ve been making Goat Cheese Italiano for so long, I don’t remember its origin. It’s one of those recipes you can easily adapt to your own liking. Ditto on the Sweet-and-Smoky Pecans (from Food & Wine). I actually found a similar snack while wine tasting in Santa Barbara. I give both of these recipes high ratings for ease of preparation and for presentation.

WI wine recommendation: any full-bodied white. We recently tried these recipes with Qupé’s 2004 Roussanne (Bien Nacido Hillside Estate), a rich aromatic wine. Any chardonnay (especially an oaky one) would also be nice.

Goat Cheese Italiano

Goat Cheese Italiano with Crostini

1 log of goat cheese (a longer log makes a better presentation)
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
Sun-dried roma tomatoes packed in oil (use as much of a small jar as you like)
2-4 tablespoons roasted pine nuts
1-2 cloves fresh minced garlic
Olive oil
1 baguette
1 large garlic clove

Substitutions: capers for the basil; toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted pistachio nuts or olive tapenade for the pine nuts; oil from the roma tomato jar, garlic infused oil or lemon infused oil for the plain olive oil; garlic can be omitted entirely; crackers for the crostini.

Put the goat cheese log on serving plate. Use a rimmed plate or larger platter as the toppings will spill down the sides and spread. Chiffonade the basil leaves and neatly mound across the top of the log. Chop up desired amount of sun-dried tomatoes and sprinkle over the basil. Sprinkle desired amount of pine nuts and minced garlic over the tomatoes. Try to spread out the garlic evenly and not create big clumps of it on the log (or you’ll blow out your taste buds with fresh garlic burn!). Drizzle olive oil down the length of the log (be careful not to use too much). A small amount of the toppings are expected to fall off the log and mound around it; try sprinkling more toppings on the plate around the log as well for a more aesthetic presentation.

To make crostini, cut the baguette into thin to medium-thick slices (I cut the baguette on a diagonal to produce longer slices). Spread olive oil on both sides of each slice and grill both sides until toasted. You can grill them using a pan on a cook top, or a cookie sheet in a broiler oven, or rustico style out on a BBQ. The rustico method will produce nice grill marks on the bread (if you’re into that kind of look). After the bread slices are grilled, rub the garlic clove across the top of each slice. This will impart a subtle garlic flavor to the crostini.

Sweet-and-Smoky Pecans

Sweet-and-Smoky Pecans
(from Food & Wine)

4 cups pecans
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Substitutions: regular ground chili pepper for chipotle (if you don’t want a smoky flavor).

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Toss together the pecans, honey, ground chipotle and kosher salt. Spread out evenly (no clumps) on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I use a Silpat instead of the parchment) and toast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool completely before transferring to serving bowl.