When I’m in the mood to party, festive foods rather than drinks are foremost on my mind.
My experience as a hostess, however, tells me that most New Year’s Eve revelers have the opposite expectations. That’s why it’s a thankless endeavor to spend days — or even hours — on elegant party snacks so they can play second fiddle to bottles of cheap booze. But I would no more dream of throwing a year-end fete without nibbles any more than I would demean (and deprive) myself by opening packages of chips and store-bought dip.
Fortunately, there’s a happy medium, which we tried to convey with this week’s spread in A la Carte. The fact that there aren’t any recipes to follow verbatim indicates that these are loose cooking concepts and, thus, not too labor-intensive. Many, as the story indicates, can be done at least a day ahead of time. And because there’s a variety of cold, hot and room-temperature items, cooks get some reprieve from their stoves and ovens.
I recommend starting a few days before the party by making one of the spiced or candied nuts. I’m providing an actual recipe below, courtesy of www.spiceislands.com. Then whirl up some dips a day or so ahead in your food processor. They’ll only taste better with some time for flavors to marry in the refrigerator.
The beauty of both bruschetta toppings mentioned — poached pear and roasted squash — is that they can be made a day ahead, as well, unlike classic tomato, which becomes too watery after more than an hour or so. Roasted squash as bruschetta clearly is all the rage this year, with several sources touting it. Try the recipe below using one of my favorite varieties, spaghetti squash. Substitute the prosciutto slices recommended in this week’s story for off-season tomatoes
Mexican Chili-and-Lime-Roasted Cashews
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ancho chili
1⁄4 teaspoon chipotle chili
1 egg white
2 cups raw, whole cashews
Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the lime zest, salt, ancho chili, chipotle chili and egg white. Add the cashews to bowl and toss to combine, making sure nuts are evenly coated.
Transfer nuts to prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in an even layer. Roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Remove nuts from oven and drizzle, while hot, with the lime juice. Let nuts cool. Once completely cooled, transfer nuts to an airtight container and serve as needed.
1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
3⁄4 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, cut into 36 (3/8-inch-thick) slices and toasted
1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes (about 3 ounces each), cored and diced
Preheat oven to 400 F. Using a large, sharp knife, carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop out seeds and discard.
Line a baking sheet with foil brushed with olive oil. Brush cut sides of squash with more olive oil and lay cut-side down on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until outside is fork-tender and cut edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven and carefully flip squash halves with tongs to cool.
When squash is cool enough to handle, scrape out insides using a fork. Flesh will come away from skin in spaghetti-like strands. Place squash in a bowl and toss with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the rosemary, salt and pepper.
Arrange the toasted bread on a serving tray. Top each with a slice of the mozzarella, a mound of squash mixture and a small spoonful of the diced tomato. Serve at room temperature.
Makes about 36.