- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My husband, a quintessential extrovert, never met a stranger, so after several decades of living with him, I’m no longer surprised when he mentions that he has invited friends over for wine and appetizers.

He often asks a group of his fellow professors who are working on a project together to meet at our house for drinks, or he’ll arrive home from work, announcing that he has met some new people I am certain to like, and that they can stop by for cocktails on such-and-such a day.

He reasons that having guests in for sips and nibbles is not the same as a dinner party, so he can be spontaneous. I have to agree, and have found this is an easy way to entertain, especially in the summer.

If I am rushed, I will stop by the market and pick up several cheeses, a loaf of crusty bread and some olives to set out with wine for these impromptu get-togethers.

When I have a little more time, I like to make a special appetizer, like smoked salmon toasts with sesame creme fraiche.

I served these easy-to-make, yet stylish starters on two occasions recently, once to French friends who were traveling through New England, and once to a group who came for a meeting at our home. Both times, there were no leftovers.

For the toasts, I cut slices of good dark bread such as whole wheat or multigrain into rectangles, brush them lightly with melted butter, then bake them a few minutes until crisp. I top the toasts with slices of smoked salmon, chopped green onions and dollops of sesame-scented creme fraiche. A sprinkling of both light and dark sesame seeds makes a sophisticated garnish.

The creme fraiche for this recipe is seasoned with a hint of hot sesame oil, which can be found in the Asian section in most grocery stores. I garnish the toasts with both light and black sesame seeds, but if the latter are not readily available, you could use all light ones.

Small, delicious and uncomplicated to make, these smoked salmon toasts make a big impression for a little amount of work definitely a winning combination for serendipitous entertaining at our house or yours.

Smoked salmon toasts with sesame creme fraiche and green onions

6 slices dark bread such as whole wheat or multigrain

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra if needed, melted

6 tablespoons creme fraiche (see note.)

3/4 teaspoon hot sesame oil (see note)

4 ounces sliced smoked salmon

½ cup chopped green onions (about 4) including 2 inches of green stems

1½ teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

1½ teaspoons black sesame seeds (see note)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the crusts from the bread and cut each slice into 3 rectangles, 2 inches long by 1 inch wide so that you have 18. (Save extra bread for making bread crumbs.) Brush the slices on both sides lightly with melted butter, and place them on a baking sheet.

Bake slices 4 minutes, then turn and bake 4 minute more or until just lightly crisp. Watch carefully. Remove and cool toasts 5 minutes. (Toasts can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Cover loosely with foil and leave at room temperature.) In a small bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche and the hot sesame oil.

To assemble the toasts, slice the salmon into pieces the same size as the toasts. Place a slice on each rectangle, then top with some green onions and with a generous dollop (about ½ teaspoon) of the creme fraiche mixture.

Sprinkle a few light and dark sesame seeds over the creme fraiche on each toast. Arrange toasts on a serving platter. (The toasts can be prepared 1 hour ahead; refrigerate uncovered until needed.) Makes 18 toasts or enough to serve 6 as an appetizer.

Note: Creme fraiche can be found in the dairy section of most supermarkets.

Note: Hot sesame oil (aromatic sesame oil with a piquant pepper accent) can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. If you can’t find it, you could add 3 to 4 drops of Tabasco sauce to ½ teaspoon regular sesame oil. The hot sesame oil, however, has a more interesting flavor.

Note: Sesame seeds come in light (pale gold) and black shades. You can buy the latter in some supermarkets and at Asian grocers. Only the light sesame seeds need to be toasted. To toast, place them in a small skillet set over medium heat, and stir and cook until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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