- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

When one of my culinary assistants called to ask for ideas for appetizers to serve at a wine-tasting party, I was eager to help.

My friend explained that her schedule had become hectic and, as the party date approached, she found herself with practically no time to prepare hors d’oeuvres to accompany the special vintages.

“Choose simple dishes that require little or no cooking,” I suggested, then proposed two I often use when time is short. Within minutes I had e-mailed the recipes, and she responded that these starters were quick enough for her to manage.

A recipe for tart apple slices topped with quince paste and shaved Manchego cheese was my first suggestion. I have been serving this Spanish-inspired nibble for several years, always to great reviews.

There’s no cooking involved. You toss thin Granny Smith apple slices in lemon juice so they don’t discolor, then mound each with a dollop of quince paste and some shaved Manchego cheese. Guests like the contrasting flavors — the salty cheese and tart apple countered by the sweet paste.

The other recipe was a new creation. I combine grape tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella balls and quartered kalamata olives in olive oil, then season the mixture with fresh rosemary and red pepper flakes.

For serving, this melange is spooned onto lightly toasted baguette slices. The only cooking required is a few minutes to toast the bread in the oven.

Several days later, I received a party update. The hosts had served California wines — three whites and three reds. In addition to the two appetizers I had recommended, they had served cantaloupe wedges wrapped in prosciutto, a special California cheese offered with grapes and crisp crackers, and, as a final flourish, strawberries and some dark-chocolate candies. Nothing had taken more than a few minutes to assemble, and the party had been a huge success.

Tomato, mozzarella and olive melange with toasted baguette slices

½ pound (1½ cups) grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

½ pound small (1-inch) mozzarella balls, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/4 pound (1 cup) pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary plus a sprig for garnish

½ teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

16 baguette slices cut 1½ inch thick on the diagonal

Place tomatoes, mozzarella and olives in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil. Stir in rosemary, salt and red pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a shallow serving bowl. (Mixture can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

When ready to serve, arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, without turning, about 5 minutes.

Tuck a fresh rosemary sprig into the tomato/mozzarella mixture, place the bowl on a serving plate and surround it with toasted bread slices. To eat, spoon some of the mozzarella mixture onto a slice of bread. Makes 8 servings.

Tart apple slices with quince paste and shaved Manchego

2 Granny Smith apples

Juice of 1 large lemon

A small container of quince paste (see note)

Fleur de sel salt

A 4-ounce piece Manchego cheese, at room temperature

Halve apples lengthwise, core them, then cut halves into thin slices, to yield a total of 32 slices. (You may have some apple left over.) Place the slices in a nonreactive bowl and toss with the lemon juice.

Mound about ½ teaspoon quince paste in the center of each apple slice. Sprinkle with a little fleur de sel.

Using a vegetable peeler, cut enough thin strips from the Manchego cheese to top each apple slice with 1 or 2 shavings. Arrange slices on a serving tray. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Quince paste (called membrillo in Spain) is a sweet mixture made from quince and used in Spanish cooking. It is sold in some supermarkets (including Whole Foods) and in specialty food stores. A small amount is needed for this recipe, but extra can be covered and stored in the fridge like jellies and jams for a long period.

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


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