Even if we don’t live in France, we can still take pleasure in the wonderful cuisine—and without much fuss! The French take their food seriously. Eating is an act of enjoyment, of relaxation; it is a time to get together with friends and unwind. The next time you have a few friends over for cocktails, or if you’re just in the mood to appreciate your food with an apéritif, try some of these French-inspired hors d’oeuvres. They’re quick, easy, packed with flavor and look impressive, which makes them a perfect option for guests who stop by unannounced.
A brochette is basically anything that is cooked on a skewer (or a toothpick). An example of one of these bite-size treats is the melon au jambon de bayonne: melon with raw cured ham. This is one of the easiest appetizers to prepare and is a great choice for a summer night. Simply use a melon baller to scoop little rounds of the melon (cantaloupe or honeydew). Don’t have a melon baller? Just cut the melon into small pieces. Then fold up one or two slices of the ham. Then use the toothpick to hold the two together and serve.
Brie is a popular cheese adored by the French (and myself as well), and baked brie is a popular French appetizer that is especially great around the holidays. Last Thanksgiving, my mother made a baked brie and the whole wheel was gone before the guests had even finished their first drinks. It seems so gourmet, yet it is quite simple to make. Spread either a raspberry or fig jam on a wheel of brie cheese (you can even sprinkle chopped walnuts or almonds on top) and wrap in a puff pastry. Bake it in the oven at 375° for about 25 minutes, then take it out and serve it warm, gooey and oozing with an assortment of crackers and fresh fruit. You can also do this sans puff pastry and it will still turn out great.
Tapenade gets its reputation for being a savory olive spread from Provence, but it gets its name from the lesser-known ingredient: capers, or tapéno. Serve this spread on toasted baguette slices for a delightful summer hors d’oeuvre. Tapenade is so tasty that it is even used as an ingredient in many French dishes. In a food processor, blend 2 cups of pitted black olives, 2 tablespoons of capers, a clove of garlic, a generous drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and pepper to taste.
A canapé is a layered hors d’oeuvre that allows you to be as creative as you wish. Bread typically serves as the base, followed by a layer of your choice spread, but after that, it is completely up to you! The French use a “compound butter” or flavored butter. To create a compound butter, use ½ cup of soft butter and one of the following counterparts: 2 ounces of cheese, anchovy paste, garlic, mustard, smoked salmon, or anything else you desire. You can even add some fresh herbs from your garden. After you create your flavored butter, you can layer the canapé with shrimp, smoked salmon, sardines, caviar, capers, cucumbers, bell peppers, or whatever else you think would make a tasty combination.
Roulade is a French culinary term for a rolled dessert or meat dish. Jambon Chevre, or ham rolls with goat cheese spread, is a quick and simple appetizer that will keep your guests satisfied. Blend 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, 1 cup of soft goat cheese, 2 tablespoons of assorted chopped herbs, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil using a food processor. Lay out the ham slices (cooked ham or raw cured ham) and spread the mixture on top. Roll them up and slice them and you have yourself tasty bite-size treats. You can also try this with other cured meats or smoked salmon. Experiment with cheese and herb combinations to find your favorite.
Stuffed Endive Leaves
Endive leaves look dainty and can be paired with pretty much anything. Peel away slices of endive and arrange them nicely on a platter. Fill each little ‘boat’ with different mixtures of goodies. A dollop of salmon, crab, or tuna salad work well. A schmear of cream or goat cheese topped with a few olives is also tasty. My choice – blue cheese crumbles and lightly toasted walnuts. Finish it off with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and voila! I love the combination of the cold crunch from the endive and the warm crunch of the nuts. The flavor of walnuts and blue cheese marries perfectly. I think some sliced red grapes with this combo would work well too! Maybe even a sprinkle of chopped chives.
What’s your favorite French hors d’oeuvres to make? and to eat?