Appetizers for the big game

February 1, 2019

Earlier this week, I was invited by WBOC to present a cooking demo on their afternoon show, “DelmarvaLife.” Hosted by Lisa Bryant and Jimmy Hoppa, the show includes several different segments that vary from day to day. You might see highlights of neighborhood news, upcoming events and introductions to a regional business, or listen to a live performance from a local musician, or watch a cooking demonstration in their on-set kitchen.

I asked the showrunner, Annie Hearn, if there was a specific topic or focus they had in mind. She reminded me there’s a big football game on Sunday. That tidbit helped me decide to prepare two different appetizers that would be attractive to your family if you planned to be at home watching the game and just as good if you went to visit friends, bringing nibbles along to share.

A complex, multi-course meal isn’t the best choice for football-watching. Small bites and finger foods are much easier to both serve and eat. And, since football rivalries speak to our primal instincts, why not foods as old as humans - remember, bowls, plates and eating utensils are relatively modern inventions.

The first dish I made was a crabmeat canapé. In the antiques world, a canapé is an elegant sofa with an upholstered seat, delicate wooden legs and curvy arms. The culinary definition of a canapé refers to thin-sliced bread topped with a savory puree of meat or cheese. The flat bread with a lump on top was thought to resemble a person sitting on a couch, hence the use of the word to refer to this specific type of food.

In the recipe, a combination of crabmeat, mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese resembles a standard crab dip, with the subtle difference of placing dollops of the crab mixture on slices of cocktail bread. These rectangular loaves (usually available in rye and pumpernickel flavors) are sliced into very thin 2-inch by 2-inch squares. The assembled canapés are then toasted under the broiler before serving.

When making these, don’t even think about using light mayo or imitation crab; you’ll lose all the essential richness. Although pre-packaged shredded or grated Parmesan can be handy, these are typically treated with anti-caking agents to make them shelf stable or longer-lasting in the refrigerated cheese counter. Either grate your own cheese or purchase one of the more-expensive bags of freshly grated Parmesan.

The second appetizer (technically not a canapé because of its design) was a savory roll-up. It starts with a soft tortilla shell; either sun-dried tomato or Italian herb work well and add some color. We used plain flour tortillas for the roll-ups in the photo. The tortillas are spread with a mixture of cream cheese and a spicy basil pesto. Adding the cream cheese helps keep the oil-based pesto from being too slimy in the roll-up.

You could easily substitute an olive tapenade or chopped sun-dried tomatoes for the pesto to change the flavor profile. The next ingredient in the roll-up is thin-sliced ham. I chose a Dietz & Watson Black Forest ham for its strong flavor. You could substitute prosciutto, but if you do, be sure to remove the fat along the edges to avoid an unpleasant texture. You could also change things with another meat or smoked turkey.

Finally, the ham is topped with grated (not sliced) cheese. I’ve found trying to use slices of cheese results in a jigsaw-puzzle-like challenge, while the shredded cheese smooths out nicely and covers the ham completely. Now you’re ready to tightly roll the tortilla shells around the ingredients. Seal the finished roll in plastic wrap if you’re planning to serve it later; otherwise, cut it into 1-inch-thick pieces and arrange the colorful spirals on a serving dish along with olives and gherkins. Here’s hoping your team wins the big game!

Crabmeat Canapés

1 C mayonnaise
1 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 C fresh crabmeat
1 loaf cocktail bread
chives, for garnish

Preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and Parmesan until combined. Gently fold in crab meat. Mound a generous tablespoon of crab mixture onto slices of cocktail bread. Arrange slices in a single layer on prepared baking pan. Place under broiler until hot and bubbly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.

Ham & Cheese Pesto Roll-ups

4 sun-dried-tomato soft tortilla shells
1/2 C pesto
1/4 C whipped cream cheese
1/2 lb thin-sliced ham
4 oz grated cheddar cheese

In a small bowl, combine pesto and cream cheese, blending until smooth. Place one tortilla shall on a piece of waxed paper. Spread with pesto mixture to completely coat the tortilla with an even layer. Top with a single layer of ham and follow with a layer of cheese. Roll tightly into a cylinder. If not serving immediately, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and cut into one-inch pinwheels. Arrange on a platter with miniature pickles and pitted olives.